The state of Arkansas used to have the unofficial slogan of "Thank God for Mississippi." Whenever someone ranked the states -- whether for education, social services or whatever -- Arkansas would be ranked 49th, saved from total ignominy by its neighbor to the west.
The Houston Chronicle seems to be taking that "there but for the grace of God" attitude when it comes to reporting problems in our city and state. The Chron's unofficial slogan seems to be "It Could Be Worse."
A page-one story August 17: "L.A. Still Making More Haze While Sun Shines -- Ozone Levels Show Houston Clearly Second."
Despite better weather in California, environmental reporter Bill Dawson wrote, "Los Angeles still leads Houston in the 1999 race for the dubious title of nation's smoggiest city."
Sure, Houston may be smoggier than every other city in America save one; the story here is that, by God, there is one place smoggier.
Likewise, the Chron had a Panglossian reaction to a national study that ranked Texas as the 48th worst state to raise a child, in terms of reported child abuse, immunizations, child poverty, infant mortality and a host of other categories.
Louisiana was ranked 50th. A few weeks later, we had a Sunday front-page article on how bad the homeless-kid problem is in Louisiana, of course.
"Summer reaches up from the shimmering sidewalk with hot, sticky fingers," reporter Kim Cobb somehow opened her story, "but Shirel Pilot and her 10-year-old son have no place to go until the Salvation Army shelter opens for the evening."
The hot, sticky fingers of summer apparently don't reach up from sidewalks in Texas, we guess. The point to remember: When it comes to pollution, or child welfare, or just about anything else, we're better than somebody else, somewhere.
"Seldom is heard...""
The Chron's noble determination not to bow to the poisonous pessimism of naysayers also came shining through in its August 18 report on an Army Corps of Engineers meeting on the proposed billion-dollar Bayport project.
About 2,500 residents packed the Pasadena Civic Center to protest the plan to choke the Seabrook area with a huge railyard and 7,000 trucks a day, the Chron reported.
The story's third paragraph: "Although the vast majority of those at the meeting appeared to be opposed to the project, a few did speak in its support." And then, for the next five paragraphs, we got Port Chairman Ned Holmes defending the project.
"We have an obligation to plan for quality of life," he was quoted as helpfully saying; Holmes added that the use of what reporter Stephen Johnson paraphrased as "earthen berms, sound walls, greenbelts and generous setbacks" should alleviate residents' concerns.
Just in case the thousands of residents weren't marginalized enough by the prominence given Holmes's no-need-to-worry statements, the Chron played the nutcase card, noting that one opponent sang a song to protest the project.
We hope the opponents have learned their lesson and will be thankful that they're getting some generous setbacks.
The readers are getting mightily annoyed at the local TV newscasts, but we have decided to adopt the more enlightened "It Could Be Worse" philosophy.
One reader gripes that Channels 2 and 11 went live to report August 20 that a Pearland plane crash had resulted in a fatality, with Channel 2 saying the report was "confirmed."
Sure, they got it wrong by madly rushing the information on the air -- no one had died -- but we think the reader should rejoice in the fact that there were no fatalities, instead of carping about journalistic competence.
Another reader complains that Channel 13 anchor Shara Fryer reported August 18 that the Planet Hollywood chain filed for "reconstruction" under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy laws. Chapter 11 refers to "reorganization," not "reconstruction," he writes.
Again, people, it could be worse. She could have reported the chain had filed for redecoration.
The Chronicle has never been shy about tooting its own horn, to which an endless series of stories about victories in obscure journalism contests can attest.
Somehow, though, they didn't see fit to mention an August 19 USA Today article that highlighted Houston's Leading Information Source. We're glad to rectify the situation.
The national paper had a long (for them) interview with Roger Black, a leading designer for newspapers, magazines and Web sites.
The paper offered the New York-based Black a chance to list his best and worst among newspaper design. The best: The Boston Globe. "A Yankee directness. Quick and to the point. Crisp, good sense of typography," he said.
The worst: our own Houston Chronicle. "Mealy-mouth layout and dull typography. Bad type faces."
Ouch. As soon as Black finds a worse paper, we're sure we'll read about it in the Chron.
Paging Tipper Gore
So we're watching CNN's August 14 coverage of the Iowa straw poll, and as they head for a commercial, they cut live to the tent where Governor George W. Bush's supporters are approximating a celebration. The band is on stage playing a vaguely familiar tune; as it churns on we recognize it as ZZ Top's "Tush."
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The singer's heading for the refrain's final line -- "Lord, take me downtown," he's screeching -- and we're beginning to wonder whether the GOP fat cats and Iowa Christians will take note of the booty reference coming up.
We needn't have worried. "Lord, take me downtown," the guy sang, "I'm just looking for some Bush."
My, we thought. That song certainly cleaned up nicely.
Spotted any gems lately from the Houston media? E-mail the News Hostage at email@example.com.