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San Francisco wines, dines foreign reporters in bid to garner good press

A woman in a pink suit addresses a crowd with a microphone.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed welcomes journalists to City Hall on Thursday evening. | Source: Julie Makinen/The Standard

Mayor London Breed welcomed American and overseas journalists to City Hall on Thursday night for a party designed to “spoil” the press and send them home with positive impressions of San Francisco as the APEC summit comes to a close.

Hundreds of reporters joined city officials, including Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, in noshing on heavy hors d’oeuvres from local restaurants and sipping wine and cocktails. 

The Mission’s El Buen Comer plated up sopes, the Marina’s Palette Tea House served up siu mai and Amber India from the Financial District slung samosas to an upbeat, if somewhat exhausted, gaggle of writers, editors and photographers—several of whom said they were “running on fumes” after days of covering meetings and intrigue among foreign leaders and business executives in town for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and APEC CEO Summit at Moscone Center. 

A group of journalists stand in a formal rotunda of a government building waiting for speeches to start.
Guests at City Hall, mainly journalists, wait for Mayor London Breed to deliver remarks on Thursday. | Source: Julie Makinen/The Standard

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus set the tone for the evening, singing from the steps of the Rotunda. The group’s opening number—”Survivors”—acknowledged in song local elected officials’ desire to actively counter the city’s battered image on the global stage. 

Challenges, everybody gets their share

Obstacles, everybody has their share

Everybody deals with pain

Everybody faces rain

Everybody could complain

We are survivors

We are the ones who stand together …

Dressed in a fuchsia pantsuit, Breed addressed the crowd, saying, “We know there’s a lot of work to do, but this week, the city was shining like the diamond that it is.”

APEC, she said, underscored how important “bridge-building and relationships are,” and the mayor expressed her hope that reporters had gotten the chance to take in the city’s “breathtaking views, tourist attractions and very special neighborhoods.” 

Some foreign press did just that—with mixed results.

‘I Had To Hire an Armed Security Guard’

Gudrun Engel, a senior reporter and the Washington bureau chief of ARD, a German-language radio and TV broadcaster, was in town to cover APEC and attended the City Hall reception.  

She said that her team had been trying to hire some Bay Area local filming crews, but three companies declined because they don’t want to work in San Francisco with their expensive cameras and equipment due to robbery concerns. She eventually found a team willing to work in the city, but they had one condition—extra security.

“For the first time of my life,” Engel said, “I had to hire an armed security guard.”

Engel said she and her crew had “brilliant” experiences filming in touristy spots, including at the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. But when they learned that a Czech news crew had been robbed at gunpoint outside City Lights bookstore, they decided to cancel all outdoor filming.

A woman in a blue dress and boots speaks using a microphone
Priya David Clemens, the press ambassador for APEC in San Francisco, addresses journalists at City Hall on Thursday. | Source: Julie Makinen/The Standard

A reporter for Chinese state media, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Standard that because of President Xi Jinping’s visit, the overall media coverage about APEC, U.S. and San Francisco in her outlet was shaped to be generally positive because the two superpowers are working to tone down their geopolitical tensions.

She said even though she and her colleagues had heard that San Francisco was “dirty” and “full of homeless people,” she believed the Chinese press was intentionally focusing on the good parts.

However, after President Joe Biden publicly reaffirmed his belief that Xi is “a dictator” following the meeting of the two leaders at Filoli estate in Woodside on Wednesday, the reporter said she expected that the honeymoon would end soon and bashing from Chinese media would resume.

Ravi Kapur, the founder of the Indian American-focused Diya TV, said that San Francisco historically had an incredible reputation among the Indian immigrant community, and the tech industry has boosted its appeal even more, driving immigration.

However, he said, “San Francisco’s reputation has taken a little bit of a hit, and we just have to be honest about it.”

India is not an APEC member, but the country is very interested in joining and sent a delegate to San Francisco this year to observe.

Kapur said he and his colleagues had noticed how the city has been handling APEC—cleaner streets and more police—and said he thought it would help.

“Let’s hope the city leaders look at this as a catalyst to keep the city at this level,” he said, “if not higher.”

Dozens of men in black T-shirts sing on the steps of a fancy government building inside.
The San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus performs for members of the media at City Hall on Thursday evening. | Source: Julie Makinen/The Standard

‘Lipstick on a Pig’

Other reporters in the crowd said they had heard negative things about San Francisco prior to their arrival in the city—mainly about drugs, homelessness and crime—but said they generally had a neutral or positive impression. 

“I had heard about the atmosphere before coming, that maybe it was dangerous, but walking from the hotel to [Moscone Center] was no problem,” said Kentaro Yamada, an NHK reporter from Japan who was on his first trip to San Francisco. “We also went to UC Berkeley for an event, and it was good.”

Ronel Pevovello, who was documenting the trip for the Philippine House of Representatives, said he had never been to San Francisco and had heard about the city’s issues with homelessness but found the situation to be comparable to Washington, D.C., where he had visited previously. “We also have homeless people in the Philippines,” he said. 

Despite Breed’s encouragement to go see the city, Pevovello said he had been hoping to get to the Golden Gate Bridge but hadn’t been able to break away from his duties at the conference. “Maybe next time,” he said. 

Whether the effort will bear fruit remains to be seen. Another reporter from a Hong Kong media outlet, who asked not to be named, said the city was “putting lipstick on a pig.” 

He said he had walked from his hotel down Ellis Street through the Tenderloin to get to City Hall for the party. The street conditions en route, he said, were “shocking.”

Mandelman said overall it seemed like APEC had been a plus for the city. “It’s been a lot to coordinate. Logistically, it’s been very complicated,” he said. “But it seems like there have been no major fails.”

Han Li can be reached at