Sweeps month has arrived yet again, meaning the local TV news outfits are desperately vying for viewers. We have another Wayne Dolcefino investigation from KTRK, we have the obligatory prostitute story (this time from KHOU's Mexico City bureau), and we have KPRC hyping the public heath hazard of cellular phones.
Channel 2 bombarded viewers with commercials previewing the story, showing people holding cell phones and then an official-looking woman saying ominously, "It's frightening, really, what I have discovered."
What viewers discovered when they tuned in was ominous music but not much in the way of facts. The official-looking woman turned out to be a lawyer representing people suing cell phone companies, and the quote in the ad was the only quote from her in the story.
Reporter Suzanne Boase did say this, about any connection between cell phones and brain tumors: "While few conclusive studies have been done studies done on mice in Australia showed some developed tumors after being exposed, but other studies were inconclusive."
Cue the ominous music. Conclusively.
That November 2 report wasn't KPRC's real sweeps-month kickoff, though. That honor went to reporter Silvia Castaneda, who gave us all an in-depth look at a "Younger You," which apparently comes from vaginal surgery that makes women "Born-Again Virgins."
There was no ominous music -- not even Archie Bell & the Drells' "Tighten Up." But we did get several crotch-level views of an El Paso woman working out. Twice she was shown walking right into the camera, all but breaking the lens with her pubic bone; another time the camera lingered on her pelvis before panning up to her face.
With the subtle approach thus firmly established, we learned that the woman had gone to a Los Angeles doctor who performs "laser vaginal rejuvenation." For up to $8,000.
Said Castaneda: "The doctor says that as women bear children, plus age, things go."
We then met the doctor, David Matlock, who was interviewed between operating-room shots of doctors poking around where it counts. Matlock said that he also specialized in "reconstruction of the hymen" for women who come in because of social or religious reasons. "Some women have to submit themselves to an examination by the gynecologist of the groom's choice to determine if they're virgins," Matlock said smoothly. "We have no problem in helping these women in taking care of these particular types of situations."
(Hmm. The women are lying to their fiancé, but then again the fiancé is reprehensible enough to subject his betrothed to a medical exam. Tough to pick a side to root for there.)
Castaneda told us that "Dr. Matlock works with what's already there and then stitches up the area to bring it to the state before virginity was lost."
How did the El Paso woman feel about her sex life, Castaneda asked? "I feel the excitement -- like I'm a virgin again!" the woman chirped. Yeah, but that would only work once, right?
It's not that Castaneda was there with the woman -- the much-advertised report had all the signs of being canned and produced elsewhere, with KPRC simply providing new narration.
Somewhat startling was the brief snippet when the report ended and Castaneda joined the anchors at the desk. "In an added note," she said, "the doctor was recently put on probation by the California Medical Board of Licenses for what the board calls a type of insurance fraud, the misrepresentation of one procedure for another. Dr. Matlock said technically it was for chart irregularities." Oh.
She also happened to mention in passing that the medical establishment doesn't think much of the procedures and claims by Matlock. ("But as you saw," she said, "there are women who say it works.")
What she didn't mention is that Matlock is well known in L.A. as a Beverly Hills gynecologist-plastic surgeon who has appeared on Howard Stern's show and whose Web site (www.drmatlock.com) features links to articles on him in Cosmo, Details and Vogue, and that he has trademarked the slogan "You won't believe how good sex can be."
No, to KPRC he was just a dignified, studious physician bravely expanding the borders of medicine. And pumping up ratings.
Trouble continues to brew at the Pacifica radio network, and there's been local fallout in Houston.
For 18 months longtime supporters of the lefty network have been railing against what they see as a move to make programming more mainstream and less radical. (Pacifica board members say they are trying to put on shows that will bring in listener support to keep operations going.)
The latest fray involves the network's showcase program Democracy Now!, hosted by Amy Goodman. Goodman is telling folks that Pacifica is seeking to censure her; Pacifica says it simply wants a more professional show, one that, for example, books guests a week in advance.
Not surprisingly, the dispute led to pickets outside KPFT, one of five Pacifica-owned stations in the country. Among the protesters was University of Houston professor George Reiter, host of KPFT's Sunday-night show Thresholds. KPFT operations director Edmundo Resendez, who co-produces Thresholds, saw Reiter out there and fired him.
There's some dispute as to whether Reiter was present when some of the protesters started calling specifically for Resendez to be fired. Reiter says he wasn't but that he's been told he's off the show.
Resendez says simply that Reiter's show will continue, and that "there are issues that need to be resolved, and one of them might be" Reiter.
The two plan to talk soon, they both say, in hopes of ironing things out.
Man of Honor
Houston's Museum of Printing History is holding its annual banquet on Thursday, November 9. Houston Chronicle chairman Richard J.V. Johnson serves on the event committee, and the paper is a big-bucks sponsor.
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This banquet will honor a noted pornographer whose latest published work features graphic descriptions of kinky sex.
Larry Flynt? Nah. Apparently he was booked. Instead organizers had to settle for Kenneth Starr, of independent-counsel fame.
What Starr has to do with the history of printing is perhaps not blindingly obvious, although he surely did much to boost newspaper circulation.
But what better way for the Chronicle to give to the community than by honoring the man who courageously and endlessly pursued the antichrist that is Bill Clinton? Give to the Republican community, that is.