Vested Interests

Every so often our cup of civic hypocrisy overflows, and The Insider feels the urge to share the bounty with readers and purge it from our computer system.

Notables this week include At Large City Councilman Joe Roach, who used his official position to champion a request by the Annunciation Orthodox School in the Montrose to buy a block of Marshall Street to develop as a walkway and parking lot. The only hitch is that neighbors claim the closure would further split their neighborhood and worsen traffic problems. Roach spoke in favor of the street closing at a community meeting and later took school officials on a lobbying field trip to city hall.

What Roach didn't talk about is his own vested interest in the school's welfare. Turns out his son is a student at Annunciation Orthodox. As Roach tossed softball questions to school supporters at a City Council meeting last week, Councilwoman Annise Parker finally cut to the quick by asking her colleague, "Don't you have a child at the school?"

Roach snapped back, "Everyone on Council knows that." It apparently didn't occur to him that his constituents also might like to know about his bias in the issue of the street closing. "I have nothing to hide," says Roach, who claims opponents of the street closing are raising the issue of his involvement with the school as "a political tactic." Even if that's true, Roach should consider modeling his behavior on two Houston Chronicle staffers, Clifford Pugh and Andrea Georgsson, who live near Annunciation Orthodox and spoke against the street closing at Council, but have not used the clout of their professional positions to push their points of view.

Interestingly, the city committee that approved the school's proposal relied on a traffic study of the area commissioned by the school, hardly the most impartial source of information. While Mayor Lee Brown is supporting the closing, both sides are jockeying for a compromise.

Our second example of hypocrisy in action is the Houston Review, a monthly publication that portrays itself as an impartial community newspaper but is actually a house organ for Campaign for a Color-Blind America, the anti-affirmative action organization pioneered by Houstonian Ed Blum. Call the phone number listed for the paper and you get a taped message from Blum himself.

The lead story in the current issue of the Houston Review criticizes Councilman Jew Don Boney for the alleged verbal abuse of Blum at a Council hearing last month. In a second feature, editor Marc Levin, who is also the local executive director of Campaign for a Color-Blind America, blasted Pacifica Radio and local station KPFT/90.1 FM for promoting "a left wing agenda" while using nearly $100,000 in federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds. Particularly irritating to Levin was the coverage given by the Democracy Now talk show on Pacifica to the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black inmate on Pennsylvania death row awaiting execution for the murder of a policeman in 1981. Abu-Jamal's supporters claim he was framed by a police informer, and Abu-Jamal has narrated a series of commentaries on his situation.

"The broadcast of Jamal's rants is merely one example of the political slant taken by Pacifica," claims Levin. Ironically, the two front-page stories in Levin's colorblind newspaper just happen to focus on noxious black men.

Democracy Now host Amy Goodman touts her show as "The Exception to the Rulers" and makes no bones about providing a left point of view on current affairs, while Levin's paper clearly slants to the right and provides column space for mostly Republican elected officials.

But Goodman also invariably offers reply time on her show to corporate and opposition representatives, something notably lacking in the Houston Review's columns.

KPFT does draw about 20 percent of its annual budget from federal CPB funds, but Levin isn't above seeking a federal boost for his paper, either. He admits an application for nonprofit tax status for the Houston Review is pending with the IRS. Of course, that's different, claims Levin, who displays his abilities at rationalization by explaining that since the federal government has no right to collect taxes on income, what would seem a tax break isn't really one at all.

And finally, the Insider couldn't pass without comment on this bargain offered by Inside Houston magazine chief operating officer Kelli Meyer, who brags in a marketing missive that "our editorial content is now the best in the city."

In an accompanying rate sheet, Meyer explains how she gathers her editorial material. For a mere $2,695 a month, advertisers get not only a full-page, four-color ad, but also a profile article with a full-color photo, and two photos and/or mentions in Inside Houston over the next six months.

According to Meyer, "We'll create your ad, send an editor out to interview you and write your story .... For six months, your ad, your story, and your picture will be all over town. Just think of the response you'll get from such comprehensive media coverage."

As for that response, here's a preview: Ha, Ha, Ha.

-- Tim Fleck

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