Playing Games

The Olympic vote is hush-hush at the Chronicle

The Houston Chronicle of Sunday, October 22, featured yet another example of what's been perhaps the most welcome surprise in that gray paper: a pugnacious, antiestablishment column by political writer Julie Mason.

Mason took on the stealth effort by our city's movers and shakers to get a referendum passed supporting Houston's idiotic bid to host the Olympics in 2012. (The Summer Olympics, to be precise. The very Summer Olympics, to be more precise.)

The Houston 2012 Foundation's campaign strategy "has been based largely on the element of surprise," she wrote, citing obtuse ballot language and misleading ads.

"It was as if they were hoping voters would be so blindsided at finding the Olympics referendum on the ballot that they would reflexively pass it, just out of confusion," she wrote.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but ummm what about the damn Chronicle? Shouldn't the news pages of Houston's Leading Information Source be trying to spoil the surprise campaign by writing stories?

Apparently not. At deadline October 27, a review of the paper's archives shows that since September 1 there has been one news story on the referendum. There have been several efforts by various columnists, and a sports story whose headline noted that Houston's bid committee went to the Sydney Games and "Return[ed] Home Believing Their Bid Is Stronger Than Ever."

But as far as analysis or any other type of reporting on the referendum since Labor Day, forget it. It's almost like a conspiracy of silence. The Chron no doubt will do some sort of "on the one hand/on the other hand" wrap-up in the days remaining, but that's two months of nothing on the subject from the daily.

[Editor's update: Only the "one hand" got revealed in the October 29 election advance by the Chronicle, which merely said no formal opposition had surfaced. Curiously, there was only a casual mention that competitor Dallas plans for "a sort of private insurance policy" to avoid lining up at the public trough. Meanwhile, the newspaper the same day endorsed the ballot proposition. Inexplicably, the endorsement argued that there would be "ample time to hear, debate and understand more about the Olympic bid" later -- as if voters should pass the measure and then learn postelection about the effects of that vote.] That illogic seems to run counter to the self-congratulatory September 17 column from Jane Ely, who told readers theChronicle is "performing a super public service" by including voter registration forms with its delivered papers. "What [we] want most of all is a large turnout of "informed' voters," she wrote. "Do you want or oppose a new basketball arena in downtown Houston, favor or object to having the 2012 Olympics in Houston? These are all terribly important decisions and it would be madness to cast ignorant votes in any of these contests. The Houston Chronicle breaks its back -- and those of a great slew of its employees -- to see its readers have super opportunities to be "well-informed' voters."

Those "super opportunities" have been MIA since the campaign season began, but what the hell. (The Houston Press did its Olympic take a while back -- see "Let the Games Begin," by Bob Burtman, May 27, 1999 -- and doesn't usually revisit such stories like a daily paper typically does.)

The one Chron news story so far was "Ads Seek Support for 2012 Olympics," which noted October 20 that the bid group had just begun running "cheesy, but appealing" TV ads. That seemed to contradict a business section column a month earlier by Greg Hassell, which noted that the bid group was running "beautifully filmed" commercials during the Sydney Games. ("Beautifully filmed" commercials done by Rives Carlberg, which happens to be the Chron's very own ad agency.)

One ad campaign was done directly by the committee, it turns out, and the other by the committee's political action committee. Both were deemed worthy of coverage, in lieu of issues.

"With little opposition, and endorsements from the county's Democratic and Republican parties and the Greater Houston Partnership, [bid committee chair George] DeMontrond said he planned to run a low-key campaign," reporter Eric Berger wrote in the news story.

"This is a campaign born of confidence," wrote Hassell, the Chron's marketing columnist. "Organizers are taking a soft-sell approach because they feel sure time is on their side."

That's apparently not the only thing that's on their side, if the Chronicle's back-breaking efforts to play down the vote are any indication.

Radio Ga Ga, Part III

In what has become a continuing series, we present another report of the goings-on at KTRH, the city's leading news-radio station.

Actually, we present an opposing view. We've talked to several people who feel we've been too harsh on current management and too lax on those who have left, like former news director Joe Izbrand. (Geez, everyone's a critic.)

We also received an anonymous letter that sums up that opposing viewpoint; in furtherance of our unending effort to be fair, here's an excerpt:

"Joe Izbrand "well-respected'? Well-respected perhaps among his few handpicked henchmen who knew that to survive his tyranny meant watching with glee (or at least feigning enjoyment) as he practiced his tactics of management by humiliation and intimidation.[New GM Marc McCoy] restored humanity to an emotionally tattered newsroom and self-esteem to its workers. That alone is nothing short of miraculous."

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