Energy Rules

The Chronicle performs a boosterism triple play

We here in Houston, we love the energy industry. At least we do if we work for the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle has never been shy about being an enthusiastic cheerleader for energy companies and the politicians who support them. The week of March 11, though, the paper gifted us with a nifty triple play of boosterism.

There was Reliant Energy's announcement that it will once again be raising rates, its third increase in less than a year. The story was bannered across the front page, and went on for 26 paragraphs.

Nowhere in those 26 paragraphs was there even a slight indication that the proposed rate increase was anything but justified. Apparently no one in the entire city of Houston could be located who might criticize Reliant for raising rates yet again shortly after ponying up $300 million to put its name on the new football stadium and the old Astrodome.

Three people were quoted in the story: a Reliant vice chairman, who said the company was paying a lot more for natural gas than was being passed on to consumers; a Reliant spokesman, who simply estimated the increase in the average residential bill; and the head of an "energy investment banking firm," who said, basically, that consumers are stupid.

"The power crisis in California, [the banker] said, should have served as a wake-up call for the nation that the supply of natural gas is reaching a crucial stage," the story said. "Instead, consumers have become complacent after things settled down in the Western states. 'By the end of this summer, we will have had the ultimate wake-up call,' [he] said."

Natural gas may be getting more expensive, but it's a very, very good thing, apparently. Just a few days before the rate-hike story, the Chron did another revisit to a past story as part of its ongoing 100th-anniversary celebration.

On March 11, the event in question was the horrific 1937 New London school explosion that killed about 300 people after a spark ignited natural gas that had collected in the basement of the building.

Wait, sorry -- it wasn't our friend Natural Gas, according to the Chron; the culprit instead was "residue gas -- also known as 'wet' or 'raw' gas -- [that] is found in underground reservoirs along with petroleum."

Oh.

A Lexis/Nexis search shows that other newspapers doing anniversary stories or even investigations into pipeline safety have had no trouble identifying the New London blast as a natural gas explosion. But in the Chron, which so loves natural-gas-purveying, rate-hiking, stadium-naming Reliant Energy, it was residue gas or even "fuel gas." And the gas lost in that explosion is no doubt part of the reason a rate hike is now necessary.

The final fillip in the energy triple play came with the announcement that President Bush had rethought his position on regulating carbon dioxide emissions. Rethought it to the degree that he now opposed what he proposed during the campaign.

Most newspapers were pretty blunt in their March 14 headlines: "Bush Does About Face, Won't Regulate CO2," said the Denver Post; "Bush Reneges on CO2 Promise," read the Chicago Tribune; "Bush Drops Pledge to Curb Emissions," headlined the Los Angeles Times.

Our own Houston Chronicle? "Bush Backs Off Pledge to Limit Carbon Dioxide." Gee, if he's just "backing off," maybe he's just reconsidering, and will stick with it eventually, right? (To be fair, the lead on the story did say Bush was "reversing a campaign pledge.")

While the editorial page of just about every paper in the country weighed in on Bush's flip-flop the next day, the Chron remained silent. Although that day's op-ed section did feature a column by syndicated columnist (and right-wing nut) Michelle Malkin headlined "Memo to Bush: Lose 'Tree-Hugger' Talk."

Me.com

We guess it was inevitable: A Houston television personality has launched a Web site celebrating herself. Surf your way to www.cynthiahunt.com and you'll find "The Official Home Page of Cynthia Hunt" and discover almost everything you need to know about the KTRK reporter.

It's "almost everything" because the site features a private section available "by invitation only." It's "almost everything" because there's no mention of Hunt's cloying letters to the Railcar Killer, which earned her national notoriety.

But the site does offer the news that Hunt "was the only reporter in the nation to interview Charles Barkley when he was thinking of retiring from the NBA" and that "one of her highest college honors came when the [University of Alabama] student body voted her the university's 1992 Homecoming Queen."

There's also a link to White Oak Baptist Church -- in case, the site says, "you need a good church to go to in Northwest Houston."

Hunt says her effort "is not a professional web site yet." She launched it to help organize and distribute information to friends on her upcoming wedding. (Such nuptial Web sites are becoming increasingly common, says Valerie Kristlibas, a spokeswoman for a domain-registering company.)

Sometime this summer, Hunt says, she'll make the site a place for viewers to offer tips or criticism.

"It's an excellent way to reach people," she says. "And if self-promotion is part of getting stories or tips from people, then it's a little bit of that, too."

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