The Insider

Give 'Em the Bird
If you thought that set of glass tumblers the Chronicle sold last year to commemorate its takeover of the Post was in questionable taste, check out the latest self-congratulatory production over on Texas Avenue. For weeks, disbelieving employees have been trooping up to a tenth-floor conference room near publisher Richard J.V. Johnson's office for a view of a jumbo-sized painting celebrating "Operation Falcon," the Hearst-owned paper's code name for its long-term campaign to conquer the Post and make Houston the one-daily town it is today. After the Post's demise, Hearst executives strenuously denied any responsibility for putting more than a thousand people on the street, and said they had simply stepped in to pick up the remaining assets after owner Dean Singleton shuttered the number two paper. But the Johnson-commissioned artwork makes it clear that Chronicle management, at least, considers the downfall of its cross-town rival to have resulted from a battle plan it executed with fierce military precision.

The painting, according to witnesses, depicts a large bald eagle, Hearst's corporate symbol, with wings outstretched as it descends on a hapless hooded falcon -- the Post, get it? -- sitting atop a skyscraper. Johnson apparently was so pleased with what he had ordered up that he gifted the paper's department heads with a commemorative poster of the bird-brained artwork, along with a letter providing a handy interpretation of its symbolism for the more literal-minded. The offering came in a cardboard canister stamped "confidential."

Contacted by The Insider for more information on the new addition to Houston's art treasury, Chronicle publicist Lainie Gordon denied knowledge of the identity of the "Operation Falcon" artist or the purpose behind the commissioning of the journalistic Guernica. "I E I E I E don't know," stammered Gordon. "I don't know that we have anything to tell you about that."

The Chronicle grunts we contacted seemed slightly giddy after ogling the commemorative poster. "I can't believe the bad taste," sputtered one. "I can't believe the honesty," said another.

Up to Its [Rear End] in Reality
For some reason, the Chronicle can't bring itself to say "Houston Press." We can understand that -- acting as if other media don't exist is a long-standing tradition in Houston. But last week, that reality avoidance led the daily paper to rearrange a comment made by City Councilman Michael Yarbrough as he and his colleagues discussed the municipal golf course giveaway, a story broken in this paper by staff writer Bob Burtman. What Yarbrough said, and what was heard by everybody in the Council chambers, was: "How can the Houston Press get some figures, and we can't get some figures?" When the Chronicle reported Yarbrough's remark, it came out like this: "How can the (local media) get some figures and we can't get some figures?" We can't believe the honesty.

Try Another Come-On
It must have been a real s-l-o-w day a few weeks ago when State District Judge Jim Barr crooked an index finger and beckoned the three female prosecutors assigned to his court. After assistant district attorneys Luci Davidson, Sally Ring and Kim Abbey approached his bench and one asked Barr what he wanted, the judge replied, "Oh, nothing. I just wanted to see if I could get you to come with one finger." Barr didn't return a call for comment, but KTRH radio reporter Sheila Hansel confirms that the judge came clean by admitting to her that he had made the offensive comment.

The prosecutors reportedly are planning to file a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct over Barr's stab at humor, but since another judge got off on a similar complaint without reprimand, little is expected to come of the action.

Barr already is the object of a complaint lodged by Harris County deputy Paul Rendon, whom the judge ordered jailed for failing to answer a subpoena to produce photographs of a bank robbery. Rendon claims he had left a contact number with the court, a standard procedure, and shouldn't have been jailed because of his failure to come at the appointed time. In fact, the deputy told [local media] a fine would have been appropriate if the judge "wanted to send a message." On the other hand, as the prosecutors in Barr's court can attest, some messages from the judge may not be fit for reception.

Nothing Special
Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes got an unusual offer last month from high-priced civil attorney David Berg, who volunteered to serve as an unpaid special prosecutor for the trial of the two half brothers charged in the hate-crime murder of Fred Mangione, a gay man who resided in the Katy area. Berg made the offer after talking with Terri Richardson, then president of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, who had been working with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to get federal hearings on hate crimes. Holmes, who prosecutes murders of lawmen himself, quickly put the kibosh on any special treatment of the Mangione murder. "Dear David," wrote Holmes to Berg, "you can tell Terri Richardson and Sheila Jackson Lee there will be no special prosecutor in the case." End of letter. Case closed.

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