Nice, Nice Baby

Niceness is busting out all over at the Houston Chronicle.

The past week brought a trifecta of opportunities for the paper to choose Goofus over Gallant, and each time our favorite daily turned away from the Dark Side.

The first, and most expected, incident came with the announcement that executive editor Tony Pederson was leaving after 28 years at the Chron. Many had been anticipating the move, despite happy-talk denials from 801 Texas, ever since Hearst passed over the veteran by naming outsider Jeff Cohen as the paper's new editor last May.

Cohen was nice, as tradition dictates, in his memo to staffers revealing the news that Pederson "has decided to embark on a career change." (Pederson says he will teach and "open a consulting practice," Cohen wrote.)

But you could read War and Peace through the lines -- Pederson apparently doesn't need to be replaced. "My intention for the immediate future is not to name a new executive editor," Cohen wrote. "The top priorities remain hiring new department heads in business and features. After that, I will settle on a management structure that works best for the Chronicle and me."

Geez, that's quite a memo: We'll miss ya, Tony! And whatever it was you were doing.

The second example of leftover holiday cheer came with the entertaining tape of Seabrook's mayor pro tem imploding to the police after they pulled her over for a traffic stop. (How often do you get to hear a city councilmember refer to colleagues as "white trash"?)

The tape made the media rounds, including the Chron, which quoted from what it called "expletive-laden conversations" in its inimitable style. "Well, listen, …hillbilly" was one excerpt; another quote was printed like this: "(Cursing). I want to talk to Nona right now." ("Nona" is Seabrook police chief Nona Holomon.)

No (cursing) sensibilities offended there, to be sure. But the Chronicle's Web page linked to Channel 11's story on the matter, which included its own transcript: "F--k you. I want to talk to Nona right now," it read, along with "Listen, you f--ing hillbilly."

Heavens. Lord knows we are never going on to that World Wide Web again, what with all the vulgarity on those awful "Web sites" we've heard about, like

Finally, there was society columnist Shelby Hodge's heartwarming January 6 take on former city councilman Rob Todd's marriage proposal to Susan Sanders. "In a totally romantic tradition," Hodge wrote, "Todd pens a note to Sanders on the wine cork whenever they dine out." This time, the note was a proposal.

Awwww. Left unsaid was the ugly but fun backstory: Sanders used to be married to current Councilman Bert Keller. While Keller and Todd were council colleagues two years ago, Todd used his city cell phone to make hundreds of calls to Keller's wife, including a flurry of calls surrounding the time Sanders appeared publicly with Keller after his DWI arrest (see "Rob Todd Unredacted," by Tim Fleck, December 7, 2000).

Somehow the Chronicle has never thought the cell-phone shenanigans of the still-politically active Todd, who was a Clinton-bashing "family values" moralist during his council term, were ever worth reporting.

It's not like Hodge can't be snarky -- when liberal U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee allegedly offended the royal personage of the queen of Thailand a few months ago, Hodge was outraged in print. (Some of us were just outraged to learn that Thailand still has globe-trotting, pampered "royalty.")

Keller shares a young son with his ex-wife and hopes to keep things civil, but he did take note of Hodge's uplifting item. "It sounded like kind of a nice, romantic way to get [engaged]," he said. "But I don't think most people would want to publicize in the newspaper how they got engaged -- maybe they went a little bit overboard on that."

Overboard? They were just swept up in the Chronicle's tidal wave of niceness.

What's New?

If you sat through CBS's January 5 movie about Enron (a corporation that was apparently headquartered nowhere near Houston), you probably stayed for that night's late news on Channel 11 -- despite, not because, KHOU endlessly promoted a predictably tepid look behind the scenes at the making of the movie.

The lead story that night was an apparently groundbreaking look at a "Security Loophole" at Houston's airports. With the word "Exclusive" bannered prominently throughout the piece, reporter Jeremy Desel outlined how one of the big players in the company who won the new concessions contract for the airport had pleaded guilty in 1998 to four felony counts of shielding and harboring undocumented workers.

Viewers were breathlessly told that the guilty plea raised security concerns, and such a discovery was thanks to the exclusive work of KHOU.

It was exclusive, if you're just counting stories done in 2003. Houston Press reporter Tim Fleck ably covered the controversy in November.

New year, new slate, we guess.


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