Child's Play

Intrepid Channel 13 investigator Wayne Dolcefino has e-mailed to say that the writer of this column is a "silly cynical weaselhead" for somehow doubting the earthshaking importance of his latest sweeps-week strip bar exposé.

We immediately assumed Dolcefino was a thin-skinned hypocrite who gets the vapors at the slightest hint of criticism, but we have seen the light. His thundering scoop -- vice cops spend a lot on drinks at titty bars! -- was not the lamest undercover sweeps exposé of the month. That honor goes instead to Channel 2's Cindy Garza.

Garza broke out the hidden camera and the face-obscuring software November 29 for what had to be one of the most (inadvertently) hilarious investigations in years: Some of the guys who go to prostitutes are (gasp!) as young as 17 years old! And the hookers don't card them!

Garza started her piece standing Live! next to a public phone, giving an incredibly informative visual demonstration that finding a prostitute is as easy as, well, picking up a phone.

The KPRC team then enlisted the aid of a 17-year-old, who dialed an escort service and waited in a motel room. The kid, whose face was hidden, told Garza after the call that the escort service "didn't ask my age." The fiends!

Then came the hidden camera as the hooker entered the motel room. The kid -- isn't he too young to be involved in something like this, Channel 2? -- handed over 200 bucks and asked what he would get for it.

"You would go to bed with me?" he asked. "Umm, yeah," the hooker answered, in her best Hell-ooo? Anybody home? tone.

Then the door burst open and Garza stormed in -- "before anything happened," she reassured us. For a brief moment of sweeps-week exuberance, Garza's face was as digitally obscured as the other two, but she quickly brought things under control.

Under intense grilling by Garza, the hooker revealed that: a) well, yeah, she had planned to have sex with the customer, b) she didn't know how old he was, and c) she had not been aware that she could be breaking the law by having sex with a minor.

(That last item kind of sounds like being worried about an expired gun permit for the pistol you just used to rob a bank, but what do we know?)

What's more surprising, we learned that the hooker "had only been doing this for a few days" and that "she wasn't sure" if she would continue to do it.

It seems KPRC never ends a news piece anymore without offering advice to the viewer, and it came in spades this night. Garza reported that no police department would talk to her on camera -- "they say there's not a lot they can do about the problem," she sadly noted -- but they did have a word to the wise.

"Police urge parents to watch their children and Š if they notice such activity, to report it and be ready to talk to them," she said. Good advice, assuming Little Timmy is savvy enough to get $200 and a hooker but naive enough to do it right in front of his parents.

Anchor Bill Balleza then chimed in, as a graphic flashed the phone number of the HPD vice squad. "If you want to report a minor you think might be involved with a call girl, here's the number," he said.

We'll keep our eyes peeled, Bill.

News Flash: Brown Is Mayor

The Houston Chronicle thinks nothing of spending thousands of dollars to send its Washington-bureau reporters on presidential trips abroad. The reporters never seem to file anything different from what the paper could have gotten by using a New York Times or Washington Post story, but apparently that's not expected.

The Chron did, however, rely on the wire services to cover Mayor Lee Brown's recent jaunt to Africa, the paper's metro desk not having the budgetary clout of the D.C. folk.

Among the things we learned from the wire stories in the Chron: The mayor "is a career criminologist and former police chief...[and] once served under President Clinton as the U.S. drug enforcement czar."

Fascinating tidbits, although perhaps not quite falling under the definition of "news" for Houstonians.

The wire reports were padded to a fare-thee-well, all but shouting out loud that the local AP guy had been dragged kicking and screaming to the events to fulfill a request from an important client newspaper.

Abidjan, Ivory Coast, November 15 -- "Ivory Coast Prime Minister Kablan Duncan asked Houston to help... make Abidjan 'the Houston of Africa,' " the wire story reported.

"American companies made an average 31 percent yearly profit on their investments in Africa, compared with 12 percent for similar ventures worldwide, according to city of Houston estimates," the story noted.

Accra, Ghana, November 17 -- "Ivory Coast's prime minister on Sunday asked Houston to help... make Abidjan 'the Houston of Africa.'...American companies made an average 31 percent yearly profit on their investments in Africa, compared with 12 percent for similar ventures worldwide, according to city of Houston estimates."

Lome, Togo, November 19 -- No update on whether the Ivory Coast still wants Abidjan to be the Houston of Africa, but the story does note that, you'll be surprised to learn, "U.S. companies made an average 31 percent yearly profit on their investments in Africa compared to 12 percent for similar ventures worldwide."

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