The Line of Fire

Let none of the brave reporters here in town following Enron ever think themselves accurs'd or hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks who covers Kandahar.

While those Afghan war scribes are facing trigger-happy nomads in a lawless land, in Houston journalists are ducking from eggs tossed by the city's elite. Literally.

It was the Wednesday or Thursday of the week of February 4 -- the Fog of War has shrouded some of the details -- and a few network news crews and print rats were parked outside the ritzy Huntingdon, at the ritzy corner of San Felipe and Kirby.

At home up on the 33rd floor was Ken Lay, and the reporters were ready to pounce should Mr. I-Know-Noth-ink! ever decide to descend to street level.

Few things are more boring than such media stakeouts, but a job's a job. At least it was a relatively safe gig.

And then, from high above, came the eggs.

Whether they came from the 33rd floor was impossible to determine, but the missiles failed to hit their targets, splashing instead a few feet away from the media horde.

The hardy souls standing watch at the Huntingdon are not only dodging incoming fire -- they're also enjoying the occasional epithets hurled at them from passing Jaguars and BMWs.

"People go by and yell out, 'Fucking bastards!' or 'Paparazzi shithead!' " says Richard Carson, a freelance photographer shooting for the New York Post.

A crew from Britain's Sky News incurred the wrath of the widely disliked (at least in media-stakeout circles) manager of the Huntingdon when they dared to set foot on the actual grounds of the sanctum sanctorum, as opposed to the bordering sidewalks. Police were called, and then bored. (They reportedly shared pastries with the newsies.)

Most of the action is downtown, of course, where TV reporters jostle to do their stand-ups with that now-infamous "E" in the background. No eggs have been thrown there, however. At least so far.

The Houston Chronicle, by the way, has come in for some high-profile lumps recently for its (non)reporting on the Enron scandal. Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post did a column February 11 headlined "Under Their Noses, Smelling Like a Rose." In it Chron executive editor Tony Pederson admits, "We should have been a lot faster," although he says Enron executives used to complain that the paper's coverage wasn't positive enough. (File that under "Gift Horse, Looking into the Mouth Of.")

The next day CNN performed the time-honored television-news tradition of rippin'-and-readin', and called in the national media's favorite Texas expert, Molly Ivins.

Host Paula Zahn asked her how the local paper was covering the story, to which Ivins replied: "To say that the Houston Chronicle has failed to cover itself with glory in this situation is like calling a dwarf short. I mean, this is just pitiful. They should have owned this story."

Why haven't they? Maybe the answer comes from the Chronicle's Washington columnist, Cragg Hines, as quoted in the Kurtz piece. "I had the sense," Hines is quoted as saying, "that even though you smell things, you hear things, you don't want to be the instrument that causes the run on the bank."

No, you wouldn't want to do that. Why, folks might have lost their life savings or something if you'd let them know what was really going on at Enron.

RIP, Mr. Lnu

The February 4 Chronicle contained a brief item on a traffic accident that killed three people the previous day.

"Natalie Gilmore, Jermaine Talley and Wyndall Lnu died in the accident…The three passengers in [Dominique] Conrad's car -- Gilmore, Talley and Lnu -- were declared dead at the scene," the story read.

The deaths are sad, of course, and the victims' relatives deserve sympathy. None of those relatives, however, is named Lnu. As cop reporters and (most) copy editors know, "LNU" is an acronym on police reports for "last name unknown."

"When I started out…I was seeing all these names of 'Fnu Lnu,' and I thought it was some Chinese gangster," says Harris County sheriff's Lieutenant John Denholm. He's head of the traffic enforcement division, which listed the victim as "Lnu" until his real last name, Walker, was determined.

Don't RIP, Citysearch

Reports (by us) of the death of the Houston version of the online entertainment guide Citysearch were overstated, as it turns out.

While the Ticketmaster-owned guide is indeed laying off people here and nationwide and closing its Houston editorial office, it will still continue to put out a Houston edition, edited out of Los Angeles and partly written by local freelancers. Local full-time editorial employees, however, are indeed a thing of the past.

Our apologies to Ticketmaster and its spokeswoman, whose name we just have to mention: Kandus Kane.

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