Bursting Bubbles

Someone sabotages a Channel 13 report

It was pretty much a run-of-the-mill health report on Channel 13's 5 p.m. news April 17.

Reporter Christi Myers told viewers of a possible breakthrough in curing what's popularly known as Bubble Boy disease.

As she provided details, film clips were shown of David Vetter, the Houston-area kid who suffered from SCID, or severe combined immunodeficiency, until his 1984 death at the age of 12. Vetter became famous as "the boy in the bubble," the kid whose story was turned into a John Travolta made-for-TV movie.

As the KTRK report rolled, we saw clips of Vetter in his plastic environment, laughing, playing and looking somber. And then, suddenly, the musty film was replaced by a decidedly newer-looking clip.

There was Vetter -- or someone -- in a cartoonishly large round bubble. He looked to be about 20 years old.

That's strange, we thought.

It got decidedly stranger as the person in the bubble took a step off the curb …and got plastered by a bus that was speeding by.

With the blink of an eye, it was back to more gauzy '70s-era film of Vetter.

It happened quickly enough that you had to ask yourself whether you saw what you just saw. But there was no doubt -- someone at 13 had inserted a clip from last summer's alleged teen comedy Bubble Boy, a critically reviled slapstick comedy that bombed at the box office.

The movie's release last August led Vetter's mother to call for a boycott. "I feel it's outrageous and an insult to David's memory," she told the Houston Chronicle.

Not to a mysterious someone with access to the video equipment at KTRK, though. Whoever it was, he didn't agree with The Boston Globe ("Bubble Boy Is Rude, Crude and Formulaic") or the Chicago Tribune ("cruel and tasteless").

"It was an embarrassing error that was corrected immediately," KTRK news director Dave Strickland says. "I apologize to the family and those offended. I have taken measures to make sure it does not happen again."

No word on whether he plans to rent There's Something About Mary for an upcoming report on hair-care products.

Not Burning Bright

There's little new to say about Tiger Woods. And if there were, we're guessing Chron columnist Fran Blinebury isn't the guy to say it.

But that hasn't stopped him. For those of you keeping score at home, here's the latest update.

In the past few years, Blinebury has compared Woods to: Elvis Presley, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Michelangelo, Sir Edmund Hillary, Secretariat, "a modern-day Arthur come to pull the sword from the stone," Yoda, Lennon and McCartney, and "a Swiss watchmaker or a surgeon. Yet full of poetry, listening to his own muse."

While he's at it, Blinebury has described Woods's competitors as: "so many Evel Knievels riding their outmatched motorbikes over the edge into oblivion," having "the vacant stare of POWs following a long interrogation," ready to "crumble like bleu cheese on a salad," "a well-dressed collection of Cowardly Lion clones beating a hasty retreat," "spending more time in the bunker than Eva Braun" and "golf's version of haggis, the Scottish dish that consists of ground-up, unspeakable animal parts."

More updates to come. We fear.

In Other News

Speaking of the sports pages, the Chron's Astros beat writer took a dangerous foray into the world of international geopolitics April 17.

Days after the failed coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, reporter Jose de Jesus Ortiz assessed the situation, as seen through the eyes of Astros brass and Venezuelan ballplayers.

Now Chavez ain't no saint, but he is a democratically elected head of state, as opposed to the big-business oilmen and army generals who tried to overthrow him with the hamfisted, wink-wink "now don't break any laws!" encouragement of the Bush administration.

The Chron reported that many Venezuelan major-leaguers "celebrated" when Chavez was ousted, without noting that those major-leaguers are no doubt in the wealthiest 2 percent of that country -- the extremely well-off who were most threatened by Chavez's promises to spread the wealth.

" 'They have to do something to get Chavez out,' said a Venezuelan slugger who requested anonymity," the Chron reported.

A players' agent was quoted as calling Chavez "the next Fidel Castro." No one was quoted as saying, "George W. Bush subverting the democratic process? Do tell."

Terrible things could happen in Venezuela, the Chron noted: "If Chavez becomes a dictator, as many in baseball and President Bush's administration fear," Ortiz wrote, "there's no telling if Major League Baseball will be able to maintain baseball academies there."

 
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