News Hostage

Does anyone wonder where the Houston Chronicle stands on the question of whether the city needs to build a new basketball arena for the Rockets? If so, they haven't been reading the paper in the last month.

Some headlines from the past four weeks:

"It's Sudden Death for Rockets, City" (January 30) -- Sports columnist Fran Blinebury tells readers to "think in terms of months, or even weeks" when it comes to how long the city has to put together a package good enough for Rockets owner Les Alexander.

"SaveOurRockets Site a Necessary Development" (February 8) -- There's a Web site devoted to keeping the team in town.

"Authority Figure Must Appease Les" (February 10) -- Sports columnist Dale Robertson says the person hired to be executive director of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority must be someone Alexander likes.

"Cavalier Attitude Will Lose Rockets" (February 11) -- Sports columnist John Lopez gives readers an inside look at Houston competing with other cities for the team: "As one Alexander confidant said Thursday: 'Right now, it's a race. Les would bend over backward to stay, but he is not going to wait around forever.' "

"Web Site Out to Save Rockets" (February 12) -- See February 8.

"Rockets Fear Team May Not Be Priority in New Arena Plans" (February 12) -- The sports authority has the temerity to consider making the new arena (gasp!) "multi-purpose" instead of specifically designed for basketball -- even though Les Alexander doesn't want it that way.

"NBA's Stern: If No New Arena, Rockets Will Go/Shot at an Existing Team Dim, 'Nonexistent' for Expansion" (February 13) -- A front-page story on league commissioner David Stern lobbying for Alexander.

"Stern Ultimatum Hits Close to Home" (February 13) -- Columnist Blinebury informs his readers that today is one of those rare times when they need to read the front page.

"Leaving Town: Time for Arena Negotiations, Not Ultimatums" (February 20) -- An editorial saying the Rockets should act like they want to stay in Houston, 'cause we've heard, like, from this girl who sits behind them in class that they've been saying they, you know, might like other citiesŠ

"Rockets Land Two Big Men to Back Arena: Enron, Astros Bosses Show Support, Money" (February 23) -- A front-pager on how The Gods Have Spoken.

"Arena Bandwagon Needs to Get Rolling" (February 23) -- Columnist Robertson addresses everyone who hasn't been reading the paper for the last month.

Back on the Beat

Channel 13's Bob Boudreaux raised some eyebrows three years ago when he announced he was considering a political career.

Boudreaux was highly upset that Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack was opposing the effort to build a new baseball stadium, and he believed Radack was behind a vote to hike county taxes right before the baseball referendum.

"I just think somebody needs to run against SteveŠ.I think Steve Radack should be held accountable," Boudreaux told the Chronicle at the time.

Channel 13 immediately yanked him from the Commissioners Court beat. "I don't think it would be appropriate for him to cover Commissioners Court issues," a station executive said.

It's apparently appropriate now: Boudreaux covered a commissioners story February 22.

Boudreaux ultimately decided against challenging Radack in the 2000 race -- perhaps because Channel 13 renewed his contract, something he wasn't sure of when he initially sent up his trail balloon -- but that hasn't stopped some grumbling. (Radack, though, says he's not bothered.)

Boudreaux says his political flirtation was "overblown" in the press three years ago and that his February 22 piece was merely a follow-up to a story he did on a proposed county hospital closure.

"I'm not sure there ever was a conflict so much as there was a misunderstanding," he says. "I was approached by both parties to run Š because I had been openly critical of Steve in some private gatherings. I told them I didn't want Steve Radack's job, I wanted Peter Jennings's."

Gramm Crackers

The Chron's Washington bureau treated us all to one of the more bizarre pieces of recent journalism on February 19 with a story on the front of the Metropolitan section headlined "Parties Make Clear Role of Gramm in A&M Flyover," about a memorial service for victims of the Aggie Bonfire collapse.

"Make Clear"? The story began, "It was a nice gesture, but is it the stuff of Aggie legend or fable?" It then said a story was "making the rounds," and that "Like any good myth, it has elements of truth and a little fantasy, which easily merge as the story moves via e-mail and phone among A&M alums and Gramm fans." Whatever that means.

The "tale," as the paper called it, details how Senator Phil Gramm "called the Pentagon to help nudge along a request from A&M officials for the Air Force to conduct a missing-man flyover at a Kyle Field memorial service." A Kyle Field memorial service that had occurred three months ago, by the way.

"During the conversation with the Pentagon," the story continued, "a source who wants to remain unidentified said Gramm asked if he would be eligible for a flyover when he dies. When the Defense Department official apparently said Gramm would qualify, the senator reportedly said: 'Well, I'd rather those kids have it. Use my chit.'

"Did this persuade the Air Force to relent? A Gramm aide, asking to remain anonymous, responded, 'Who knows?' "

Yeesh. That's all we can say, really. Yeesh.

A Pentagon official who helped arrange the flyover told the Chron he knew nothing about the alleged offer, by the way. The flyover eventually occurred in part because a local reserve unit volunteered to do it as part of its training time.

Somehow, no other paper has followed up on this earthshaking if incredibly vague scoop.

Apparently they don't have editors who qualify as "Gramm fans."

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