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Little Big Man

Why the week-plus delay in doing so? "The family wanted to basically go through their grieving period by themselves," Torres says. "We were going to come out with a statement when they were comfortable with it, but the media got hold of it, and there wasn't much choice."

Nothing in these remarks suggest that Oscar's parents were ungrateful for the community's actions. Indeed, the statement offers thanks to "Denver area residents...who generously contributed to Oscar and his family both with prayers and financial support." Likewise, the statement's request for the press to respect Pedro and Susana's privacy by forgoing interview requests was completely appropriate. Yet some information was owed to those Denverites who had contributed to the cause, as well as to the countless others in Colorado and beyond with an emotional stake in his recovery. (For evidence of how widely known Oscar became, consider that The Guardian, a British publication, and papers in North Carolina, Indiana and New Jersey told readers of his passing.) As such, it's difficult not to conclude that Denver news operations should have done a better job of tracking the tale instead of allowing the rush of daily happenings to push it so far onto the back burner that even a death wasn't noticed.

Granted, the Denver Post's Karen Augé was on the Oscar beat, if a bit behind the curve. According to Carlos Espinosa, Tancredo's press secretary, Augé called the congressman in Washington, D.C., on December 3, to get comments for a piece intended to mark the first anniversary of Oscar's time in the public eye. "They were talking about how the surgery had gone well and things were looking up and everything was moving forward," Espinosa recalls. "Tom was glad to hear that the signs seemed to all be positive: successful surgery, enough funds. Then, right in the middle of the interview, somebody gave Karen a note, and she said, 'Oh, my God. Oscar recently passed away.'" Adds Espinosa, "Tom was in shock. It was a solemn but uncomfortable moment." The conversation was terminated to give Tancredo an opportunity to draft a statement that includes this line: "For a short time, [Oscar] graced our presence and softened our hearts, but now has moved on to a better place."

Right now, the future destination of Pedro, Susana and their son Jonathan, whose bone marrow was used in the transplant, is uncertain. "Their humanitarian parole expired," Torres says. "I talked to someone at the [immigration] agency and told him they're going to need some extra time because of what happened. It's at the agency's discretion." On Tuesday the agency gave the family a one-month reprieve.

Predictably, Torres also went to the press regarding Pedro and Susana's desire to stay longer, but the spotlight is dimming. There's no funeral to cover -- Oscar was cremated, with the family receiving his ashes the day before the story broke -- and newspapers, TV stations and radio outlets have already bid their symbolic farewells. All that's left for the media is to wait until the next Oscar comes along.

Slow motion: Among the most notable deaths in the Colorado journalism family during 2003 was that of Sue O'Brien, the tart-tongued, widely beloved editorial-page editor for the Post. This event didn't come as a surprise. O'Brien had been fighting cancer for years, and her condition worsened in the weeks before her August 6 passing. Nonetheless, her position remains unfilled, and Dean Singleton, whose MediaNews Group owns the Post, says it'll stay that way for the remainder of the year. "There are several finalists, but the decision will be made in January," he reveals. "It has not been made yet."

The editorial-page editor is an extremely important gig at the Post, because the person who fills the slot has a lot to do with establishing the paper's editorial tone and expressing its institutional opinion on every controversial issue that arises. The degree of independence these duties require is rivaled only by that enjoyed by aforementioned editor Greg Moore, who has no role in either the day-to-day operation of the editorial page or the hiring of a new editorial-page editor. Leaving such a key job vacant for a minimum of five months may seem excessive, but Singleton won't be rushed. In his view, "It's paying the proper respect to Sue."

Who would probably tell him to get over it and hire somebody, for Christ's sake. Or words to that effect.

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