By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Thank you for dining in my restaurant for lunch and dinner. [Cafe, "Plus ea Change," by Alison Cook, April 20] I trust your stomach felt much better after eating fettuccine Alfredo than mine did after reading your vicious article.
I wonder how a person such as yourself, whose job produces absolutely no goods and services for anyone, except for someone who lines their birdcage with your articles, can so easily attempt to harm the livelihood of so many people who go to work for Birraporetti's every day. In writing your article I'm sure you didn't take into account the impact your vicious words would have on the hardest working and most creative man I've had the pleasure of working with, Mr. Jim Mills. Mr. Mills and his staff work upwards of 80 hours a week producing our new "institutional" menu. I'm also sure you could care less about the many people who work in our restaurants, many of them for minimum wage, who get to hear about their hard work labeled as "gunk." Hard work and long hours are obviously two subjects you know little about. Your job appears to be no more than lunching with your snobbish friends and then sitting at a typewriter and blasting the very people who just served you. We should all be so unlucky, as to have nothing better to do with our time.
According to your article it will be a long time before you return to Birraporetti's, but when you do, please feel free to discuss your dining experience face to face. If something is not quite right then we will be able to correct it for you. You might even feel a sense of accomplishment helping to improve a business instead of hiding behind your typewriter attacking it.
Editor's note: To correct two small points: Alison Cook works extremely hard and extremely long hours, and she hasn't used a typewriter in years.
She'll Go to Birraporetti's First
I don't know much about food, but I know that Alison Cook is a tremendously good writer. Her review of the neo-classic American steak at Outback Steakhouse [Cafe, May 4] is a classic of its own.
One suggestion: I know Ms. Cook is busy, but would it be possible to go back to new restaurants about a year after the first review? I know not all restaurants last that long, but it seems to me a place like, say, the Empire Cafe should have a chance to show that it has taken your reviewer's words to heart and is no longer serving "baked egg frittatas [that] sing the dry texture blues." (Or, if those objects of scorn are in fact still being offered up to Inner Loop hipsters, we readers need to know that, too.)
One Horse Town with One Daily
Who killed the Houston Post? All the usual suspects, as you state in your article ["Post Mortem," by Tim Fleck, Michael Berryhill and Jim Simmon, April 27]. But when a major institution like a newspaper in a major city like Houston is killed, then there are more than just the usual suspects involved. The political and business establishments here knew of course that the Post was dying, and they did nothing to save it. Its death is really upon their heads.
The Houston power structure has been remarkably monolithic and insular, especially since Bill Hobby got out of the newspaper business and into a politics in 1972. Those who control this city have done a superb job keeping all their cohorts fat and happy and conflict free -- everybody who's anybody has always shared the wealth. The only outsiders I know of that they have allowed in have been Mafioso, and that's primarily because Houston has been under the aegis of the New Orleans Marcello family, which has generously let its friends in Florida, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City come down here for a bite of the apple.
So the very idea of two newspapers is generally anathema to our civic and business leaders. It can lead to conflict and unpleasantness and awkward, embarrassing facts about them leaking out in the heat of competition. Hence the crocodile tears of Mayor Lanier at the news of the Post's death. Back when Oveta Hobby owned the Post, everyone knew she would do nothing to upset the apple cart, although I would like to think that if Bill had quit politics and run the paper himself, things might have been different. Instead, the Hobbys took the Canadians' money and ran.
The poor, naive Canadians! They came down here believing all the TV media and movie hype about friendly, open, stranger-welcoming, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps Texans. For example, when they thought the Chronicle was cheating on circulation, they figured the powers that be, fair-minded souls all, of course would get behind them. They figured wrong. They figured when they started doing more local investigative reporting, the powers that be, open-minded, truth-loving souls all, of course would get behind them. They figured wrong.
I'll never forget the attitude of Peter O'Sullivan, the Canadians' editor, when I wrote my first story for the Post, an expose of the conflicts of interest at the Harris County Hospital District, involving Texas Commerce Bank, at that time a sister institution of the Chronicle, and other powerful institutions. He was really gung ho. He figured that all the fair, civic-minded leaders in Houston would get behind this exposure of cronyism. He figured wrong. As the days went by and we ran even more stories and nothing happened, O'Sullivan's optimism waned. The writing was on the wall. I remember when Hearst bought the Chronicle from the Houston Endowment for $415 million, after an investigation by the Post forced them to add another $15 million. Doug Creighton, the Canadian CEO, was chortling: no way the Chronicle is worth $415 million. I told him it would be if it were the only newspaper in Houston. He said that would never happen. But when the Typhoid Mary of the newspaper business, Dean Singleton, offered them their money back plus some profit, they jumped out of here as fast as they could. I would like to believe that if the Houston establishment had supported the Canadians, they would still be here running the Post.
One thing Singleton showed us that I guess we should be grateful for, if we didn't already know: you don't save a newspaper by cutting staff, space and expenses. You save it by making it better and spending more on staff and space. I've always felt Singleton, a simpleton, was a front man for others, maybe his New Jersey partners, maybe his mentor, Houston banker and media mogul Jo Albritton, who, it should be remembered, once owned the now-defunct Washington Star. These people obviously didn't want to fight the Chronicle; they wanted to milk the Post, figuring that if things didn't work out they could always sell out to Hearst.
And there is no question that Singleton and his cohorts were handed a big profit by Hearst. No way was the Post worth $120 million. Why would the Chronicle, excuse me, Hearst, give Singleton such a nice, big, fat going-away present? Well for one thing, they wanted to make sure they got the Post and not anyone else who might make it into a competitor. But I like to think of it as a great big "thank you": Thank you, Dean, for running the Post into the ground and making Houston a one-newspaper town, to go along with its one horse.
Singleton threw out a couple of red herrings after the Post's closure was announced. First, he blamed the demise on the rising cost of newsprint. Nonsense. Even if the cost of newsprint had stayed constant, how was Singleton going to meet his balloon debt payment due this year? Singleton was finished regardless. It was just a matter of when, not how. Second, he claimed he didn't want to put out a farewell edition because such editions are pathetic. Yeah, sure. What he did is what he wanted to do: negotiate with Hearst in secret, cut a deal in secret and present Post employees (and all Houstonians) with a fait accompli so that they would not have a chance to do anything, such as protest to the Justice Department or arrange alternate financing to make a competitive bid or take a pay cut to keep publishing.
When something big happens in the life of a city like the closing of the Post, we need to ask at least two questions: who benefits and who is harmed. We know who benefits -- the Chronicle and its cronies, the political incumbents and business establishments (big retailers and advertisers will save money, even though the Chronicle will jack its rates up, because they no longer have to spend money at the Post.) Those who are harmed are harder to identify exactly. But the readers of the Post, certainly, and anyone who wants to challenge a political incumbent or a competing business, and finally, future generations of Houstonians who will grow up in a one-newspaper city.
Editor's note: Brewton worked as a reporter at both the Chronicle and the Post. He is now an attorney in Houston.