Quite possibly the worst editorial page of 2004

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We’ve taken to referring to the Chronicle editorial page as a wasteland, for reasons described in this post (among others).

Later, we’ll be offering up our 2005 suggestions for improving the city’s only newspaper (we’re sure the readers at 801 Texas Avenue eagerly await).

First, though, we thought we’d call attention to the editorial page that ran about a week ago as a perfect “wasteland” example.

The page leads with an editorial arguing that Houston must take steps to improve the Houston Emergency Center. We agree, and we’ve been posting on the topic for a while now. It’s good of the Chronicle finally to weigh in. It’s also good of the Chronicle to criticize the Brown Administration for its handling of the HEC. The main problem is that the newspaper was missing in action during the Brown Administration, when it was more of a booster than public watchdog. And it’s been entirely too slow to weigh in on this important local issue.

The second house editorial criticizes Halliburton, oversimplifying (a regular Chron editorial board practice) the company’s legal wrangling over certain benefits in dispute with employees of subsidiary Dresser. The Chron basically argues that a deal is a deal, and Halliburton shouldn’t try to back out of the deal. The same editorial board rejected that reasoning, however, when it endorsed Mayor White’s referendum to give the city power to renege on the city’s pension deal with municipal employees. Whether that deal was ill advised or not, it was a deal. The only difference in the two that I can come up with is that Vice President Cheney was once affiliated with Halliburton (and therefore both are “bad guys”), whereas Mayor White is a “good guy.” This sort of good guy/bad guy oversimplification of issues does not serve the newspaper or the city well.

The Outlook section features an op-ed from former Marine Andrew M. Borene, who criticizes civilian leadership on the matters of body and vehicle armor (despite any number of blog posts and print articles that bring some needed context to the issue), not to mention “tax cuts for the wealthy.” It’s an op-ed surely designed to appeal to Move On types and Deaniacs, but it’s not a particularly compelling op ed to a broader audience because it relies so heavily on emotion and canards, rather than facts. One supposes it resonated with the Chron editorial board — that they “felt” it to be true — and that’s why it ran. If the Chron editorial page is to improve, the editors and the board are going to have to expand their intellectual horizons. We’ll be offering some suggestions later in that regard.

A second Outlook feature is a typical op-ed from Cragg Hines. Hines brings a reliably leftist view to all issues, and tends to write meanly and vindictively — the style that frequently characterizes the Chron editorial pages. But why waste valuable resources on this, and at D.C. bureau salaries? As one blogger points out, there are plenty of voices like this all over the web, and they come a lot cheaper — if that’s really what you want on the editorial pages.

And the last outlook column comes from Washington Post syndicated columnist David Broder, who is all upset about the D.C. baseball deal. Broder is the so-called “dean” of beltway windbags, but even his lame attempts at explaining why this is of more than parochial interest comes up way short — except to the Chron editors, who thought for some reason this was an op-ed that Houstonians should read. If ever one needed evidence that the editorial page editors were out of touch with the interests of normal Houstonians, this would be it.

This editorial page may well be the worst example of the year for the Chronicle. We’ll be offering some advice later as to how the newspaper might avoid repeats of this mediocrity in 2005.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX