All About the Kids

Our recent item on Wayne Dolcefino mugging in front of his Emmys during his latest Kid-Care scandal update resulted in a meeting with Brad Levy, executive director of Kid-Care.

That's not too surprising -- things are very quiet over at Kid-Care these days, and the intense Levy admits he has plenty of time to analyze (if not brood obsessively over) the media coverage his group has gotten. In fact, he has a foot-high stack of binders he pulls out that are filled with transcripts not only of news reports but of phone calls with news reporters, of memos and letters back and forth, and of the various financial records at the heart of the various controversies surrounding the organization.

Dolcefino had been asking questions since July about Kid-Care, the media-favorite charity that delivers food to needy kids. Before the KTRK story aired, the group held a press conference saying it was cutting back on food deliveries because Dolcefino's questions were scaring away donors. Dolcefino has reported on Kid-Care money being spent on staff vacations, "gentlemen's club" outings and entertainment tickets; the group is now suing its former business manager, who it says is responsible for any improprieties. The Better Business Bureau has revoked Kid-Care's membership, but don't get Levy started on the BBB.

Levy is quick to brand Dolcefino "a domestic terrorist" who is only "interested in attacking black persons." KTRK denies those charges in the boilerplate statements it has issued defending itself from complaints coming in from minorities, who also note Dolcefino's reports that wrecked the 1991 mayoral campaign of state Representative Sylvester Turner, who seemed poised to become the city's first black mayor.

Levy, like many people who are the subject of media investigations, claims KTRK's Kid-Care reports are full of "mistakes" and "lies," but his real complaint is more with the spin put on facts.

"He wants to bring down an icon in Houston as another notch in his gun and submit it for another Emmy," Levy says.

Kid-Care sent off a package of videotapes on Kid-Care, showing such things as it being named one of President George H.W. Bush's Thousand Points of Light, to Disney chairman Michael Eisner on August 28. Disney owns ABC, which owns KTRK.

Levy is highly incensed by the series of letters that followed between Kid-Care's lawyers and ABC. In a letter dated August 30, ABC executive counsel David Cohen wrote that any story done would meet KTRK's high standards of accuracy and fairness. "As such, prior to the broadcast of any report Mr. Dolcefino will be in contact with you so that you may have a full and fair opportunity to present any information you deem relevant," Cohen wrote.

Levy says he picked up this letter at Kid-Care's post office box the afternoon of September 6. A few hours earlier, he says, he had received a different letter faxed from Cohen that included 14 topics Dolcefino wanted to discuss in an interview. That letter said, "Finally, to set the record straight, although KTRK is willing to provide Kid-Care with the above list of topics, there has been no 'promise' or precondition agreed to by Mr. Dolcefino in connection with an interview by Mr.[Hurt] Porter or any other Kid-Care representative."

Worse, he says, Dolcefino had already aired a report, the night before. "They broke their contract" not to do a story until they interviewed Kid-Care officials, he says. "There was a guarantee from Disney that they would not run or report a story without talking" to Kid-Care officials.

The truth is a little more complex, though. Levy says he had called reporters at Channel 11 and the Houston Chronicle that week to do stories on Kid-Care's donations drying up. ("Our contract was with 13, not 11 or the Chronicle," he says, adding, "I knew it would piss [Dolcefino] off royally.")

KHOU did a story on its 5 p.m. news September 5; Dolcefino did stories that night at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., using in part an earlier interview with Kid-Care founder Carol Porter shot by another KTRK reporter. In essence the piece promoted the upcoming stories on his investigation. From the station's viewpoint, the stories that night could be seen as follow-ups to the news other media were reporting (thanks to Kid-Care). Their own, bigger investigation was still to come, and could still include interviews with any Kid-Care representatives.

But those additional stories, it turns out, were not going to include any such interviews.

"We're not commenting to Channel 13 ever, never, ever because of this," Levy says.

Things are going to get only more interesting on the Kid-Care front. Rudy Labombarda, the former business manager who is being sued by the group, has hired as his lawyer none other than Rusty Hardin, the scorched-earth, limelight-loving attorney who's still dining off Anna Nicole Smith's yelling "Screw you, Rusty!" from the witness box during her testimony.

Hardin has written Kid-Care telling them to drop their suit. "It is time for Kid-Care to quit making self-serving false press statements in the form of lawsuits," he wrote. "My client has never stolen one thin dime and it hurts him very deeply that [Kid-Care] has decided to use him as a public scapegoat for its financial problems."

Can we see Porter yelling "Screw you, Rusty!" from the stand? Probably not. But we can definitely see Levy doing it.

Cockamamie Rules

You think the U.S. tax code is a loophole-filled mishmash of seemingly contradictory regulations? Try the Houston Chronicle's guidelines on dirty words.

In August, in a reprinted New York Times profile on comedian Sarah Silverman that gleefully included jokes on abortion and child molestation, the Chron prudishly excised the word "penis" from a quote in the story. Their TV-sports columnist refuses to use the full title of Fox's The Best Damn Sports Show, Period. A couple of years ago it refused to print even a bowdlerized "s--" when it used a Los Angeles Times story on what awful things get said in some congressional debates.

And yet, on October 18 the Chron printed a Boston Globe review of a documentary about an old hippie performance troupe. The group included transvestites who would perform, the review said, "wearing theatrical drag that always revealed stray genitalia." The name of the group, and the movie? The Cockettes. Which was splashed across the review's headline, and a section-front blurb.

Thank God they weren't called the Penisettes, or there would have been real trouble.

The Chron's newly raucous attitude was also evident in the headline over a front-page box October 17. The box accompanied a story on a local hospice that is likely to be merged out of existence partly because of lapses in patient care. The box described two of those lapses, including: "Because of a bungled discharge, a man dying of cancer arrived comatose, with blood-soaked bandages, at a nursing home after a three-hour ride in the family van."

The headline over the box? "Awkward Ending." (Awkward?)

The Chron is still getting the hang of being edgy, apparently. Society columnist Shelby Hodge did a tart item October 16 on how Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee showed up late and violated other protocol rules during a Houston dinner for the queen of Thailand. It ended with this paragraph: "'Cross- cultural differences.' That was how the diplomatic lord high chamberlain privately described the incident to a fellow Thai."

We can't imagine anyone getting offended by that, but apparently someone did. The graf was removed from late editions of the paper and from the online version of the story.

Maybe the "fellow Thai" was a Penisette.

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