News Hostage

The Wily Hun
Someone on the Houston Chronicle's news desk is pissed at Germany, apparently.

The paper on May 20 ran a piece by New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt on German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's announcement that he would block any move to use NATO ground troops in Kosovo.

The Brussels-datelined piece was virtually identical to the one that ran in the Times the same day, of course; there were a few minor changes to phrasing, apparently to bring the lowly Times writing standards up to Chronicle levels.

And then there was this, buried in the piece: Schmitt's story in the Times included a paragraph that went, "At his news conference, even before he took questions, Schroeder also challenged Washington's official explanation for the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade ... by renewing his demand for a formal NATO inquiry into the bombing."

In the Chronicle, Schmitt's bylined story was changed to read this way: "At his news conference here, even before he took questions, Schroeder insulted the United States: He implicitly challenged Washington's official explanation for the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade ... by renewing his demand for a formal NATO inquiry into the bombing."

Take that, Herr Schroeder. The Times may give you a pass when you piss on Old Glory, but here in Texas we don't take rightly to such talk.

A Chronicle spokesperson did not return phone calls.

Must-see TV
It came at the end of yet another triumphant report for the Channel 11 consumer-rights "Defenders" team. Those gallant Defenders had just manhandled the bloated bureaucracy of Texas City on behalf of a helpless resident, but rather than gloat they teased viewers with a snippet of even more conquests to come.

"Tonight at six," anchor Lisa Foronda said, as viewers saw a clip of a woman standing in her garage, "she paid for a garage-door opener, but it didn't work!"

Foronda then moved on to other news of the day, and for just about everyone the promo was a quick blip that barely permeated their conscious thought.

We, however, were left to wonder. These things don't make it on the air by accident; someone puts it on with a purpose.

Someone at Channel 11 apparently envisioned an idly channel-surfing Houston viewer bolting out of his chair at the prospect of being able to view a story on someone getting their garage-door opener fixed.

"Clear my schedule for six o'clock tonight, dammit," he'd bark. "I've got to see how this turns out!"

Maybe they didn't envision quite so enthusiastic a response, but they must have thought the promo would strike a chord with someone. "You know, I own a garage," the targeted viewer would say. "There but for the grace of God..."

Maybe the Defenders did, indeed, churn out yet another compelling report. Maybe the garage-door opener saga was a masterpiece. Somehow we just never tuned in.

Star Wars Trivia Contest!
Q. As of May 21, when was the last day the Houston Chronicle put out an issue that failed to include some piece of hype about Star Wars?

A. April 26. To get an idea how long ago that was, the David Spade movie Lost and Found, coming soon to a video store near you, had just opened -- to reviews that were about as enthusiastic as some of the pans Star Wars is getting.

A Gift from Mom
You probably never realized that the Houston school board nominates journalists for the "Media Honor Roll" of the Texas Association of School Boards. Neither did we. A press release from HISD alerted us to the fact, however.

Nominees, according to the TASB, must report school news in a "fair, accurate and balanced" manner (sounds okay to us); they must "maintain a policy of no surprises by sharing information with school representatives" (seems reasonable); and they must also "give a high-profile position to good news about schools" (never mind).

The HISD board voted May 20 to nominate six journalists for the TASB Media Honor Roll: reporters for local Hispanic news stations Channel 45 and 48, a reporter for Houston's Jewish Herald Voice and Channel 11's Sylvan Rodriguez.

Oh, and Olga Campos, an anchor for Austin's ABC affiliate. How did the board become so expert on Austin newscasters? Campos, it turns out, is the daughter of HISD board member Esther Campos.

Thom Marshall: Nuts or Nutty?
It's getting strange on the Thom Marshall Watch. The Chronicle's Uberbland columnist either has gone nuts or has developed a sense of humor. With Thom, it's hard to tell.

On May 19 he did a follow-up to an earlier piece where he ever-so-gently questioned NATO's explanation for the Chinese Embassy bombing (thereby insulting the United States, according to the Chron's wire desk).

He feared, he said in the follow-up, that the CIA was investigating him.
Someone "who said he was 'a reader' " called Marshall and started asking suspicious questions, he wrote. "I have been replaying that phone conversation over and over in my memory, wondering if anything said might be used to get me. Fear of the unknown," he wrote.

While a phone call from anyone claiming to have read one of Marshall's columns would raise our suspicions, too, we urge Thom to mellow out.

What we don't urge him to do is what he did yet again May 16, which is turn over 90 percent of his column to a letter from Mayor Lee Brown.

Brown may be the only person in town whose prose makes Marshall look like a sharp-edged stylist. Hey, wait -- Marshall is crazy -- crazy like a fox!

The CIA doesn't know who they're dealing with, man.

Care to share? Spotted some great or not-so-great work on the part of the many members of the Houston media? E-mail Richard Connelly at


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