The Message

There were no major train wrecks in Colorado over President's Day weekend -- unless you counted the transitions during late local TV newscasts. The juxtaposition of overblown NBA All-Star Game plugs with coverage of a statewide manhunt and, later, the suicide of Colorado-based counterculture figure Hunter S. Thompson left debris all over the airwaves.

To put it mildly, Denver's five major news stations were prepared for the basketball-oriented events, breathlessly pimping parties, fashion shows and so on for more than a week prior to the February 20 competition, a predictably anti-climactic display of matador defense and tedious hotdogging. But if some of the personalities who traveled here for the festivities were a little light on luminosity (the February 19 "Celebrity Skills Challenge" featured Blind Date host Roger Lodge and some guy from Big Brother), the presence of performers such as P. Diddy, Jay-Z and Cedric the Entertainer proved irresistible to the media. In a city where Adele Arakawa qualifies as famous, an extended visit from Vivica A. Fox was a big deal, pop-culturally speaking.

Judging by the swelling hype, news directors felt certain that most of their personnel would be spending a pleasant few days trailing after hip-hop icons and grazing from expensive buffets -- but they were wrong. After a series of terrifying rapes and assaults in the vicinity of Cheesman Park, the Denver Police Department publicly identified its prime suspect: Brent J. Brents, a convicted sex offender who'd evaded arrest for the molestation of a young boy in late 2004 thanks to a computer snafu and a slew of jaw-dropping errors made by authorities in Aurora. Given that the victims in the most recent crime spree included a sixty-something woman and her two granddaughters, the search for Brents was made for national television, so it was no surprise when DPD chief Gerry Whitman was given the opportunity to talk about the suspected perpetrator on the Friday, February 18, Today show. Then, that evening, another Cheesman-area attack prompted Denver cops to toss out a dragnet that was still expanding when the 10 p.m. reports began, forcing stations to pit Brents against ballers in a jarring bit of one-on-one.

Channel 9's broadcast was typical, offering several minutes' worth of footage from a neighborhood under siege before throwing to cherubic entertainment reporter Kirk Montgomery, who stood on a downtown street gushing about limousines, bling and hip-hop stars with whom he seemed to have only the most superficial familiarity. If Montgomery spends his off hours buying bejeweled dollar-sign pendants and cranking Ludacris and Fabolous from the bass-heavy sound system in his custom Hummer, he kept this side of himself well hidden. The same sort of clash took place the next night on Channel 4, when information about Brents's late-Friday capture in Glenwood Springs was closely trailed by a segment from Heritage Christian Center in which critic-at-large Greg Moody let loose a flood of praise about a gospel extravaganza with Kirk Franklin and American Idol winner Ruben Studdard. Behind-the-scenes folks tried to make this leap of subject matter as smooth as possible, but in the end, they didn't have a prayer.

Outlets were also caught off-guard by Thompson's death, since word that he had taken his life on February 20 didn't leak out until shortly before the late newscasts were about to start. That explains why Channel 4's extremely brief report was accompanied by 1990 footage of Thompson rolling on a lawn -- likely the only video minions could find on short notice. More clumsy Brents vs. Shaq and Kobe smash-ups followed, and viewers made up the majority of casualties.

Re-Buffed: The triumvirate of stories detailed above stole some of the spotlight from Ward Churchill, but not for long. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, the embattled professor, whose description of September 11 victims as "little Eichmanns" has won him numerous enemies on both sides of the political aisle, is passionately supported by many students, with the significant exception of those who write for the Flatirons Review. As the only student-run conservative journal at an inveterately liberal institution, the Review takes two direct shots at the would-be Native American in its twelve-page-long February edition. Near the beginning of an essay called "Crossing the Line," Isaiah Lechowit, president of the CU College Republicans, deploys plenty of throwback verbiage, denouncing Churchill for displaying "the left-leaning, communist-oozing, socialist-spewing and intolerant ravings of CU's faculty once again." Later, in "Churchill Causes Campus Controversy," scribe Allison Sands contrasts "Churchill supporters walking around with duct tape over their mouths and the chanting hippie Churchill cheerleaders" at a February 1 rally with a blond girl who signed a 'Fire Churchill' petition after tearfully confiding, "My dad was in 9/11." Sands also notes that TV reporter Kim Posey was verbally attacked by attendees of an ethnic-studies department meeting the previous day for the sin of working at the local Fox affiliate.