Unspun

"The column wasn't killed," Finefrock said. "We chose not to run it."
Stephanie Salter's column for the Sunday, March 16, Examiner would have been headlined "A Showcase for Twisted Values," if editors more interested in business than free expression hadn't spiked it. Through a genuine if grim comedy of errors, the column -- killed because it treated S.F.'s newest major newspaper advertiser, Nike, as a profane four-letter word -- did accidentally swoosh across the country to be printed on the op-ed page of the Miami Herald. The column even appeared briefly on the Gate, the Website of the Chron and Ex.

But two of the Ex's editors felt Salter's column was so unfair to Nike and its new Niketown store in Union Square that there was no way the piece could be printed here. Oddly -- no, weirdly, bizarrely, crazily -- both editors readily acknowledged that Salter's column was killed at least partly for business reasons. Nike, they explained, had agreed to be a sponsor of the Ex's largest annual promotion, the Bay to Breakers race.

So by all means let's stop the presses.
Salter's euthanized column was based on her conviction that the new Niketown is built on and panders to "twisted values" that have elevated style over substance and corporate greed over corporate responsibility across America. The column called Nike obscenely greedy and used a newspaper convention throughout ("N--e" for Nike) to highlight the alleged obscenity.

The proposed headline was apt for her column; it could, however, just as well describe the craven reasoning that the Ex's two top editors, Editor and Publisher Lee Guittar and Editorial Pages Editor Jim Finefrock, used to justify killing the opinion piece.

Salter, who had filed early so she could take a long weekend, didn't know her column had been killed until she got back into town the following Tuesday. Apparently, her editor, Finefrock, didn't think she merited a phone call on the editorial killing. She met with him Wednesday.

"It was pulled," Salter confirmed in an interview last week. Finefrock "had a list of things he felt were wrong with the column," she said, among them that she had been "unfair to Nike." Specifically, she said, Finefrock disapproved of her decision to refer to Nike as "obscene."

But, she said, the "last thing he told me" was that the Ex was negotiating with Nike to be a Bay to Breakers sponsor -- along with Southwest Airlines, Crystal Geyser, the Hyatt Regency of San Francisco, Nordstrom, and AT&T. It would damage the paper's integrity to be attacking Nike at the same time the athletic gear company was underwriting the daily's event, she recalled him telling her.

"That's an interesting use of the word 'integrity,' " added Salter, who's been writing three columns a week for 11 years. As for Finefrock's other criticisms, she simply said she stands by her column.

When questioned about Salter's column last week, Finefrock uttered a soundbite worthy of living through the journalistic ages as a symbol of precisely why it is that most newspaper writers despise most newspaper editors.

"The column wasn't killed," Finefrock said. "We chose not to run it."
Actually, Salter's column was written, edited, and set in page proofs for the Sunday paper before the Guittar-Finefrock team killed it -- too late to prevent its posting on the Gate and its being sent out over the Ex's wire service. Miami Herald editors read Salter's tirade against Nike on the wire and decided it was worthy of picking up for the Herald's op-ed page on March 19. (It can also be viewed on the Herald's Website; the headline is "Crossing the line into hypergreed land.")

So, if the column wasn't slaughtered in a last-minute financial-promotional panic, how did it wind up running in Miami and not in San Francisco?

"It was erroneously put out on the wire," Finefrock said, noting, even as he continued denying the column had been killed, that a "kill notice" was either disregarded or didn't take effect in time to stop the column from hitting the wires. (The column has since disappeared from the Gate, though perhaps it was merely shifted to a new URL -- http://sfgate.com.killed/editors/craven.)

Oddly -- no, weirdly, bizarrely, crazily -- Finefrock didn't bother to deny that the Ex had stepped all over the ethical boundary between the editorial and advertising sides of the paper by allowing Nike's sponsorship of the Bay to Breakers race to be a factor in the decision to pull Salter's column. He just tried to distance himself from the Ex's decision to lick Nike's Air Jordans.

"To the extent that [the sponsorship] was a consideration," Finefrock said, it would entail "a certain amount of hypocrisy to allow Nike to be called obscene in the pages of the Examiner and then engage in a partnership with Nike in the race."

Of course, Finefrock disowned holding that opinion himself. Sort of. The notion that it would be hypocritical to allow a columnist to criticize Nike while the shoemaking giant was in promotional partnership with the columnist's newspaper was "not what my thinking was, but what I believe the thinking was."

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