Friday, January 30, 2015

A Super Bowl controversy | Last Word

The controversy at the only Super Bowl I ever attended, in 2004, had nothing to do with deflated balls.

It involved singer Janet Jackson’s breast.

You remember the most famous “wardrobe malfunction” in sports history.

It was when Justin Timberlake tore Jackson’s dress, exposing even more of her than NFL cheerleaders show.

Except to call it a “malfunction” is suspect.

Or does Ms. Jackson always wear a metal “pastie,” or aurealic shield?

I don’t think so.

To be honest, though, I only knew about the device she used to cover her nipple from news reports.

You couldn’t see that detail from high up in the luxury suite of the Houston Chronicle, which I had joined a few months earlier as a columnist.

Besides, I wasn’t looking at the field. I was looking at the suite next to ours.

There was Attorney General (now Governor) Greg Abbott and his wife.

There was Railroad Commissioner and Mrs. Mike Williams.

There was Rep. Phil King, Republican of Weatherford, who chaired the House Committee on Regulated Industries.

He brought his son.

And there was a lesser-known member of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s office.

Chief of Staff Bruce Gibson was a former lobbyist for CenterPoint Energy, the big Houston company that sells electricity and natural gas to more than 5 million customers. 

If you had a draft of state power players, this group would go in the first round.

So who was their host? I leaned over the railing and asked someone.

“It’s CenterPoint,” he said, noting that it wasn’t actually the megacompany’s luxury suite.

They had to give up their normal turf to CBS.

They were splitting this precious territory with another company.

Still, CenterPoint wasn’t complaining.

As a highly regulated company, they had recruited with care.

They had treated some of their biggest customers to seats out in the stadium, but their luxury suite seats went to state officials who devise their regulations.

The next day I called Scott Rozzell, CenterPoint’s vice president and general counsel.

His duties include heading up their lobbying team.

He was feeling fine.

“Good group, huh?” he said, after confirming the identities of his guest list.

Rozzell said he didn’t expect the public to be concerned about his company’s royal treatment of their public officials.

“All entertaining public officials is the subject of public reporting,” he said. “None of this is secret.”

What’s more, he noted, Abbott and Gibson, Dewhurst’s man, paid the $600 cover price for their tickets.

But the value was considerably more than the cover price.

Stadium seats priced at $500 were going for $1,700 and up on e-Bay.

Luxury seats weren’t on e-Bay at any price.

When I called Representative King, the chairman of the House Committee on Regulated Industries, he assured me that no business had been discussed during the Super Bowl.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though.

He said he had come down a day early for what he called “a very lengthy briefing from CenterPoint’s attorneys.”

“I learned a lot,” he added.

I’ll bet he did.

I called Tommy Smith, the Austin head of Public Citizen, a public-interest group that often tangles with corporations like CenterPoint.

Like CenterPoint, Smith wanted to meet with Chairman King.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have any Super Bowl tickets to offer.

“I asked him for a meeting on further deregulation issues that will be taken up next year,” said Smith.

“He said he’d call me when he was in town, but I haven’t heard from him yet.”

Chairman King asked if I wanted a comment on Janet Jackson’s stunt.

I assured him I did.

He said his son was very offended by it.

As boys are, I thought.

He said: “I’m writing a letter to the FCC this week and asking them to take the harshest measures possible.”

He added: “We want to encourage morality.”

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