Probing Questions

Boy, has it been a depressing sweeps month.

Flushed with newfound seriousness ever since the disastrous events of September 11, local news stations here and elsewhere have sworn off their usual sweeps menu of gentlemen's clubs and sexually active teens. This is almost as bad as realizing that since Maxine Mesinger has gone on to the Big City Beat in the sky, Barbara Walters has had several specials on the air that were not promo'd in the Houston Chronicle's gossip column. Not to mention that Jaclyn Smith has probably come to town to visit relatives, and we weren't informed about it.

In lieu of titty bars, the local stations have been digging deep into the anthrax well; they're tirelessly exposing how terrorists could easily get past bored rent-a-cops at whatever facility is handy.

(No one here has been as inept, at least, as the Nashville television reporter who breathlessly informed viewers this month that he had crawled under a fence and walked unmolested right up to the city's water supply, and any terrorist could do likewise. Except, as it turns out, he was reporting LIVE! not from the city's water reservoir but from its sewage plant.)

The stirring display of journalistic taste has been somewhat beneficial for viewers, but it has severely lowered the entertainment value of the local broadcasts.

Damn that Osama bin Laden. How are we supposed to live in a world without hookers shown on hidden cameras?

Perhaps the stations should run one of their little on-line polls about what viewers want. It can't be any worse than their other on-line polls.

Channel 13 asked surfers this: "If a terrorist hijacked your airplane, what would you do? a) Fight back; b) Not fight back but hope for the best; c) Let someone else fight back." Apparently the kind of people who participate in on-line polls are not to be messed with; most answered A.

On the day after Thanksgiving, 13 offered this piece of on-line democracy: "Are you in the holiday mood yet? a) Yes; b) No; c) Not quite sure." As always, the poll writers took pains to see that their research did not inadvertently end up being quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine: "This is not a scientific poll," they told us.

Channel 2's current offering is this, verbatim: "If you won the lottery, would you quit your job? a) Yes; b) No."

Incredibly enough, almost 700 people felt it necessary to inform the world just what they would do if they won the lottery. (If you're dying to know, almost 70 percent of them would indeed quit their jobs. So take that, Mr. Boss Man!)

Channel 11 doesn't seem to offer any on-line polls, sadly, but its Web site did include a terrific banner ad. "Is there pornography on your computer?" the ad shouted. Then it flashed a new message: "Are you sure?"

If there is, we sure want to find it. Alas, the service was compatible only with Microsoft Internet Explorer, not Netscape.

Damn that Bill Gates.

White Riot

John Williams, the Houston Chronicle's political writer, is white. No, wait: he's Caucasoid.

Williams triggered one of the better editor's notes in the Chron recently when he innocently previewed the mayoral runoff between Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez by writing, "It will be the first time in Houston's 165-year history that a white candidate is not a finalist for mayor."

Quite a few Hispanic readers were offended. And the Chron, which has a history of pissing off its Hispanic readers -- a delegation even picketed the paper at one point over what it saw as unfair coverage -- found itself in hot water again.

"If Orlando Sanchez isn't white, then what [is he]?" one reader wrote to the paper. "Sanchez's ethnicity is Hispanic but his race is white."

Not exactly, according to the note that accompanied several letters: "Editor's Note: Racial categories are Negroid, Mongoloid and Caucasoid. Ethnicities are groups with a common cultural heritage, such as Italian, Hispanic, Japanese, etc."

Negroid? Mongoloid? We won't be holding our breath waiting to see those terms used whenever the Chron delves into racial stories.

Ever since the blowup, Sanchez has been safely referred to as Hispanic. It's up to the readers to decide if he's white or not.

Who'll Stop the Rain?

"Rain can't stop the Superfeast," said Tammy Bohon, the organizer of the annual free Thanksgiving meal, according to the November 23 Chron.

Quoting Bohon's weather-related musings is a holiday tradition for the paper. "We always say it never rains on the Superfeast," she said last year. The year before: "We have a saying: It never rains on the Superfeast," the Chronicle reported.

At least the rain didn't dampen anyone's spirits.


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