Seldom has America experienced a more joyous, uplifting and inspiring Inaugural Day than when George W. Bush took the oath of office January 20. At least, that's the impression you'd gather from reading the next day's Houston Chronicle.
We got a ten-page special section about "A Day of Deep Cold and Warm Feelings." It and the front-page stories were filled with the glitz and glamour of the wonderful day, dutifully taking note of the protesters. We learned about the bands from Texas that marched, we learned in a sidebar that the "Bush Family Should Have No Problem Finding, And Fitting Into, A Place of Worship"; we learned that at the inaugural balls, celebrants "danced the night away."
We didn't learn, unless we read The New York Times, that "Viewers along the entire parade route in some places were so sparse that what was meant to be the mother of all celebrations occasionally took on the rinky-dink aspect of a Miss Firecracker contest."
Even the Austin American-Statesman, in a decidedly upbeat look at the day, noted that "[L]ike a wake trailing a boat, thousands of cold, soaked spectators began to leave as soon as [Bush's] motorcade passed. By the time the U.S. Army Band marched past at the head of the parade, the crowd had thinned considerably."
Now we know it's The New York Times, the epitome of East Coast liberalism, and the Chronicle was just doing some straight reporting. And the Chron would never editorialize like that when covering an inaugural parade.
Unless it was a Clinton inaugural, of course. The headline on January 21, 1993: "The Clinton Inauguration: 'Where's the Enthusiasm?': Hoopla Fades After Clintons Stroll Down Pennsylvania Ave."
That story said the inaugural parade "was watched the way people would view a sunrise rather than a circus. 'Where's the enthusiasm?' asked [one attendee]. 'I want to hear some people cheer!' "
Not in the Chron, dude. At least not for another eight years.
Houston's Leading Information Source also displayed an interesting diversion of opinion on how to treat gatherings of several hundred people in downtown Houston.
In December, while the paper was busy trying to hype the galleryfurniture.com Bowl, it gave top-of-the-Metro-front treatment, along with a picture, to a downtown game-related concert where it claimed "several hundred" folks showed up. (A crowd estimate that was grossly overstated, said some in attendance.)
On January 21 a crowd that even the Chronicle said was 300 strong gathered in downtown Houston to protest the inauguration and let people know they thought Bush stole the election.
Three hundred people protesting in an otherwise deserted downtown Houston on a Saturday afternoon? Surely that would get prominent treatment on the Metro page, right?
Well, no. The Metro front was completely free of all breaking news that day, but there was no room for the protest. Instead, that story -- without a picture -- was buried deep, deep in the front section, next to a brief on how a lot of people attended the Houston Chronicle's Managing Your Money seminar.
A Boy Named Soo
It's always difficult for one media outlet to follow another one on a story. It's like eating crow.
But the Houston Chronicle sucked it up and did the deed January 26, following up on a report that had appeared in the Houston Press ("In the Chops," by Bob Burtman, January 25) about how the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority was going to raze the karate studio of Grandmaster Kim Soo in order to build the new basketball arena.
The story didn't mention the Press article, of course. But we're sure they read it.
On the other hand, maybe we're not so sure. Somehow the Chronicle reporter and copy desk managed to refer to Kim as "Soo" throughout the story, as in "One of Soo's neighbors "
Asian surnames typically come first. So the Chron calling the grandmaster "Soo" would be like calling our new vice president "Dick" in all later references. Assuming you don't have a political agenda.
They call him Screamin' Stevie Dean for his sometimes hyperventilating news reports, so it's no surprise that rumors quickly surfaced that the departure of six-year veteran KTRH radio newsman and talk-show host Stephen Dean was loud and unruly. Alas, it's not true.
Dean went in the week of January 22 to give his two-week notice and inform the station he was taking a job with KPRC-TV. His boss, Ken Charles, told him to leave immediately, but there was no shouting match.
"If you're going to work for the competition, you don't usually let people work out their two weeks," Charles says. "But there was no shouting, no ugliness. In fact, I told him I'm really proud of him."
Dean is just the latest exit during Charles's regime. The executive was brought in a few months ago to consolidate operations at KTRH and KPRC-AM, the city's two main talk stations, now both owned by industry giant Clear Channel Communications. Since then he's sacked longtime sports-talk host John O'Reilly from KPRC-AM and sports talker Russ Small and garden guy John Burrow from KTRH.
He also got rid of Dean's daily consumer-help call-in show.
"A lot of it came about not because these were awful people, it was because when we consolidated we had five people for something where we needed only one or two," Charles says. "It led to some really, really hard choices."
Among the easier choices, taking effect January 29: No longer will traffic reports be introduced by the sound effects of blaring car horns and a collision. "If you're driving in your car, you don't want to hear that," he says.
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The bluebloods in Boston were in an absolute dither recently when one of their local TV stations went live with helicopter coverage of a police chase. Only one station did so, but it earned rebukes from critics such as Mark Jurkowitz of The Boston Globe.
"Several observers," Jurkowitz wrote January 18, "said yesterday they thought this was the first time a Boston station had ever aired a live highway chase, which is a staple of television news in places like Los Angeles and Texas."
Whoa there, feller. We don't know about no Los Angeles, but here in Texas we just have us a bunch of stations aimin' to inform the public. And if they choose to do so by a-showin' inconsequential police chases instead of City Hall reporting, well, that's their God-given right.
When's the last time Harvard was in the Cotton Bowl, anyway?