Breaking Stories: Cult of Personality

— Two weeks ago, San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders got what amounted to a public spanking from the Union-Tribune, which ran a front-page story recounting how Sanders PR minion Fred Sainz and his assistants regularly heap contempt on local journalists and maintain tight control over city workers and their contacts with reporters. Now it's come to light that Jo Anne SawyerKnoll, a Sanders lieutenant whose title is deputy chief of the mayor's office of ethics and integrity, has created her own elaborate program for managing the media. In a draft "communications plan" dated September 20 and obtained last week from the mayor's office under the California Public Records Act, SawyerKnoll, onetime chief counsel to ex-city school superintendent Alan Bersin, outlines a series of aggressive steps she says are necessary to "ensure a consistent message about the importance of ethics to the Mayor and to the City."

But much of the document is devoted to ideas for garnering favorable coverage of SawyerKnoll herself. "Pitch stories/interviews as appropriate (e.g., one-year anniversary of Deputy Chief appointment)," says one. "Target community newspapers for area-specific stories/interviews (e.g., Deputy Chief's hometown)," says another. "Pursue editorial board briefings with Deputy Chief and key publications (e.g., The San Diego Union-Tribune)," says yet another. And: "Submit Deputy Chief for San Diego Magazine's '50 People to Watch.' "

The plan goes on to suggest engaging in ethically questionable PR practices: "Draft and submit timely op-ed pieces on our behalf and/or work with community partners to co-write or ghost-write op-ed pieces." It calls for the office to "Pitch/write articles for trade publications based on editorial focus (e.g., public administrators, elected officials, etc.)" and "respond strategically to op-eds with letters to the editor." In addition, SawyerKnoll wants to "pursue interview-style local broadcast media opportunities (e.g., 'San Diego People,' 'Full Focus,' 'Forefront,' 'Take Five,' 'These Days with Tom Fudge,' 'Roger Hedgecock Show')," as well as to "pursue local television morning show opportunities (e.g., KFMB, KNSD, KUSI)."

Also: "Submit awards entries on behalf of OEI and City staff recognizing the ethics program and its leaders; publicize awards conferred." A calendar of events to be promoted under the plan includes this month's "One-year anniversary of Jo Anne SawyerKnoll appointment as Deputy Chief," to be marked by an "editorial briefing" with the U-T, a mention on the Voice of San Diego's website, and publicity in "community papers in JAS neighborhood, hometown."

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