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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Prom night at Columbine

The big, burning journalistic question of our time is not whether paper-printed media will be totally displaced by electronic; it is who is going to do the job of journalism.

The problem with the Internet is that rather than improving the deficiencies of the traditional news media, it exacerbates them.

A case in point:

School shootings have become almost as traditional as high school proms. We have Columbine to thank for that. The word "Columbine" has become the term for ostracized and disaffected goths going postal on their teachers and classmates. At least, that is the way the media portrayed it.

But the media got it all wrong.

Dave Cullen, a freelance reporter, was on the scene at Columbine while the incident was still taking place. He earned nation-wide acknowledgments for his reporting. Since then, he has delved exhaustively into the story, and has produced what is probably the definitive book on the incident titled simply Columbine.

On his website, the author gives this summary:

  1. MYTHS: Within six months of Columbine, virtually all reporters on the case accepted that we had gotten most of the basics wrong (mostly by a lot of assumptions, and jumping to conclusions based on fragmentary evidence). This makes researching Columbine problematic: google the early coverage, and you'll get all the myths. Dig up later material, and much of it was based on the bad early stuff. The myths are self-propagating.

    The good news: lots of clean material is out there. It has been ID's. You just need to know which is good, which is bogus, and which has bits of each.

  2. CONTRADICTIONS: In total, the journals, videos and other writing present a crisp portrait of each killer. But beware of quotes out of context. Eric and Dylan were teenagers. They rambled, contradicted themselves and changed their minds as the plan developed.
The essential facts of the story are that the shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned to conducted a bombing that would surpass Oklahoma City in its magnitude of destruction and death. Their plan was to set off the bombs and set up positions outside the school from where they would mow down staff and students with their firearms as they ran outside to escape the mayhem.The bombs did not detonate, and the shooters went back into the school and salvaged what they could of their plan by opening fire on those they encountered.

The publisher of the book addresses the erroneous characterizations of the killers in his introduction:

What is shocking about Columbine is just how ordinary these two boys seemed. They loved their parents, did their homework, worked at the local pizzeria, and – contrary to widely reported accounts – were well-liked by their peers. With precision and perspective that will haunt and amaze you, Dave Cullen has crafted an indelible portrait of American youth that is at once familiar and horrifying. Better than any author I have ever read, he describes the psychological journey through which young men become killers.
This book is not a comfort to those who have sought to explain away what happened at Columbine and the myriad other school shootings and mass killings with falsehoods and stereotypes. It presents a disturbing analysis of all the elements that converge to create a Columbine. That is what makes it an important book. And it is important for the perspective on violence it gives those looking for progressive solutions to the incidence of death and destruction that plagues America.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States