Give and Take

The Oscar Hernandez saga demonstrates the benefits and risks of fundraising through the media.

No transplant has been done to date, but that isn't suspicious in and of itself: Oscar must be in remission before doctors can move forward, and no published report has yet said he is. But Tancredo was concerned about numerous other developments, including several that popped up in a January 1 News piece by reporter Bill Scanlon. The article declared that "any money remaining from the $380,000 given by Coloradans to the Oscar Ivan Hernandez Trust will go to the Children's Hospital Foundation of Denver for the medical needs of other illegal immigrant children fighting cancer, according to the trust agreement finalized Monday."

This last contention may be a bit shaky. BankOne President Hutchens gave Scanlon the information about the trust's finalization, but Tancredo says Hutchens told him the paperwork wasn't completed until January 21, nearly three weeks later -- a period during which Tancredo made a handful of fruitless phone calls seeking updates. Moreover, the announcement that extra funds would go toward other cancer-stricken illegal-immigrant children made Tancredo uncomfortable, because this had never been part of the pitch for donations. "That wasn't the reason we told people they should give money," he says. "It may be that everybody would have contributed exactly the same way or even more, but that's not what we were told or what we told people. I'm not sure you should change the rules in the middle of the game."

Adds Boyles, "It's not in the spirit in which we were doing this. It wasn't about nationality or about his immigrant status. It was about helping a sick little boy."

The only allusion to Oscar's condition in the January 25 News article was the prediction that he would probably receive a bone-marrow transplant "during the second week of February" at Children's Hospital of Denver, for which the Hernandezes had opted two days earlier. Other details were in short supply. Considering that the article looks to have been a Torres-delivered exclusive, it was awfully brief (less than 400 words) and didn't receive prominent play. But Torres's extreme selectivity regarding responses to press inquiries about Oscar implies that he's not terribly interested in mass exposure anymore.

This may seem callous considering that there are now thousands of Denverites who were made to care about the youngster, among them plenty who demonstrated their compassion with cash. But Boyles isn't inclined to be overly judgmental. He notes that the Hernandez family could have simply withdrawn over $300,000 from the bank in December, as the donations were placed into a simple savings account, but they didn't do so, "which says something very nice and good about them. To the best of my knowledge, not one dime of the money has been touched so far. It's all there, ready to help Oscar. Pray God he gets better."

That's the bottom line for Tancredo, too: "I just want to have Oscar healed and that be the end of it." In the meantime, he feels that he's learned some lessons about the dispensation of charity in today's media age.

"This won't make me change my mind about a situation if I think I can help," Tancredo says. "But it will certainly make me more inquisitive about things on the front end. I'll definitely want to know more about the mechanics of how it will work. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

All in the family: The mid-air collision over northwest Denver on January 24 is the type of story television stations love, but such disasters are also magnets for mistakes -- and local outlets didn't escape unscathed. In the accident's immediate wake, for instance, several channels referred to an intersection at Moncrieff Place and 34th Avenue that doesn't actually exist.

Of course, the outlets had time to correct this error, because coverage was dragged out for hours with help from helicopters -- whose whooshing blades kept already traumatized neighbors up much of the night -- and analysts such as Greg Feith of Safety Services International, an aviation consulting firm, who was quizzed on Channel 9 by anchor Kim Christiansen, among others. During these interviews, Feith and Christiansen demonstrated an easy rapport for a reason not shared with viewers: They've been husband and wife for five years.

Patti Dennis, Channel 9's news director, thinks identifying the relationship between Feith and Christiansen was unnecessary, given Feith's long association with the station. "We've used Greg for at least fifteen years," she says, pointing out that Feith is a former investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board who led the investigation into the 1996 crash of a Valujet DC-9 in Florida and many other high-profile catastrophes. "I'm sure somebody thinks it was improper that we didn't I.D. him that way, but I don't at all."

Christiansen goes further, saying that it would have been inappropriate to take the focus off the tragic events of the day: "Had this been an instance when no one was hurt, I might have mentioned it -- but since people were killed, it would have seemed unprofessional to me." However, she feels her many off-camera discussions with Feith added value to their on-air exchanges. "I had the advantage of knowing not to ask questions that make NTSB investigators cringe -- like, 'Why did the plane crash?', which can take months or years to answer. They hate that question more than life itself."

Fortunately, a collision on that issue was avoided.

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