More Messages: Bear Facts

Daily papers all too frequently overplay freakish or frivolous bits of faux-news at the expense of more important stories -- and when such publications resist the urge to do so, they typically deserve praise. But that wasn't the case with this past Sunday's Denver Post. The paper's decision to bury a piece following up on a seemingly goofy item was actually an error in judgment.

The matter in question involved a bear that was captured near Lyons after reportedly getting drunk on fermented apples. Channel 4 got footage of the stumbling, bumbling beast, and its October 3 video very quickly went national via rebroadcasts on loads of other stations across the country, not to mention YouTube, whose link can be accessed by clicking here. Jay Leno even delivered a bear-inspired gag on an episode of the Tonight show.

Turns out, though, that there was more to the tale than was originally reported. In "Punch Line Not Funny After Bear Jokes," which the Post included in its October 8 edition, writer Rick Tosches revealed that the bear was terminally ill, not drunk. One day after she provoked a country's laughter, she was put out of her misery with a lethal injection delivered by a wildlife biologist. An autoposy revealed that the bear had no alcohol in her system.

This information was undoubtedly of great interest to untold thousands of people here and elsewhere who'd chuckled at what they thought were an animal's amusing and benign antics. Moreover, the narrative was well written by Tosches, the Post's "Rocky Mountain Ranger," whose consistently entertaining work deserves more attention. Yet the Post placed the story on page 4C of its Denver and the West section, and didn't even bother to run it alongside a photograph that would have drawn more eyes to the offering.

Granted, the Post had other fish to fry on Sunday; its front page was dominated by "Bank on God," the first portion of an intriguing look at Pastor Dennis Leonard's Heritage Christian Center empire by gifted journo Eric Gorski. But that's no excuse for essentially tossing off an article that would have made people think twice about taking the increasing number of silly videos with which we're regularly bombarded at face value. What may have seemed like a throwaway at first blush actually wasn't frivolous at all. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts