Monday, May 10, 2010

The Media and Theodore Mack

From May 10, 1971
After Theodore Mack purchased The Peoples Brewing Company on April 14, 1970, he seemed somewhat taken aback by the media attention that marked his arrival in Oshkosh. In 1970 there were two Oshkosh newspapers, The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern and The Paper, both of which were running stories about Mack and his plans for the brewery on an almost daily basis. Most of these reports were strikingly repetitive and, in the end, amount to little more than Mack trying to counter rumors and fears generated by the realization that Oshkosh would be home to America’s first black-owned brewery.

Mack’s initial parries with the media here often came across as awkward and strained and as the weeks wore on you can sense that he was growing tired of answering the same questions and assuaging the same baseless fears. By the end of April, Mack’s own rhetoric had grown as twisted as that which he’d spent the preceding two weeks attempting to dispute. Mack reached a low point on April 28, 1970 when he warned reporters that if Peoples Brewing failed it would be bad for the Green Bay Packers. Mack was quoted in The Paper saying that if people in the area did not buy his beer “I’d be very surprised if you have black football players here next year.”

But Mack was a quick study. He seemed to have realized that this sort of approach was going nowhere. In the months that followed, there was a noticeable change in his tone. Mack began to go out of his way to de-emphasize the racial aspect of the story and developed something of a shtick, offering reporters the same set of bullish quotes again and again. All of this comes together quite neatly in a story by Bob Greene, an Associated Press sports writer working out of Milwaukee, that ran in numerous papers on May 10, 1971. The story is ostensibly about Mack being glad to have the winter behind him and the “thirsty months” of summer up ahead, but it touches on all that had transpired over the past year. The piece is larded with vintage Mack as he trotted out a few of his favorite refrains such as “When the going gets rough, I send me,” and “We are not making a black beer or a white beer, we are making what the name implies – a people’s beer,” and “I don’t ever sleep.”

The article ran in papers across the state and was eventually picked up nationally, finding its way into newspapers such as the Oakland Tribune and the Tucson Daily Citizen, where it appeared under the headline First Black-Owned Brewery in U.S. Cuts Into Sudsy Wisconsin Market. When you consider what was actually taking place here, this all seems fairly amazing. Peoples Brewing at this point was just barely churning out 20,000 barrels of beer a year. It was a small, obscure brewery that was tottering on the edge of collapse. Peoples wasn’t even one of the 10 biggest breweries in the state of Wisconsin at this point. And the fact that this was a brewery whose president was a black man could hardly qualify as news anymore. Yet, here Mack was getting play in the national press. He had learned to work the media to his advantage and in the process managed to establish a media presence for his company that he didn’t have the money to buy.

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