News Hostage

Be Happy, Serfs
In a not-exactly-shocking development, the Houston Chronicle editorial page has come out against a proposed increase in the minimum wage.

"Many employers would be forced to raise prices to compensate for higher employment costs, and the inflationary spiral likely would ignite," the editorial said. "[A] higher minimum wage would no doubt force some already hard-pressed employers to cut back on the number of jobs available even further or to close up shop altogether. It would hurt the very people it may be intended to help."

Oh, wait -- that was the Chronicle's editorial from January 7, 1995, the last time Congress was debating a minimum-wage hike. This time around, on June 9, the paper said that "increasing the minimum wage is inflationary and causes unemployment among the poor and uneducated."

There wasn't a word about how the last inflation-igniting and unemployment-causing hike, the one they thundered about in 1995, hadn't exactly ignited inflation or sent the unemployment rate skyrocketing.

In fact, Chronicle business columnist Jim Barlow wrote a piece June 6 outlining just how tough it was for restaurants and other minimum-wage employers to find people.

Barlow may have inadvertently exposed the paper's real reason for loathing every proposed minimum-wage hike. Despite all the lofty talk about how such hikes really hurt the poor, maybe the Chron's motivations are more elitist.

The 1995 rate hike has been good for restaurant managers, Barlow wrote, because they've seen their salaries jump. "But the hard part," he said, "is managers must learn to treat employees with respect ... if they wish to keep those employees."

Good God, not that. Will the evil perpetrated by Bill Clinton never stop?
Demonstrating admirable forbearance, Barlow counseled his fellow epicureans to be patient with what passes for hired help these days.

"So the next time your service is slow, it could well be the restaurant is doing the best it can with what it has," he wrote.

As are we all, Jim.

Oh, My God, It's John Ritter!
In the orgy of fawning coverage of former President Bush's fund-raising event June 10 -- coverage that included the 5,432nd TV shot so far this year of Governor George W. and wife Laura reading to kids -- the most energetic participant was Channel 2's Buzz Lady, Roseann Rogers.

In her live standup on the late news, Rogers squealed that "with all the athletes and entertainment stars here, Houston felt like Hollywood! ... I've been an entertainment reporter for nine years, and this is my most memorable event!"

"That's quite a testimony," enthused anchor Dominique Sachse.
Video clips showed the stellar lineup of performers at the dinner: the Oak Ridge Boys, figure skater Scott Hamilton, Bruce Willis, Chris Evert and Larry Gatlin.

We guess the other Gatlin brothers had schedule conflicts. Yakov Smirnov, too.

To be fair, maybe we misheard Rogers. Surely she didn't say that "Houston felt like Hollywood." She must have said, "Houston felt like Hollywood Squares."

Not As We Do (Part I)
We (obviously) have nothing against columnists making sneering, snide comments about fellow journalists. Everyone's entitled to an opinion, after all.

So we didn't think twice when Chronicle sports-media columnist David Barron weighed in on the messy brouhaha over whether Drayton McLane thinks that being a baseball fan requires an Ivy League degree, especially if you're Hispanic.

As everyone in Houston knows, Spanish-speaking Channel 48 broadcast a report that McLane made disparaging remarks about Hispanics during an awards-dinner conversation, which the Astros owner denies.

Barron scolded 48 for running with the story, saying among other things that they should have broadened its scope. "They could have held their peace, placed one call Friday morning to Major League Baseball and learned -- as I did with the one call I placed Friday afternoon -- that the average MLB club's Hispanic fan share is 12 percent," he scoffed, adding that a single call to the Astros would reveal the local Hispanic market share is only 8 percent.

Fine. Except we, too, made a single call to Major League Baseball, and the results were a little murkier than Barron's lecture would indicate.

MLB spokesman Richard Levine says there are no current statistics that measure market share by race or ethnicity. He said he told as much to the Chronicle reporter who called him.

"I said that we didn't have anything but that just talking off the top of my head I remember we did something maybe eight or ten years ago, and I think it showed 12 percent of the people going to games were Hispanics, but I can't find the study, and I know that we haven't done any studies since," Levine said.

So the (vaguely remembered) information is outdated, at best. Readers certainly didn't get that impression, however, from Barron's condescending lesson to Channel 48 on how to be a reporter.

Barron says Levine never used the phrase "eight or ten years ago." The columnist said he thought he had indicated in his story that the info was old.

"I was aware the information was somewhat outdated, but it does not appear that that fact made it in there," he said, after rereading his piece.

Johnny Holmes Is Innocent!
Harris County District Attorney John Holmes sends a whole lot of people to death row -- more than any state but Texas and Virginia -- but there are some people who get sentenced to lethal injection without his help.

You might have to tell that to the on-line magazine Salon, though. In a recent profile of the ever-colorful D.A., the San Francisco-based magazine, which claims to be read by more than a million "unique users" each month, gave credit to Holmes for prosecuting the man who dragged James Byrd to death in Jasper.

"[W]hile the national media has given lots of attention to the death-penalty sentencing in the Byrd case, the Harris County district attorney, John Holmes, views the case as just another victory as he efficiently carries out what he believes to be his mandate," the profile's lede said.

By e-mail, Salon news editor Joan Walsh admitted that an editor in San Francisco changed the original Jasper-less lede, by Austin-based reporter Robert Bryce, "to give the story a little more of a national angle.... [I]t was confusing and ought to be clarified."

Not As We Do (Part Two)
From the June 8 Chronicle: "Auditions for the 1999 Sears Kid Beat Reporter for the Houston Comets were 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at Greenspoint Mall. The times were incorrect in Saturday's Houston section."

Oh, well. We're sure the kids who showed up between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., the closing time listed in the original report, learned a valuable lesson about journalism.

Speaking of corrections, Chronicle reporter Terry Kliewer has fallen on his sword regarding the twice-printed pig story mentioned in last week's column. He says he found out after he talked with us that he had sent the wrong story to the copy desk, as opposed to the copy desk picking up the wrong story.

Feel free to e-mail Richard Connelly with your media observations at

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