The Houston Chronicle is the largest daily newspaper in Texas, USA. As of March 2008, it is the ninth-largest newspaper by circulation in the United States. With the demise of its long-time rival the Houston Post, its nearest major competitors are located in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The Houston Chronicle is the largest daily paper owned and operated by the Hearst Corporation, a multinational corporate media conglomerate with $4 billion in revenues. The paper employs nearly 2,000 people, including approximately 300 journalists, editors, and photographers. The Chronicle has bureaus in Washington, D.C., Mexico City, Colombia and Austin. Its web site averages 25 million hits per month.
The Chronicle's first edition was published on October 14, 1901 and sold for two cents per copy, at a time when most papers sold for five cents each. At the end of its first month in operation, the Chronicle had a circulation of 4,378 — roughly one tenth of the population of Houston at the time. Within the first year of operation, the paper purchased and consolidated the Daily Herald.
Goodfellows continues today through donations made by the newspaper and its readers. It has grown into a city-wide program that provides needy children between the ages of two and ten with toys during the winter holidays. In 2003, Goodfellows distributed almost 250,000 toys to more than 100,000 needy children in the Greater Houston area.
Jack Sweeney is the publisher and president of the Houston Chronicle.
As of April 2006, the editorial board includes:
(The previous president was Richard J. V. Johnson, who died in 2006.)
The paper employs nearly 2,000 people, including approximately 300 journalists. The paper's main political columnist is Cragg Hines, who is based in Washington, D.C. In addition, the Chronicle contracts with multiple distributors who circulate and deliver copies of the newspaper.
A longtime Chronicle officer was John Hulen Murphy, I, the assistant to Richard Johnson, former executive vice president of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association, and a newspaperman, mostly in Houston, for seventy-four years.
However, reporters at the newspaper have several times been Pulitzer finalists, recently for international reporting:
On some days, "local" sections (Z) for residents of various Houston-area neighborhoods appear - Depending on one's residence, a customer will receive one of the following sections on Thursdays:
In May 2005 the Harris County Republican Party joined a boycott of the newspaper, called for previously by KSEV hosts. The Republican Party accused the paper of having a liberal political slant, of biased coverage of the light rail project, of supporting Planned Parenthood and of waging a "personal smear campaign" against Houston area congressman Tom DeLay.
The newspaper also has had critics on the political left. The Houston Press, an alternative weekly tabloid newspaper that often takes a liberal perspective, used to run a column entitled "News Hostage", which often critiqued the Chronicle. Now that paper only occasionally criticizes the Chronicle in its "Hairballs" column.
The memorandum then proposed several "investigative" news stories and editorials designed to examine "the campaign led by Tom DeLay and Bob Lanier to defeat rail expansion." DeLay, a Houston congressman, and Lanier, a former mayor of Houston, had both actively opposed light rail in the past.
The document was online for only an hour, but long enough to be viewed by some readers. Soon after the Houston Review, a conservative newspaper published by students at the University of Houston (now defunct), printed the memo's full text and an accompanying commentary that criticized the paper for bias toward rail. The Houston Press also accused the Chronicle of having a bias toward rail. They dubbed the paper Houston's "in-house light rail newsletter," described it as a "tireless promoter of rail," and mocked its editorial board's portrayal of light rail as the key to making Houston a "world class" city — a claim echoed by the city's former mayor, Lee Brown, who campaigned on a platform of bringing light rail to Houston. Other local weekly and monthly newspapers, including the Houston Forward Times, a local African-American weekly newspaper, seized on the controversy, as did local talk radio stations, bloggers, and the conservative Free Republic Internet forum.
The Chronicle's response was notably muted. Its first official response appeared in the "corrections" section later the same week stating: "An internal Houston Chronicle document was mistakenly posted to the editorial/opinion area of the Web site early Thursday morning. We apologize for any confusion it may have caused."
Later, the Houston Press discovered Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen, who gave a statement in defense of the memorandum: "I make no apologies for having a thorough discussion of the issue. We have nothing to apologize for…There was an inadvertent posting of it to the Web site, and I'm sorry about that, but I make no apologies for the contents of it."
After the memo's accidental release, the Chronicle's critics noted that its Editorial Board continued being a vocal advocate of the expansion of Houston's light rail and charged that the paper became a partisan participant in the debate over light rail expansion. According to a content analysis of the paper by the Houston Review done to support their allegation of bias, the Houston Chronicle published 5 editorials attacking rail opponents, 6 editorials promoting or endorsing light rail, 6 news stories attacking the motives of rail opponents, 3 news stories promoting a criminal investigation of rail opponents, and 1 staff editorial endorsing a criminal investigation of rail opponents during the course of the election. As the bond referendum approached, rail opponents criticized the Houston Chronicle's request that Texans for True Mobility (TTM), the main critic of METRORail, provide the paper with a copy of their financial contributor reports. TTM declined, saying they did not believe the Chronicle would adequately protect the privacy of their donors.
The Chronicle responded by making a complaint to the Harris County District Attorney's office asking that Texans for True Mobility be investigated for potential violations of Texas election law. The Chronicle alleged that TTM broke a law requiring PACs to disclose their donors. Violation of this law, a misdemeanor, is punishable by a maximum $500 fine. TTM was a registered non-profit 501(c)(6) organization and said this status did not require them to disclose contributors like PACs must do. The Chronicle argued that the law covered TTM because it made "paid political moves." Texas campaign law allows nonprofits to run "educational" advertisements, but those advertisements cannot endorse specific political positions or people or make a specific recommendation in a pending election. The dispute was over whether TTM's advertisements, and specifically the slogans "Metro's Rail Plan Costs Too Much ... Does Too Little" and "Metro's Plan Won't Work Here," were specific recommendations on how to vote.
Rosenthal later dismissed the Chronicle's complaint, finding it without merit on the grounds that the statute did not apply. Rosenthal's involvement in the probe itself came under fire by the Houston Press, which in editorials questioned whether Rosenthal was too close to TTM: from 2000 to 2004, Rosenthal accepted some $30,000 in donations from known TTM supporters.
Later that year, the group revealed that that their TV and radio ads were funded by $30,000 in contributions made the day before the election by two PACs controlled by DeLay.
By comparison with TTM, which was extensively attacked in the paper's editorials and covered in multiple news stories, the Chronicle devoted only a portion of one article to the finances of Texans for Public Transportation (TPT), the main pro-METRORail group, according to the Houston Review. The Houston Review further alleged multiple conflicts of interest in TPT's financing. The report involved fourteen METRORail contracters and business interests who stood to gain financially from the project and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the referendum.
After the article appeared, Sandoval's family members complained that a sentence alleging "President Bush's failure to find weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq misrepresented their views on the war and President George W. Bush (the Sandoval family was supportive of the war). The next day Sandoval's stepfather and sister called into Houston talk radio station KSEV and explained that Wall had pressured them for a quotation that criticized Bush and then included the line alleging Bush's "failure" against the wishes of the family.
A bitter on-air showdown ensued between the KSEV radio show host/owner Dan Patrick, and an assistant managing editor at the Chronicle, who defended his reporter's story. The incident prompted Patrick to join the call for a boycott of the paper. The story was also picked up by the local Houston television stations and, a week later, the O'Reilly Factor. The issue cooled down when Chronicle publisher Jack Sweeney contacted the Sandoval family to apologize.
Patrick and Bill O'Reilly have both been involved in subsequent disputes with the Chronicle over alleged biases and writings pertaining to each other. In 2005 O'Reilly and editorial page editor James Howard Gibbons became involved in a heated exchange carried out over their respective media outlets involving a Chronicle editorial that, according to O'Reilly, seemingly advocated softer treatment for convicted child sex offenders.
The Chronicle responded to O'Reilly by editorializing against the host and accusing him of misrepresenting their position and misquoting a segment of the editorial. O'Reilly retracted the erroneous quotation but reiterated his criticism by quoting the correct editorial, which criticized Florida's Jessica Lunsford Act, espoused rehabilitation for sex offenders, and argued that "counseling reduces recidivism". The incident also prompted O'Reilly to host a segment on liberal bias at the Houston Chronicle on his March 12 television broadcast, featuring criticisms of the paper by Patrick.
Such donations typically occur in the form of buying tables for Planned Parenthood luncheons and similar events.
According to the Texas Alliance for Life's Dr. Joe Pojman, this activity "calls into question the Chronicle’s professional objectivity when reporting on the abortion issue." The Texas Foundation for Life, another pro-life organization, has accused the paper of taking a pro-choice position in its editorials. The organization also contends that the paper has misrepresented the effects of legislation that removes state funding for abortion providers by relying heavily on Planned Parenthood sources for its articles.
The paper's support for Planned Parenthood has also been cited by KSEV radio and the Republican Party as a reason for their boycotts.
Internal memos obtained from by FOIA from the Justice Department antitrust attorneys who investigated the closing of the Houston Post said the Chronicle's parent organization struck a deal to buy the Post six months before it closed. The memos, first obtained by the alternative paper the Houston Press, say the Chronicle's conglomerate and the Post "reached an agreement in October, 1994, for the sale of Houston Post Co.'s assets for approximately $120 million."
No anti-trust charges have been filed against the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Post or against the Hearst corporation.
In a follow up article Jensen continued, asserting "my anger is directed not only at individuals who engineered the Sept. 11 tragedy, but at those who have held power in the United States and have engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic." He goes on to warn of more civilian deaths that may follow retaliation, "let us not forget that a 'massive response' will kill people, and if the pattern of past U.S. actions holds, it will kill innocents."
The opinion piece resulted in hundreds of angry letters to the editor and reportedly over 4,000 angry responses to Jensen. Among them were claims of insensitivity against the newspaper and of giving an unduly large audience to a position characterized as being extremist. University of Texas president Larry Faulkner issued a response denouncing Jenson's as "a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy", noting "[h]e is not speaking in the University's name and may not speak in its name."
Despite the public backlash, the Chronicle printed four subsequent opinion articles by Jensen, asserting his case. Jensen is also a regular guest writer on the opinion page and has published several dozen opinion articles on other subjects in the Chronicle.
Almost immediately, supporters of DeLay began to argue that Murray's poll had severe methodological flaws and was designed to be biased against DeLay. Dr. David Hill, a pollster who writes for The Hill newspaper, questioned the poll's accuracy. According to Hill the poll by Murray had an unusually small sample of participants. This gave the poll a margin of error of plus/minus 9 percentage points, which is more than twice the error margin of most election surveys.
Former Texas Secretary of State Jack Rains contacted the Chronicle's James Howard Gibbons, alleging that the poll appeared to incorrectly count non-Republican Primary voters in its sample. Rains also pointed out that Dr. Murray had a conflict of interest in the poll. Murray's son Keir Murray is a Democratic political consultant who works for Nick Lampson, DeLay's Democratic challenger in 2006. In response, Gibbons denied the methodological flaws in the poll and stated:
KSEV Talk Show Host Edd Hendee contacted Dr. Murray directly and accused him of manufacturing the poll to "demonstrate political vulnerability of DeLay" and of having a conflict of interest due to his son's employer. Hendee also pointed out that Keir Murray, who works for Lampson, is one of the 3 board members (along with his father) in the University of Houston polling group that designed the survey. Murray's responses, if any, have not been made public.