By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
A group of Houston sixth-graders from Lanier Middle School was scheduled to take a tour of the White House on March 15, but because of a bureaucratic snafu they were denied entry.
Their teacher, Jim Henley, organized a photogenic protest outside the White House, with kids shouting, according to reports, "We want George! Open up the doors!"
Somehow the media got tipped off. Henley didn't return our phone calls, so instead of assuming he called the Houston Chronicle's Washington bureau, we'll assume that those die-hard news dogs rooted out the story on their own.
The protest paid off -- the tour, which was supposed to have been arranged through Representative Sheila Jackson Lee's office, was miraculously reinstated and taken by the kids the next day. With ensuing coverage by the Chron, and several of Houston's local news stations.
All the media outlets talked with Henley, who had encouraged the kids to protest after they were turned away. (" 'We can walk away, or you can do something memorable,' Henley said he told the students," the Chron reported.)
What none of the media mentioned, even in passing: Henley is Susan McDougal's brother.
If that name only vaguely rings a bell, she's the woman who went to jail rather than cooperate with Ken Starr's Whitewater jihad. Henley himself was a Whitewater figure, having been indicted, tried and cleared of fraud charges connected to the Castle Grande deal. (In case you forget, "the Castle Grande deal" was yet another obscure real estate transaction that somehow proved that Bill Clinton was the bastard son of Bella Abzug and Satan.)
Henley publicly supported his sister throughout her ordeal: "His eyes misting with tears, Henley, 50, talked about what he tells students in his debate classes at Lanier Middle School," according to a 1998 newspaper account. " 'I am trying to say we have a democracy worth saving, it's a great country but not as long as we do this to our leaders.' "
He also regularly showed up and talked to reporters at McDougal's many court appearances.
This being Houston, some readers and viewers took offense at the thought of students being so rude toward the White House, and by extension President Bush.
Letters poured in to the Chron's edit page: Henley's students "were supported in their perception of being wronged and rewarded for seeking immediate gratification by demonstrating. What values are we teaching youth today?" one reader wrote. Said another: "If I had been the gatekeeper, it wouldn't have mattered if their paperwork was in order or not -- I would have rejected them on their appearance. I hope our president didn't witness that motley crew."
One can only hope.
The issue became so hot that Henley -- who's actually a very popular teacher among Lanier students and parents -- had an op-ed piece in the Chron giving his side of the story once again ("Our students and parents were respectful and dignified in our short demonstration"). He was ID'd only as a teacher.
It's not difficult to imagine the even-more-frothing reaction of the right-wingers if the Whitewater connection had been disclosed, but the Chron somehow denied us that fun.
And it wasn't like it was a big secret. That 1998 piece featuring a tearful Henley? It was a locally written story published right in Houston's Leading Information Source.
Yankee Go Home
We're sure readers and viewers in Houston would have reacted as strongly if Bill Clinton had been in the White House. But maybe not.
New York Times reporter Frank Bruni came to town March 20 to tout his Bush campaign bio, Ambling into History. While the book has been criticized for being too soft on Bush, at the Barnes & Noble on Voss Road the locals were more interested in how Bruni could take it upon himself to criticize Our President.
"Where are you from?" one offended questioner asked Bruni.
When he replied that he was from the New York area, no further discussion was apparently required.
"I thought so," the questioner harrumphed, somehow refraining from quipping "QED" to her fellow inquisitors.