Edifice Complex

Monica Fuentes

It's two down, one to go when it comes to silly special sections and television shows celebrating new Houston sports facilities.

We have endured the (née) Enron Field hype, where endless newsprint and airtime were devoted to a roof that retracts, along with details and diagrams of the grass that grows beneath it. We are in the middle of Reliant Stadium hype, wherein we get yet another very detailed look at roofs and grass.

We can only be thankful that the soon-to-open basketball arena has a roof that stands still and a hardwood floor.

Deadlines forced us to write before KTRK's hour-long (yes, as in 60 minutes) prime-time stadium special was set to air on August 23. We'll surely watch it, unless C-SPAN 3 is rerunning that visit to Warren G. Harding's childhood home. (The KTRK special, by the way, is not to be confused with the countless hours of other coverage by the "Official Station of the Texans.")

We somehow missed KHOU's prime-time special August 21 (that Rutherford B. Hayes rerun was too much to pass up, we guess). How the station was able to cram all the magic of Reliant Stadium into a mere half-hour, though, is something we will always wonder about. The prospect of even attempting such a task was so daunting to KPRC that they apparently threw up their hands in frustration and said the job was impossible.

Luckily, though, we still have the Houston Chronicle. It took four special sections August 18 to ring praises down upon the new superbox-encrusted playpen, although -- in a sign of a tougher advertising market -- the 32 pages were four fewer than the number devoted to Enron Field's opening.

What did we miss that could have filled that larger space? It's a question for the ages, indeed, but what wonders we were allowed to wallow in.

Just the blurbs referring to what was inside tell the tale: "There's an open-and-shut case to be made that the stadium's roof is an engineering marvel, page 9"; "The Texans will play on a field of dreams: a grass surface that is soft, durable and removable, page 25"; "Reliant Energy got plenty of bang for its considerable bucks from the naming deal for the complex, page 15."

That last item, by the way, said analysts refer to the agreement as the "10-gallon hat of naming-rights deals," but didn't ask whether the 30-year deal will actually last 30 years.

Quoted throughout the sections was Texans senior vice president Steve Patterson, who's probably still reeling from the intense grilling. "We tried to do everything we could to maximize the fans' experience in enjoying an NFL game," he admitted in a story headlined "The Cutting Edge: Dream Comes True as Stadium Turns Out Better than Imagined."

And apparently, once the Chron interrogators broke him, the dam burst and he spilled all the secrets. In the sidebar on the luxury suites: "We think the suites have a warm feeling, but very upscale and classy...After all, we're replacing the Eighth Wonder of the World. So we better have something spectacular," he said. The sidebar on the new scoreboard: "When you're replacing the Eighth Wonder of the World, it better be pretty darn good." The sidebar on the food: "We worked long and hard on the food. We spent a lot of money on our kitchens so we could have the level of food service we wanted." (Even Patterson couldn't use the phrase "Eighth Wonder of the World" in connection with Dome Dogs.)

All the new-stadium coverage should not be confused with the three complete pages the sports section devoted that day to tailgating in Reliant Stadium. (One of the health tips "from the City of Houston Health Department and the Partnership for Food Safety Education" was the following: "Put cooked items on a clean plate.")

As we said, it's two down, one to go. A year or so from now, we can all look forward to more incisive coverage when the new basketball arena opens. We're betting Rockets owner Les Alexander will think the superboxes are terrific and the food choices superb, but we're holding our breath waiting to hear what he thinks of the new scoreboard.

Conservatives Like Republicans

Gosh, that President Bush is just doing great! Why, he's making huge inroads with Hispanics, a traditionally Democratic-leaning group: "Hispanic Vote Called Toss-Up," a Chronicle headline declared August 21. "Neither Party Has Lock, Latino Coalition's Poll Indicates."

The story was based on a poll done by the Latino Coalition, described in the story solely as "a Washington-based nonpartisan policy group."

Quoted was coalition head Robert de Posada, who said while Republicans are generally great, Bush is really great: "While there is a much more positive image for Republicans, if individual candidates do not show the same kind of interest and concern for Latinos and their issues as the president has, the coattails immediately evaporate," he was quoted as saying.

We won't debate here just how wonderful Bush is when it comes to Hispanics; we will discuss the description of the Latino Coalition as a "nonpartisan policy group."

For fund-raising and legal purposes, the group is indeed officially nonpartisan. But its loyalties are clear: It's a GOP-loving, conservative, big-business lobbying organization.

The group has lobbied heavily to give Bush fast-track authority on trade agreements, and it has been severely critical of Democrats who have not rushed to approve the selection of archconservative Miguel Estrada to the federal bench. ("We're saying do it, or we will begin an advertising campaign very quickly on this issue focusing on Senator Daschle and other senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee," de Posada told the Associated Press in November.)

A sample of headlines from past coalition press releases, courtesy of their Web site: "Hispanic Leaders Urge Congress to Pass Permanent Repeal of the Death Tax," "Hispanic Leaders Urge the Senate to Support the Yucca Mountain [Nuclear Waste] Repository," "Hispanics Endorse Bush Tax Relief Plan" and "Hispanic Business Leaders Support Bush's Proposal to Strengthen Social Security and Create Personal Retirement Accounts."

Our favorite, though, came in December after a federal grand jury indicted poultry giant Tyson Foods on charges of smuggling immigrants to work in its plants. The board of directors of the Latino Coalition, the release said, "called on Hispanic leaders across the country to show restraint and look at the facts before assailing and condemning Tyson Foods, Inc. on the charges of immigrant smuggling."

Other papers that wrote about the coalition's new poll at least made an effort to give readers more of a description of the group. The Orlando Sentinel called them "a business-oriented advocacy group" and the Los Angeles Times said the "business-backed" coalition "is trying to position itself as a more conservative alternative to traditional, Democratic-leaning Latino civil rights organizations."

Mixed Messages

What's going on in Houston? Depends which paper you read. Or, to be precise, which Chronicle. Or even which part of the Chronicle.

The headline August 19: "Continental Stands Pat in Industry Turbulence: Keeping Labor Costs Low Won't Be Easy." The story said that while other airlines were frantically cutting expenses, Continental was not, "indicating that other airlines are simply catching up with its cost-cutting. 'We have had for at least seven years an ongoing review of everything that we do, which is why we have one of the lowest cost structures of the major airlines,' Continental spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said."

The headline two days later: "Continental Tightens Belt: Amid Bumpy Ride, Airline Slashing Costs." (To be fair, the earlier story did quote an industry analyst who noted the airline might be bluffing with its "stand-pat" rhetoric.)

At least that was two different editions of the Chron. How about the August 21 sports section? A referee had collapsed of a heart attack during a Comets game; the game went on after the ref was taken to the hospital.

Columnist John P. Lopez wailed over the decision to play on (with a lead that could be used, as far as most readers are concerned, on many Comets games: "The Comets lose. Big deal.") Lopez noted that Comets fans "provided a moving and memorable moment when shortly after [the ref] was rushed out, 9,540 fans broke into an impromptu recitation of the Lord's Prayer."

Things were a little different in a game sidebar by Niki Herbert: "One fan," she wrote, "coerced the crowd of 9,540 to recite the Lord's Prayer."

Now there's a scene: Pray, goddammit!

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