Except for Jacobs, TV stations play Gans news straight

Efficient, yet elusive.

Such was the level of coverage and nature of the story as the cause of Danny Gans' death was disclosed Tuesday, leaving local media to present question-riddled reports of a "drug toxicity" reaction from the painkiller Dilaudid, the coroner refraining from terming it "drug abuse."

And -- except for an Alicia Jacobs commentary with an Alice-through-the-looking-glass effect of seeming completely right while being thoroughly wrong -- coverage was responsible, even abbreviated for a story that stirred nationwide gossip. Stations stuck to verifiable facts -- including the drug being an opiate -- not succumbing to the worst media instincts of speculative overkill.

Channels 5, 8 and 13 filed straight, solid reports throughout newscasts -- from Stefanie Jay, Aaron Drawhorn and Steve Ryan, respectively -- with comments from medical/pharmaceutical sources, pointed mentions of unanswered questions and details about Dilaudid.

Channel 3 -- its coverage curtailed by NHL Finals -- was largely in lockstep, assigning Hetty Chang, Steve Crupi and Sue Manteris to the story.

Then there was A.J.

Her statement on the 4 p.m. news, in part: "I'm sure there will be much focus on the drugs in Danny's system, but it's important to remember that since his baseball days, Danny dealt with endless injuries. ... On a personal note, I hope we can go back to remembering the great man and the amazing entertainer and the wonderful friend that was Danny Gans."

That's the response of a personal confidant who should have been a detached observer, the modest leeway of familiarity she's granted as an entertainment reporter abused long ago.

In case news reporters, unsatisfied with ending the story with this toxicology finding, investigate further, Jacobs nudges us toward Gans' injuries as justification for his use of Dilaudid. While that's a legit element of the story as stated by neutral reporters, from Jacobs it's clearly a request for compassion from a protective pal.

Then she plants a big wet smooch on his memory that out-Mary Harts Mary Hart. Her 11 p.m. "Stage 3" was essentially an encore, though she did reference the mystery of who prescribed the painkiller for Gans, and why.

Was Jacobs' wistful postscript for a news story already nailed by Chang, Crupi and Manteris really necessary? In an unfortunate way, yes.

Jacobs' boundary-breaching closeness to Gans oddly inoculates her -- she's so known as his buddy that withholding a heartfelt tribute would flummox fans conditioned to consider the relationship acceptable, seeming like a friend's betrayal when it's actually a professional requirement.

Some viewers are less concerned with guidelines that make journalism effective and useful to them than with sharing a community group hug with Alicia Jacobs.

Yes, she's on the showbiz beat where sympathy might seem harmless. But when soft features turn into hard news, credibility counts in every corner of this craft.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.