Making a Killing

No, this is not the Zodiac speaking. Instead it is I, Paramount Pictures, who along with Warner Bros. has lightly fictionalized, filmed, and marketed the story of the hippie-era taunting serial murderer who had the press wrapped around his pinky.

Today it is I who controls the Bay Area's newspapers! Witness last week's front-page double-barrel paean to my newest film, Zodiac, which opened Friday.

On Thursday the Chronicle humbly genuflected before me, devoting 54 percent of its front-page news hole — almost all above the fold — to an article explaining the most important news of the day, the "Undying legend of a killer." The photo illustration was 7 inches high. It connected that ancient but fear-inducing episode with today by quoting a psychology professor: The Zodiac killer "was a prototypic terrorist in terms of holding a large population captive by manipulating the press." But in terms of manipulation, Osama bin Laden, Ahmed Chalabi, and Scooter Libby have nothing on me, the ad-buying movie studio.

For on Friday, I rewarded the Chroniclewith an expensive advertising shroud — a vertically oriented half-page wrapper: "ZODIAC/STARTS TODAY IN THEATRES EVERYWHERE." At first it looked like the front page, displaying "San Francis—" with the "—co Chronicle" peeking out from the real cover.

The effect was unmistakable. One day the paper displaced all other news with promotional coverage of a film (dastardly Mick LaSalle's lukewarm review in Friday's Datebook notwithstanding), and the next it cultivated an advertiser by obscuring its journalistic showcase with a movie billboard.

Of course, it just appeared to be a coordinated effort between ad and news departments. Certainly it was a coincidence — the editors had no inkling of the Zodiac wrapper in the pipeline. What are you, paranoid? No, the editors have merely been conditioned to seize on press-release-driven stories about corporate initiatives with local angles and deep pockets.

If you think my editorial manipulations sound bad, it's nothing compared to the Chron's false front-page ad for the just-opened Westfield San Francisco Centre shopping mall last September. That gift wrapping tied up a week of news coverage of every conceivable angle on the consumer hub across the street from Chron HQ, with a Bloomingdale's and a movie theater. At least 15 stories, two Web audio slideshows and one nearly entire front page of mall news.

Hey, I may be powerful, cunning, and publicity-obsessed, but I'm no local real estate developer.

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