Diving To The Bottom Of The Media Barrel Each Week

A Reporter's Manifesto

We know it's mean to say anything about Maxine Mesinger, the Houston Chronicle's longtime gossip columnist. She is bravely fighting a debilitating disease, after all.

But we can't let her August 9 effort go by. It was a rousing call to arms for reporters everywhere.

Mesinger was mightily annoyed by a Chronstory several days earlier that said Clint Eastwood was coming to town to film a movie at the Johnson Space Center. We were annoyed at the article, too, but that was because we had somehow hoped Houston had gotten to the point where we didn't have to read gee-whiz stories every time a real, live movie star was here to make a real, live Hollywood picture show just like you see in them thar the-ay-ters.

Mesinger was more annoyed with the fact that Eastwood was trying to go about his work quietly. No interviews, no public appearances.

"I've had a bone to pick with an element of Hollywood and its so-called big stars for a long time," Mesinger thundered. The story about Eastwood "made it clear that he wants nothing to with Houstonians." She added: "That includes the media, which, including me, have given him fame and fortune over the years. I mean, where would he and his movies be if newspapers, television, magazines, etc., ignored his work after it was completed?"

Barging ahead in full "you go, girl" mode, Mesinger answered her own question. Kind of. "If we all banded together and ignored those who ignore us, I think it would be a different story," she wrote. Um, okay, Maxine.

Standing atop the barricades like Valjean in Les Mis, she passionately threw down the gauntlet to the journalistic profession: "As for me, from now on I plan to work only with those who have a little respect for me and my colleagues. And there are many of them. Big stars, too, who have made my career, and my social life, a joy forever."

Take that, Mr. Big Shot Eastwood.

Come See My Movies!

We have nothing against the glossy magazine called 002, even though the incredibly detailed downtown map they print each month shows the Houston Pressbuilding to be nothing but an empty parking lot.

We especially like the "Gish at the Movies" column, written by Sarah Gish, the city manager for Landmark Theatres. Gish, it turns out, really likes movies that are playing at Landmark Theatres.

"She is not a film critic, but rather a person who loves quality films," the column's intro says each month. And if those quality films are playing at the Landmark's River Oaks or Greenway Plaza theaters, so much the better.

She reviews — sorry, she "loves" — three movies each month in the magazine. In July all three happened to be playing at Landmark theaters. One was also playing at the Angelika Film Center, in an apparent change of Angelika's policy of booking only non-newsworthy movies. In August two of the three movies were on Landmark screens; My Life So Farwas "playing at an art house in Houston." (Actually, it's not — at least not yet — because of the schedule-fiddling endemic to the art-film world.)

Gish's seeming slight of a competitor by referring to a nameless "art house" isn't quite as ominous as it appears: My Life So Far's distributor hasn't picked a Houston theater yet.

But we like 002's philosophy of choosing columnists. It takes the Maxine philosophy even further: Mesinger won't do a story unless the subject cooperates; 002cuts out the middleman and just lets the subject hype herself.

Next month: "Rating the New Trucks," by Tommie Vaughn of Tommie Vaughn Ford. Turns out the new Ford Rangers are really good bargains.

Living in the Past

The August 9 Chronicle was a virtual time capsule, endlessly evoking days gone by. The front page featured a wire story on the 25th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation. Next to it was another installment in the paper's ongoing look at each of Houston's freeways, a story that opened by discussing protests in the early 1970s opposing construction on the La Porte freeway.

The front page of the Metropolitan section had five stories. Well, four stories and a piece on a shuttle-bus driver at Bush Intercontinental Airport who, according to the headline, "Sings, Cracks Jokes and Listens to Passengers' Troubles." The lede on a story on the fading threat of gangs in Gulfton kept up the nostalgia theme: "Five years ago, Houston City Councilman Ray Driscoll avoided the Gulfton area, where 60,000 of his constituents reside."

We were afraid to turn to the weather page, positive that we would see something like this: "Back in August of 1975, when the country was dancing to the disco beat and getting scared out of its wits by a mechanical shark named Jaws, the highs were in the mid-90s, and lows were in the mid-70s. They will be again tomorrow, and for the rest of the week."

Hey, at least the Chronicle's on-line archives are getting a lot of hits.

No Shit

It's a real juggling act, trying not to offend your readers while keeping them fully informed. At the Chronicle, that act is getting more entertaining than ever.

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