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Top TV Stories: Let 'em Bleed

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If it bleeds, it leads: That's the implicitly critical cliche about the way news directors at television stations choose the first report in the average newscast. Sometimes, though, outlets that consciously stay away from the goriest stories do so at the peril of their own credibility. Witness the initial items aired during the 10 p.m. newscasts on February 18 by Denver's big three network affiliates: channels 4, 7 and 9. Only one of the trio kicked things off with the surrender in Thornton of Lance Leroy McDermed (pictured), who's been accused of killing a married couple living in an adjacent apartment on February 16. The other pair went with less lethal fare -- but the softer stuff was so dubious from a newsworthiness perspective that the violent item made much more sense in the top spot.

Channel 9, whose late newscast is consistently the highest rated of the group, began with the tale of a student at West Middle School in Centennial, who says he was beaten by a fellow pupil because of his German ancestry. In this day and age, that's unusual, but probably not shocking enough to justify placing it in the main slot even on a slow day -- especially considering some of the other circumstances. Specifically, the assault took place way back on November 30, and the student behind the attack was expelled. Indeed, the only current news hook involves alleged threats from the expelled student's friends that were said to be continuing.

Over at Channel 7, the opening salvo proved just as questionable: a pumped-up controversy involving Colorado Avid Golfer magazine, which pictured golfer Lorena Ochoa as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Reporter Lane Lyon used the amorphous term "some say" in relation to those who were upset by this imagery -- and in this case, the "some" shown on screen consisted of Ricardo Bracho, identified as a magazine subscriber, and Jorge De los Santos, a representative of the Archdiocese of Denver office of Hispanic ministry, who wrote a letter of complaint to the mag. Also heard from was editor Jon Rizzi, who provided a statement apologizing to anyone who was offended.

Talk about a teensy tempest on a tee box. In comparison, Channel 4's decision to start the February 18 newscast with a report about a murder suspect who'd been taken into custody seemed wholly justifiable. When a day's top story isn't stained red, go with it. If it is, well, let it bleed. -- Michael Roberts

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