Originally published by Houston Press May 24, 2001
©2001 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

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How Dare You?
The White House gets offended by a Chron question

The Washington Post had some really shocking news May 14. Really shocking.

It had to do with the recent ticketing of presidential daughter Jenna Bush for drinking in an Austin bar despite the fact she's only 19.

That in itself wasn't so shocking -- it looks like Jenna's going to be either a) providing entertaining headlines for years to come, or b) heavily guarded by friends of her father's.

In case you get all your political news from the Rush Limbaugh show and other right-wing radio, and you hadn't really heard about Jenna Bush's arrest, that's because her incident is very, very different from Al Gore's son getting a speeding ticket or being rumored to have been disciplined for drugs at school, or Chelsea Clinton being (wrongly) rumored to have been seen smoking at a public restaurant.

Those subjects were worthy of lengthy on-air discussion because they demonstrated the inherent hypocrisy and disregard for The Rule of Law that all Democrats exhibit. Jenna Bush, on the other hand, falls under the category of Private Family Matters.

In any case, the shock in the Post did not come from news of Jenna's exploits. Nor did it come from the fact that White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had lit into a reporter for asking a pointed question about the affair. What was shocking was the reporter who asked it: Bennett Roth, of the Washington bureau of our very own Bush-loving Houston Chronicle.

According to the Post's Al Kamen, who does a gossipy governmental column for the paper, Roth was the guy who asked this question of Fleischer at the daily news briefing May 10: "Ari, the president talked about parental involvement today. How much has he talked to his own daughters about both drugs and drinking? And given the fact that his own daughter was cited for underage drinking, isn't that a sign that there's only so much effect that a parent can have on their own children's behavior?"

A reasonable question. But not to Fleischer, who "responded brusquely," according to the Post: "No, I think, frankly, there are some issues where I think it's very important for you all in the press corps to recognize that he is the president of the United States; he's also a father. And the press corps has been very respectful in the past of treating family members with privacy, and I'm certain that you are going to do so again. I hope so."

"Fleischer later called Roth to chastise him," the Post noted, "telling him that his question had been 'noted in the building.' " The item was headlined "Chewing Out on the Bush Beat."

Roth's own story the day after the press conference played down the incident. Fleischer's quote was buried at the end of a 1,000-word article, which noted simply that "When asked if Jenna Bush's citation was an example of how parents aren't always able to influence their children's behavior, Fleischer bristled."

Hey, a semi-ballsy anti-Bush question from the Chronicle. What's next, acknowledgement that it sometimes gets hot in the summer here in Houston?

(Don't) Call Home

Things are tough all over in our city's media world. First, Houston's Other, the alternative weekly that tried to fill the void left by the passing of the Public News, bit the dust itself. And now KPRC-TV is telling its staffers that the station will be devoting resources to making sure no one's using office phones for personal long-distance calls.

A memo went out telling reporters and desk types that all such calls will be tracked, and pointedly reminding the peons that only business-related long-distance calls are allowed. "Channel 2 -- Where Local Calls Come First," one disgruntled staffer e-mailed us.

We sympathize with KPRC staffers. Many of them are no doubt dying to call home to brag about the latest titty-related story their bosses are forcing them to air. Hard on the heels of the recent mother-daughter breast-implant scoop, the station's Web page May 18 urged viewers to tune in later. "Tonight at 5: Bigger Breasts with a Pill?" it asked.

We just know they're working hard at 2, trying to figure out a way to do this story without using a lot of close-ups of women in tight T-shirts. We're guessing they'll eventually throw their hands up in despair and bow to the inevitable.

I Came, I Saw, I Clichéd

When the Astros acquired third baseman Vinny Castilla after he was released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, we thought of putting together a pool on just how long it would take the Chronicle to break out a tired "Vinny, vidi, vici!" reference.

We figured we had some time to organize the thing, seeing how Castilla, a former member of the Colorado Rockies, seemingly hadn't had a home run since he left the friendly confines of Coors Field.

We severely underestimated the hackneyedness of Dale Robertson, of course. We should have seen it coming, but Dale acted even faster than we thought. The 'Stros signed Castilla on Tuesday, May 15; Robertson had a column the next day, but he must have had it written before the Castilla news hit. (That column, by the way, fawned over Rockets owner Les Alexander for announcing that ticket prices won't go up next season.)

It took only the next column for Robertson not only to work in a "Yo, Vinny" mention but to spring upon us the Romanesque pun.

It was the dramatic ending to his column, so he must have been proud of it. As, no doubt, Denver Post writer Woody Paige was when he wrote, "The opening game of the weekend series between the Rockies and the Marlins simply was Vinny, Vidi, Vici" on May 13, 1995; or a Post headline writer who used the phrase March 4, 1996; or the Associated Press writer who used it a month later; or the Sports Illustrated headline writer who used it in 1998; or… but you get the point.

Castilla played well in two of his first three Astro games, so of course Robertson anointed him as savior: "An unwanted change of scenery almost ruined Vinny Castilla's career. Now, a welcome change of scenery will save it. Will. No reason not to think positive here, his tough day at the office Thursday notwithstanding. The Astros might have stumbled into the bargain of the century….Alou, Bagwell, Castilla -- winning might just be as easy as ABC."

Maybe -- just maybe -- we have time to set up the pool on how long it takes Robertson to berate a slumping Castilla and mock all those idiots who thought a burned-out Coors Field fraud might actually make a difference to the Disastros.

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