Return to Normalcy

President George W. Bush has urged all Americans to return to normal, and the Houston Chronicle has eagerly stepped up to do its patriotic duty.

For the Chron, that generally means two things: 1) protecting Houston's delicate sensibilities, which it ably did September 23 when it ran a story from the San Jose Mercury News about the funeral of Mark Bingham. He was one of the passengers who stormed the hijackers on the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Snipped from the Chronicle's version of the story: two paragraphs with passing references to the fact that Bingham was openly gay, including a quote from Paul Holm, who was described as "Bingham's domestic partner for the past six years." Another graf quoted a friend as saying Bingham "wasn't anybody's stereotype" and had the ability to "bring together politicians, students, the gay community, artists."

Returning to normal also means: 2) kissing the rear end of Bob McNair, the owner of the NFL's Houston Texans.

Serious students of the love affair were dismayed when the coverage of the latest bombshell announcement -- the team's uniform design -- began the day before with a sneak peak of the unies, a sneak peak that in key editions actually got the colors wrong because of a printing error. It was as if years ago a Star Wars newsletter revealed after months of heated speculation that the secret about Darth Vader is that he is really Luke's….former gardener!

But the Chron rebounded strongly the next day. Even though the front-page references were limited to a photo that misidentified a ZZ Top member (there being other news that day), the sports section proved more than up to the job.

"A Day in the Sun: Texans' Red, White and Blue Draw Raves," the headline read.

"[I]t seems everything Texans owner Bob McNair touches turns to gold," read the story. The first fan quoted said, "I like the colors. I like the look. I like everything about it. I can't wait to go out and buy one. Are they already selling them in the stores?" (Yes, as it turns out.)

Columnist Mickey Herskowitz wrote this: "The team's majority owner, Bob McNair, and his staff are to be commended for postponing the unveiling, which had been scheduled for Sept. 12, the day after terrorists attacked New York and Washington."

Take that, all you people who were saying McNair should have gone on with his little publicity event the day after 6,000 people were murdered on the East Coast.

Other headlines: "Color Scheming: Texans Show Deep Steel Resolve in Designing Distinctive Uniforms"; "Celebrities Gladly Get Behind Texans"; and "Owner Hopes Event Unifies."

As for that last story, we're sure that when historians look back on America's response to the September 11 attacks, the unifying force provided by the Texans' uniform unveiling will be prominently cited. And for that, McNair and his staff are to be commended.

Speaking of the Texans, they are -- and we're sure this has nothing to do with the glowing coverage they receive in print and on the air -- buying lots and lots of ads urging people to purchase season tickets. Celebrities sporting the eye-black footballers wear appear under the banner "Got tickets?"

Among those in the ads are former president and first lady George and Barbara Bush. Barbara, at least, also does some radio ads.

We're sure they're not getting paid, but isn't this a bit odd? This isn't some public-service campaign to benefit United Way, or even a nonprofit ticket-selling civic group like the opera or ballet or local college football team. This is just a businessman trying to make a lot of money on a private, for-profit entertainment venture.

What's next? "Even in the darkest days of Desert Storm, Barbara and I never missed an episode of Seinfeld -- and now you can catch it every night at 11 on the WB!"

Wit and Wisdom

All those who think witty repartee perished with the demise of the Algonquin Round Table should have been listening to KILT-AM on October 2. Co-hosts Charlie Pallilo and Rich Lord were discussing the upcoming Astros-Giants series.

Pallilo gave some grief to Lord about whether the more important aspect of that night's game was the Astros' playoff-clinching possibility or the chance for Bonds to break Mark McGwire's home-run record. One was just a mere "subplot" to the other, Pallilo scoffed.

To which Lord replied, loudly and very clearly, "What are you, the fucking AP stylebook?"

Which was followed by a half-second of silence, which was followed by frantic instructions to the studio engineer to somehow erase the comment, which Lord tried to replace with "the fricking AP stylebook."

Alas, it was too late. Lord apologized profusely several times, as could be expected.

Vaya Con Dios

The lasting slump in the newspaper industry has finally hit home here at the Houston Press. The chain that owns us, New Times, has been laying off reporters at many of its dozen papers, and we didn't escape the ax.

We have taken no great pleasure in the layoffs at the Chron, despite some grumbling to that effect -- hell, we thought we were criticizing management's ham-fisted methods, not the fact that anyone was losing a job -- and we certainly take no pleasure in these cuts.

The Press is losing three familiar bylines: Steve McVicker, Brad Tyer and Melissa Hung. Hung is being transferred to New Times's paper in Oakland.

There is some good news in all of this, however. McVicker -- in addition to working on a book -- is headed to Pacifica's KPFT/90.1 FM as news director.

KPFT general manager Garland Ganter says the station hopes, by the end of the year, to get back in the local news game with a daily half-hour show in afternoon drive-time.

"Our audience is growing and our budget is growing and we were looking to put some money back into the station, and I thought news was the perfect place to do it," says Ganter.

KPFT hasn't had any real commitment to local news in years, and most of the other radio news stations in the city have slowly been gobbled up by industry giant Clear Channel Communications, to the detriment of listeners.

Any addition of a new news outlet -- especially one that isn't owned by a media conglomerate -- is welcome enough.


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