News Hostage

Witnesses Say Sun Rose in East
We always like to give credit where it's due, so let's hand out a hearty round of congratulations to the Houston Chronicle for its worldwide scoop, bannered across the front page of its Sunday, February 21, edition, that Muhammad Ali is ... well ... still alive.

Any bleary-eyed Sunday reader might be forgiven for thinking the opposite was true, of course; after all, you pick up the paper and see a news item on Ali with a headline that includes his age, you can be forgiven for thinking the champ has gone to the Great Scorer in the sky.

But a close examination of the story revealed no death notice. It also failed to reveal much of a point, quoting a handful of locals to support the thesis that, as the headline claimed, Ali was "still the greatest." It wasn't Ali's birthday or anything, the ex-champ hadn't done anything significant lately to use as a news hook, and there wasn't even some lame "Black History Month" logo to explain the story's raison d'etre.

Next week's banner Sunday story: Former Astros Ace Mike Scott, Fortysomething, Fondly Remembered by Some.

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie
In a world beset by constant change, it's nice that some traditions remain. Fireworks on the Fourth of July. Turkey on Thanksgiving. And an investigative report on strip clubs during TV's sweeps rating period.

Channel 2's Susan Lennon did the honors this year and ably touched all the required bases February 21: shaky hidden-camera work of gyrating dancers in dark clubs, an interview with a scuzzy-looking club owner identified only by a first name, and narration that noted -- without any sense of irony or self-consciousness -- that "sex sells" in Houston.

Lennon added her own solid, professional touch: The wide shot of her talking to club owner "Johnny" showed more leg than was displayed by the dancer she later interviewed.

Be Still My F***ing Heart
Headline on the front page of the February 26 Chronicle: "Bush Pledges Hint on 2000 Race in Two Weeks."

Have a Supernice Day
It's always entertaining, if a bit bewildering, to take a glance into the sunny world of Thom Marshall, the columnist who the Chronicle apparently thinks is to Houston what Mike Royko was to Chicago or Jimmy Breslin to New York.

Marshall produces a city column as written by Mr. Rogers, a place (which he endearingly refers to as "this edge of the page") where grownups can feel confident there'll be no nasty opinions or anything that might upset the kiddies.

Take February 24, the day two of the felons convicted in the Hotel Six City Hall bribery case were to be sentenced. Marshall helpfully divided his column into two subsets, one headed "Some Favor Leniency," the second, "Others Demand Long Sentences."

His gutsy conclusion, here reprinted verbatim: "I wonder how many hours Judge [David] Hittner has spent evaluating all the elements, pondering all the legal, social, political, ethical questions. I wonder how often he has found himself weighing this factor against that one, trying to get the scales of justice balanced just so."

Period. End of column.
I just hope Marshall can handle all the hate mail, man. But I guess you don't do what he does unless you've developed a pretty thick skin.

A grateful city says thanks, Thom: We probably never even would have thought to wonder how many hours Judge Hittner had spent "trying to get the scales of justice balanced just so," if you hadn't brought it up and all.

Marshall's searing Hotel Six piece followed hard on the heels of another beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood effort about alleged City Hall corruption, this one involving city agenda director Dan Jones's being placed on administrative leave in connection with possible financial irregularities involving renovations at city buildings.

Dan and Thom got acquainted early in the term of ol' Mayorbob -- that's former mayor Bob Lanier, to those of you mush-aphobics who avoid like the plague "this edge of the page." Got himself the idea to get readers to send in fix-'em-up suggestions, Thom did, and he'd pass them on to the city and see what happened. Dan Jones was a wonderful help during that time, says Thom.

Jones was helping Lanier on so many big projects, Thom wrote in his February 19 column, that "it must have been a real exciting and busy time for anyone working as close to [Lanier] as Jones was. Must have been hard to keep up with everything."

Marshall noted that the D.A.'s office is doing an investigation "and maybe a grand jury look-see" into allegations of sloppy financial paperwork on the construction projects. For anyone wondering what the hell a "grand jury look-see" is, Marshall said it's something "that sounds like a real complicated process, going through all the boxes of documents." And all.

But don't worry, readers. While it sure would be a shame "if we learn there was a lot of public money misdirected or wasted," Marshall wrote, "it won't surprise me if it turns out that Jones' worst mistake was he didn't pay enough attention to the red tape details that went along with his duties ... [H]e knew how things were going to turn out anyway, so he skipped over the gear grinding."

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