Starry, Starry Night

The Chronicle gets honored at a downtown bash

If you don't have any plans for Friday, May 18, you do now. Even if you do have plans, change them.

Drop everything and fork over $3,000 for a table to the Downtown Houston Association's annual Heart of the City gala that night.

Sure, the event -- named Sounds of the Night -- is gonna be terrific, according to the press release: "Sounds of the Night will be an energetic celebration of all that is extraordinary in downtown." There will be "a lively performance" by Yvonne Washington, followed by "a saucy routine" by the La Vida Loca dancers "and finally a moving performance" by Barbara Tucker and the Chosen Few Gospel Group.

(Finally a moving performance from those guys! It's about time they got their act together.)

But more than the entertainment, more than the "sumptuous dinner," the reason to go, and pay $3,000 a table (or $150 per individual) is this year's honoree: the Houston Chronicle.

The DHA is honoring the Chron "for its continuing commitment to downtown Houston for the past 100 years."

That commitment apparently extends to supporting just about everything the DHA supports, whether it's a new baseball stadium or basketball arena for decadently rich team owners or anti-panhandling ordinances for people who aren't decadently rich team owners.

Still not convinced the event is worth $150? Be prepared to change your mind. The press release also contains this sentence: "Memorabilia from the Houston Chronicle will be on display during the reception."

Memorabilia from Houston's Leading Information Source? What could that possibly be? Cragg Hines's legendary dinner expense reports? The skyscraper-sized stack of various 12-page special sections designed (not well, apparently) to win Pulitzers? The official Chronicle Crowd Over-Estimator (Instantly turns a thousand people at any Houston Proud event into ten thousand!).

Maybe the memorabilia will include the guidebook issued to every reporter on how to fawn over Houston Texans owner Bob McNair. Although that manual might still be in Louisville, where it was in heavy use during the recent Kentucky Derby.

McNair had a horse in the race, called Congaree, which the Chron hyped endlessly in the days before the race.

"A Derby victory would be an incredible accomplishment not just for Congaree but for McNair's Stonerside Stable, which has become one of the top racing operations in the world," reporter Fred M. Faour wrote. He added, "McNair built Stonerside with the same model he plans to use for the NFL Texans."

(Faour's lead that day about the plucky horse: "You might have heard the story line before: An athlete overcomes a near-death experience at birth and several subsequent health problems to make it to the top of his sport." Geez, not that story again.)

Alas, Congaree could not provide the Chronicle with the happy ending McNair so (apparently) richly deserved. He finished third, but that didn't stop columnist Mickey Herskowitz from showering the love on the billionaire energy magnate.

"Day Far from Lost for McNair Clan," the headline read. "For a few precious moments, the dignified McNair cheered with the loudest of them," Herskowitz wrote. "But as it became obvious [another horse] was pulling away, McNair's arms dropped to his side and his face froze. He showed no disappointment, no shock, no distress….McNair's expression was unchanged. The Gestapo could not have made him whimper."

It's still 16 months until the Texans play a game, and already the frantic effort to find new ways to praise McNair has stooped to Gestapo references. That guidebook is gonna be pretty dog-eared by 2002, but it is a damn fine piece of memorabilia.

One item that won't be on display at the gala will be the Chron's new circulation numbers. Like many papers around the country, it lost some subscribers in the most recent six-month reporting period.

The paper tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, headlining its business brief "Chronicle Maintains Its Position in the Top Ten of U.S. Circulation."

The paper also continued promoting the myth that USA Today and The Wall Street Journal don't count when it comes to ranking newspaper size. The Chron insisted it's the seventh-largest paper in the country, which it is only if you pretend those other two papers don't exist.

Another Hunt

A few months back, KTRK reporter Cynthia Hunt left some viewers slack-jawed with a lengthy investigation into where to go in Houston if you were a gold-digger looking for rich men. She later told us that response to that story had been incredible, and we reluctantly came to understand that she meant that in a good way.

This being sweeps month and all, the inevitable has occurred: Hunt ferreted out the scoop (without even using the Freedom of Information Act!) on where guys can go to meet all those rich, single women who are just desperate to meet the kind of men who use a TV report to decide where to do their stalking.

"We went straight to PaperCity magazine, the authority on Houston's social scene," Hunt told viewers. If you're not familiar with PaperCity, you're probably the type of person who wants more from a publication than party pictures and lighter-than-air prose.

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