¿Qué Pasó, Denver?

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Still, Channel 2 news director Steve Grund concedes that such considerations weren't initially a big part of his decision to use the name. "We simply didn't know it was being withheld at that point, and if we'd been told, we probably wouldn't have done it," he says. But in retrospect, he believes that there was plenty of journalistic justification for going forward. "Generally speaking, it's a good policy to protect juveniles. But it's a small community, a small school, and the young man's name has come up before -- and after all that's transpired on this story, there's a good argument for identifying him."

Channel 4 news director Angie Kucharski made a different call in this instance, noting, "Traditionally, we have not named juveniles involved in the criminal justice system unless the system deems them worthy of being charged as an adult for the crime." Channel 7 news director Diane Mulligan uses a similar philosophy, but she acknowledges that "there are a lot of gray areas, and you have to look at everything on a case-by-case basis. For example, we went with Harris and Klebold's names before they were released, because of the seriousness of their crimes. But you have to be careful with kids. No matter what happens in the case of this student, the media will be watching him the rest of his life."

This probably won't come as good news to the focus of the latest Colorado controversy to grip the planet's attention, an eleven-year-old Swiss child arrested for aggravated incest who, coincidentally, is regularly referred to in news reports by his first name, Raoul. The names of his parents, Andreas and Beverly Wuthrich, are widely known. That area's getting grayer all the time.

The August 19 edition of this column mentioned a letter published in the July/August edition of the media publication Brill's Content, in which Denver Post staffer Mark Obmascik complained about the magazine's puffy treatment of the Rocky Mountain News's Columbine coverage. Obmascik also noted that Content failed to report that the paper had been "suckered" by an alleged Eric Harris suicide note that turned out to be an Internet hoax in an April 24 story co-authored by Kevin Vaughan and ex-News gossip columnist Norm Clarke. Now, in the letters section of the November Content, News staffers Lynn Bartels and Vaughan fire back at Obmascik, arguing that the April 24 article he cited, boldly headlined "Note Blames the Victims," stated only that the police were investigating the note, which was in fact true, and carefully identified it as something "purportedly written by Columbine gunman Eric Harris." (For Clarke's take on this topic, see Letters, page 6.) In a conversation with Westword, Bartels adds that there was actually a longer version of the letter she and Vaughan sent to Content (it was trimmed to avoid unwanted editing by the magazine's editors) that charged Obmascik, dubbed "Mark O'Massacre" by News wags, with making more than his fair share of mistakes in his own Columbine reporting. To back up her argument, she cites a June 13 Obmascik opus in which she says the writer got the sequence of events wrong, among other botches; furthermore, she chides the Post for never correcting the errors. For his part, Obmascik not only stands by his article but chides Bartels and Vaughan for trying to excuse the News's decision to ballyhoo the discovery of something that turned out to be bogus -- a tremendous lapse of judgment, in his mind. "The issues in the hoax note were so inciteful and fearsome, with the threat of more random killings, that you've really got to have it nailed down before you needlessly scare the community," he says. "And they didn't." On other playing fields: If you've ever wondered why tough-nosed sports reporting is such a rarity, look no further than the reaction to an interview with banned baseball legend Pete Rose by NBC reporter Jim Gray just prior to game two of the World Series on October 24. Gray, who started his journalism career in Denver, approached Rose with serious questions about his alleged bets on baseball -- but instead of applauding him for his nerve, a big chunk of the public reacted with anger. Channel 9 led its 10 p.m. newscast that day with a report about the dozens of complaints it had received, bumping news of the Broncos' latest loss to second place (a stunning turn of events), and the next day, even KOA yakker Mike Rosen dedicated the majority of his show to the controversy. Apparently, most fans want the press to lob softballs when reporting about this hardball game.

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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