You see some pieces in print or on the air, and you sit back and wonder, "How'd they ever get that story?" You see some others, and you sit back and say, "Boy, I can almost smell the ink from the press release that spawned this piece of crap."
The fetid aroma of an eager publicist and a lazy newsroom permeated the airways March 26 when -- of course -- Channel 2 made some PR firm very, very happy with a long, fawning piece about (believe it or not) a special deal being offered by a local hotel.
The premise of this investigation was that if you and yours want to try to have one of the first babies of the new millennium, you need to get started now. For all those viewers apparently baffled or intimidated by the mechanics of such a job, Channel 2 offered the kind of consumer-oriented information that only it can.
The Crowne Plaza hotel in the Galleria area, a reporter intoned, was offering a "millennium special" that would help put couples -- tee-hee -- in the mood for their attempt at a Y2K baby.
We got a shot of the marvelous view from one of the suites (a view which seemed to consist mostly of parking lots); we got an unctuous hotel employee proudly showing off the bed; we got a shot of the two chocolates on the pillow. And then, as the reporter looked on in absolute awe, the hotelier displayed the wonderful, wonderful extras that came with the deal.
There was a (very small) bottle of cognac. (Close-up of the cognac and two glasses.) There was body oil. (Close-up of the body oil, along with the smirking hotel guy.) There was even, "for the morning after," a pregnancy-test kit. (Close-up, naturally, of the pregnancy kit.)
The reporter, whose name we didn't catch in our slack-jawed amazement at the lameness of the story, seemed genuinely convinced that this package was the single greatest opportunity available to Houstonians since Channel 2's "Lucky Viewer" giveaway contest.
Forcefully driving home that point after the piece was anchor Susan Lennon, apparently concerned that the station had not given enough free publicity to the hotel. "Sounds like a great deal," she said.
We tried to imagine the publicists sitting at home waiting for the piece, breathlessly worried that the station somehow might have instituted a policy where its reporters didn't inanely regurgitate fluffy press releases. After all, they might have said to themselves, we didn't get the Buzz Lady assigned to the story. Maybe a real reporter will take a more jaundiced view.
And then, as the story started to unwind, they sat back and relaxed. "Good old Channel 2," they said. "They really do know Houston."
Wind Beneath My Wings
For a more professional, justifiably cynical take on dealing with hype, consumers should turn, of course, to the Houston Chronicle. There, on March 29, those pros showed how to deal with PR. Kind of.
Country singer Garth Brooks, who's 37 years old, has had weight problems and hasn't played baseball since riding the bench in high school, is trying out for the San Diego Padres. The Chronicle sent a reporter to investigate.
"Cynics proclaimed it a sleazy publicity stunt. The Garth-man has proved them all wrong," the story reported. "Except for a brief stint in early March, when he took five days off to be with his sick mother, Brooks has shown up at practice religiously, shagging balls in the outfield, taking his cuts at bat, pinch-hitting at exhibition games, where he tries hard not to make too much a mess of things."
Oh, we didn't realize he was actually showing up for practice. We guess it really isn't a sleazy publicity stunt.
We also loved the ending to this piece, which we assure you was not meant to be sarcastic: "There's something going on here, something beyond mere fan worship.... In an increasingly cynical world, it would seem [Brooks] holds forth some sense of hope, of redemption to people. As American morality limps into the 21st century, there seems to be only one, logical conclusion to all this: Garth for president.
"Oh yeah, right. That would be like a wrestler running for governor."
Something is limping into the 21st century, but we're not sure it's American morality.
News 2 Houston
We Shan't Be Covering That
The Chronicle, which wallowed happily in every seamy detail of President Clinton's social life, has been strangely silent on Governor George W. Bush's aborted (oops) engagement way back when. [See "The Woman George W. Bush Didn't Marry," Houston Press, March 25.]
As the only paper in the world that owns the rights to the charming 1967 engagement photo that ran on its pages back in the day, you might think they'd offer a view to their readers.
But not a peep from the Chronicle, even as the (admittedly not earthshaking) story has appeared in The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News. The News, going perhaps to the other end of the scale in coverage, even sent a reporter out to California to interview the former fiancee.
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And it ran the picture, which the Chronicle sold to it on a "one-time use only" basis, apparently so Houston's Leading Information Source can continue to hoard (and dole out as it sees fit) the Photo It Doesn't Want You to See.
We Won! (A Continuing Series)
Number of words the Chronicle devoted to reporting that the paper had won as many awards in some statewide journalism contest as the Austin American-Statesman: 1,079.
Number of words the Chronicle devoted to reporting that 32 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a Kenyan train derailment: 130.
Are you an avid media watcher? Troubled by your news choices in Houston? Unload with us. E-mail Richard Connelly at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax him at (713)280-2496, or write him at Houston Press, 1621 Milam, Suite 100, Houston,