Like It's 1999
Despite the fervent wishes of the general public, sweeps month continues to afflict us with inanity.
We've had Channel 2 inform us that pet cats might make us go insane; on Valentine's Day we had Fox telling us that candles -- especially scented candles -- might be deadly.
(Hmmm -- candles and cats? Sounds like a pretty narrow demographic they're going after. Next up, gals: The magnets you use to post those funny-'cause-true Cathy comics to your refrigerator may be dangerous!)
In "Sick Scents," a member of the Fox Investigates team showed us a cooing couple clinking champagne glasses at a candlelit dinner, horrifically unaware that their lives were in grave danger from candle smoke. Well, maybe not grave danger: "How dangerous are candles? No one knows for sure," the reporter said.
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But to the untrained eye, it looked pretty damn dangerous. Fox showed a glass candle jar that had soot around the edges -- and then cut directly to a helicopter shot of a refinery belching smoke. Soot is bad, we were told.
We also saw shots of innocent children blowing out birthday candles. Birthday candles THAT MIGHT KILL THEM, if their parents were stupid enough not to watch Fox News.
"Now, none of this is intended to scare you," the reporter said as she wrapped up the story, in direct contradiction of everything she had just spent the last three minutes saying. "Just use your common sense."
But if we used our common sense, would we be watching Fox?
At least the Candle Scandal was new, to us anyway. What KPRC is doing, we have no idea.
Reporter Brendan Keefe is going to spend two weeks locked in his apartment with no phone, food or TV; he'll have to survive simply by using the Internet.
That's right -- his very survival will depend on that newfangled contraption that's utterly alien to 0.02 percent of Americans. Call him crazy, but Keefe says he's going to see if it's possible to order food, groceries, CDs and books over the Internet!
(Alternative plans called for Keefe to stay in his house and watch movies on a VCR -- instead of going to a theater! Or to give up his horse and buggy -- and use a car!)
Keefe's project came just weeks after DotComGuy in Dallas finished a one-year stint living off the Internet. DotComGuy garnered lots of ink in late 1999 as he prepared for his captivity; he emerged in January 2001 to general disinterest.
In keeping with the tireless campaign to make sure no one mistakes KPRC anchor Dominique Sachse for an actual journalist, she went to Keefe's house to clean out his refrigerator at the beginning of the series. "A lot of guys probably dream about Dominique coming over to clean their house," Keefe said as Dominique flounced around, but for our intrepid cyberpioneer it simply meant a cutoff from creature comforts -- at least those few creature comforts that can't be ordered on-line. Like, we guess, space shuttles.
KPRC's Web site offered a 24/7 Webcam look at all Brendan, all the time, and an on-line diary had headlines like "Day One: Hunger Sets In" and "Day Three: Brendan Gets Groceries."
Of course, there are links to on-line sites and nice little plugs for them, too. "Jasonsdeli.com came through for me," Keefe wrote. "I ordered on-line at 7 a.m. and the food was here by 8 a.m. And delivery was free -- the same price as if I'd walked in the door on Shepherd and placed my order!"
The whole experiment seemed to be undercut just a tad later that day.
"For Brendan, it was either find food or go hungry," the Web site told us, making Brendan not exactly unique among the human race. How'd he get groceries? By using a concierge service called Uptown Runaround. A link to its Web site showed that, for a fee, Uptown Runaround would go to the grocery or drugstore for you, go to a discount department store or Neiman Marcus and pick you out something, get office supplies, take your stuff to the cleaners and pick it up, deliver meals or go to the post office, or do just about anything you might ever need done if you were stuck in your apartment because of some pointless sweeps-month stunt.
At that point Keefe had 12 apparently suspense-free days to go. Maybe he can start looking for hot pictures of Dominique on the Web.
Jaye Ramsey Sutter is a political science professor in the Houston Community College System; lately she's gotten a taste of what it's like to be on the inside of a minor media storm.
Sutter assigned a research paper to her class, telling them to use news media articles "to examine how the Republican Party, the United States Congress, the United States Supreme Court, government officials in Florida and the Bush campaign conspired to defraud the American people and steal an election."
At least one of the students called in to KPRC-AM talk-radio host Jon Matthews. Matthews, who thinks Barry Goldwater was too liberal, railed on the air about it as callers joined in. Several listeners called the school to complain, and Sutter was asked to explain the assignment to her superiors.
Sutter admits the assignment was "provocative," but she pointed out several paragraphs that didn't make it onto the radio: "Whether you think the election was stolen or fraud was committed is irrelevant. This academic assignment is designed to compel you to research this attitude. I am not asking you to prove it or disprove it. I am asking you to research the view and understand it. I am not asking you to believe it."
After looking at the complete assignment, HCCS brass, which has been criticized for micromanaging school affairs, backed Sutter. "It's interesting, though, that they had to think about it," she says. "Since when does Jon Matthews decide what's taught here?"
We got a call from someone who had been seeking information from the Press Club of Houston. He had checked out their Web site, www.reporters.net/hpc. He had called the number listed for the club's Education Foundation, and he urged us to do the same.
We did. And listened to a lovely recorded message from the Lone Star Nudist Group, an organization of "gay men who enjoy sharing nude experiences."
Hmmm. Maybe those awards dinners aren't as stuffy as we thought.
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