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Hearst To Review Editorial Policies

Updated:
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Hearst Corp. appointed a former federal judge Wednesday to review the editorial policies of its flagship newspaper, and reassured staffers of the rival San Francisco Chronicle that its ethical standards will be ``inviolable'' if it takes over their paper.

Charles B. Renfrew of San Francisco, who specializes in internal corporate investigations, will lead ``an internal review of editorial policies at the San Francisco Examiner,'' Hearst said in a statement.

The review was motivated by the testimony of Examiner editor and publisher Timothy White, who said in court last week that he had offered Mayor Willie Brown favorable editorial treatment in exchange for the mayor's support of Hearst's purchase of the Chronicle.

Hearst executives said it will be up to Renfrew, who also once served as a deputy U.S. attorney general, to decide how far to go with the probe.

``There will be unlimited access to any and all employees and any and all documents,'' said James Asher, Hearst chief legal officer for development.

Earlier, Hearst had said it would limit its probe to the question of whether White alone violated journalistic ethics.

White testified that he offered the mayor favorable editorial treatment on Aug. 30. White later disavowed the testimony in a statement Hearst sent to the media. Examiner Executive Editor Phil Bronstein, who said he was at the meeting between White and Brown, said White made no such offer, and denied that the newspaper's opinion pages were improperly slanted in Brown's favor.

Hearst suspended White after his testimony, and appointed George Irish, president of Hearst newspapers, as acting publisher of the Examiner.

White's testimony came during a trial in federal court to decide whether Hearst can buy the Chronicle for $660 million and pay a local publisher to take the Examiner off its hands. Former mayoral candidate Clint Reilly is trying to persuade a judge to block the Chronicle purchase as a violation of antitrust law.

Lawyers for the Chronicle Publishing Corp. and Hearst asked the judge to dismiss the case Wednesday. As merely a single-copy buyer who hasn't proven that the newspaper's sale would hurt him economically, Reilly lacks standing to sue, they argued.

The judge answered that he wanted to give Reilly's attorneys a chance to cross-examine other Hearst executives before ruling on the motion.

Meanwhile, Irish responded Tuesday to a petition signed by more than 80 Chronicle staffers expressing ethical concerns over White's testimony.

``Adherence to ethical standards by all employees, and by the newspaper itself, is a policy we promise will be inviolable if the San Francisco Chronicle becomes a Hearst-owned newspaper,'' Irish wrote.

Antitrust law comes into play because the morning Chronicle and afternoon Examiner have been joined at the hip for 35 years by an antitrust exemption that lets them combine nearly all business operations while keeping the reporters and editors in stiff competition.

Hearst contends that the Examiner in its present form is a financial failure.
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