The Columbine Mirror

May 12, 2010 at 11:19 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

Imagine holding the Columbine shootings — and some of its controversies — up to a mirror. Can gun control prevent school shootings? Can shutting out news of school attacks help prevent them?

Showing us that mirror is what the New York Times did today with its story on school attacks in China.

The Times reports, “At least 17 people have been killed — mostly children — and dozens injured in the series of attacks, which began in March. In each case, a middle-aged man acting alone set upon children with knives or tools.”

Which brings up the issue of gun control and the perennial question (at least in the United States) of whether stricter controls could prevent school shootings. Now, I do not mean to take sides on the issue, but here would seem to be an interesting case study. “Shooting rampages are rare in China,” the Times says. “It is difficult to buy guns of any kind here. Sharp objects and tools are the weapons of choice for homicides.”

And so it would seem that if someone is interested in rampage, they will get the weapon at hand. I would also point out that while it would seem guns would generally cause more deaths, the number killed in the latest attack seems staggering: “A man with a kitchen cleaver rampaged through a kindergarten in rural northern China on Wednesday, and state media said he hacked to death seven children and two adults before returning home and killing himself,” according to The Times.

The suicide issue is also important. As I point out in my book Columbine: A True Crime Story suicide is an undercurrent in school shootings. The Columbine killers were unusually successful in that they killed themselves, yet other shooters who have been captured express a desire to have died in the course their rampage.

The Times reports that the Chinese attacks have been covered in the media, although after the first stories, “the government has been carefully censoring subsequent stories, perhaps to prevent other copycat murders, or perhaps to play down any suggestion of dysfunction within Chinese society.”

One Chinese newspaper fought back and editorialized, “It is undeniable that the media’s coverage on these incidents of bloodshed may ‘inspire’ potential killers, but it will educate more people by raising awareness of self-protection and spur the authorities, and this is the role that media should play in the society.”

Given the debate over bullying at Columbine, there is another interesting reference in The Times China piece. It comes from the same newspaper editorial that questioned the censorship:

“On Wednesday, Dahe Bao, a newspaper in Henan Province, quickly posted on the Internet a fiery editorial that pointed to misbehavior by government officials as the root cause of the problem.

“‘After being treated unfairly or being bullied by the authorities, and unable to take revenge on those government departments that are safeguarded by state security forces, killers have to let out their hatred and anger on weaker people, and campuses have become the first choice,’ said the editorial, signed by a writer named Shi Chuan.”

Advertisements

Columbine and the End of Journalism…New York Times on Columbine

April 22, 2010 at 11:58 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

The New York Times, the paper of record, had a mixed bag when it came to handling the ten-year anniversary of the Columbine shootings.
Book critic Janet Maslin got it right noting that “some of the worst misconceptions” had already been refuted by fall of 1999. “And even with the new facts that have trickled out slowly over the past decade, despite efforts by the killers’ parents and the embarrassed Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to keep them under wraps, the overall picture has not greatly changed (although law enforcement tactics have become more aggressive in response to the first graphic hostage crisis of the cellphone age),”she added. “Emerging details mostly corroborate what was already known.”
Maslin separates herself from the pack because she provides context and accuracy. Indeed, the ten-year did not offer new revelations into the tick tock of Columbine events or investigations. The ten-year story was (or should have been) the meaning of a decade of revelations, or the “why” behind Columbine.
But the Times was back to its old ignorance in the Sunday Book Review in a piece titled “The End of the Trench Coat Mafia.” Reviewer Jennifer Senior’s credentials are listed as “contributing editor at New York magazine” (New York clearly not being the hotbed of Columbine information). In her review Senior indicates she had debunked a 9/11 myth about a firefighter chaplain dying while giving one of his own last rites. She does not mention any expertise in Columbine. And Senior acknowledges using nothing more than her own recollections as a baseline: “I expected a story about misfits exacting vengeance, because that was my memory of the media consensus….” A lot of people agree with her, but going on memory is not journalism. Senior expresses the now usual surprise that “a propane bomb” (actually it was two) could have killed hundreds. Senior heralds it as news that Bernall did not say ‘yes.’ Yet she laces her review with the usual hammering away at the media. “Of course, tragedies often lend themselves to myths, so as to meet the needs of the day.” Only true if one hadn’t read anything about Columbine in ten years.
Frank Rich is one of the Times’ premier columnists, and had an overarching Columbine reference near the ten-year in his April 26, 2009 piece “The Banality of Bush White House Evil.” The article is about allegations of torture under President George W. Bush’s administration in the war on terror, yet Rich’s first paragraph is oddly dedicated to the Columbine shootings. Rich notes, “Dave Cullen reaffirms Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were instead ordinary American teenagers who worked at the local pizza joint, loved their parents and were popular among their classmates.”
That is just about the same statement Jonathan Karp, Cullen’s publisher, wrote in a publicity sheet first released five months earlier: “What is shocking about Columbine [the book] 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.”
Rich says he was not doing a cut and paste job. “I was (as I wrote) summarizing Cullen’s consistent portrayal of them in ‘Columbine,'” he writes in an e-mail. “It’s also how Cullen spoke of them to me in conversations about Columbine, and no doubt to others, including certainly those at his publishing house charged with promoting his book.”
But if anyone else believes the dubious assertion that Harris and Klebold were well-liked by their peers plenty of examples, aside from the shootings themselves, show that the bonhomie was not reciprocated. “Everyone is always making fun of me because of how I look, how [expletive] weak I am and sh**, well I will get you all back: ultimate [expletive] revenge here,” Harris wrote a few months before Columbine in a typical diary entry. “You people could have shown more respect, treated me better, asked for knowledge or guidence [sic] more, treated me more like senior and maybe I wouldn’t have been as ready to tear your [expletive] heads off.” Fellow shooter Dylan Klebold was typically less fiery, but still set himself apart. “as i see the people at school – some good, some bad – i see how different i am,” he wrote.
Rich fails to mention Columbine again in his lengthy column. He also fails to mention that he has the lead blurb on the back of Cullen’s book (“Dave Cullen…has been on top of the Columbine story from the start”). Rich actually wrote those words in a September 25, 1999 column, which were then cut and pasted for publicity. Rich notes, “Under Times policy, any publisher can pull a quote from a Times article (review, column, etc) and use it as a blurb to promote a book, movie, play — whether on a book jacket or in an ad — as long as the quote is accurate.” He adds, “The blurb was public information.” True, although it was probably not public information to those reading his column.

Columbine and Terrorism

February 3, 2010 at 10:43 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

Columbine shooter Eric Harris wrote in his diary that he would like to hijack a plane and crash it into New York City. It showed one link between the Columbine killers and terrorists: They served to use limited resources to maximum effect. The Columbine killers, of course, ended up taking a different route than a plane hijacking. But I read with interest a recent story in the New York Times about the psychological research that is emerging on terrorists now that researchers are amassing a larger body of knowledge on them.

It is instructive to see how some of the common denominators among terrorists listed in the NYT match school shooters.

NYT: “a strong sense of victimization and alienation; the belief that moral violations by the enemy justify violence in pursuit of a ‘higher moral condition;’ the belief that the terrorists’ ethnic, religious or nationalist group is special and in danger of extinction, and that they lack the political power to effect change without violence.”

I believe Harris and Klebold may have believed in that latter phrase: They felt they couldn’t change the system, so set out to destroy it.

NYT: “The collective, not the individual, identity has drawn the most attention in recent years. Only in rare cases, like those of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and the Washington sniper, John Allen Muhammad, have individuals acted on their own, with no connection to a group. …Most researchers agree that justification for extremist action, whether through religious or secular doctrine, is either developed or greatly intensified by group dynamics.”

There were actually two Washington snipers – or at least an accomplice to Muhammad. But it seems in Columbine Harris and Klebold were a group of two who enabled each other to continue on.

NYT: “Fathali M Moghaddam, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University, describes a ‘staircase to terrorism,’ as a way to understand the process of radicalization. The stairs narrow toward the top. It becomes harder to turn back with each step.”

The same could be argued about the Columbine shooters. As psychologist Aubrey Immelman, who I quote in my book says, they themselves may not have believed it was going to happen at first. But as D-Day got closer, it became more of a reality. And I might add, more impossible to turn back.

And from that sampling, you get an idea of the article.

New York Times on Columbine

April 7, 2009 at 11:02 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

A reporter who does some reporting. That’s my impression of the praiseworthy New York Times piece today by Janet Maslin on the Columbine books (mine included). And the first review I have read where someone really tries to examine whether what is purported to be new is truly new.

Maslin also alludes to some of the items I have uncovered, and mentions a letter, reprinted in my book, that I wrote to the parents of killer Dylan Klebold:

“Your stories have yet to be fully told, and I view your help as an issue of historical significance,” it said. “In 10 years, there have been no major, mainstream books on Columbine. This will be the first, and it may be the only one.”

My book, by the way, reprints a number of such letters, both to the parents of the Columbine killers and to government agencies in an attempt to unlock documents.

But the real scope of Maslin’s piece is who is attempting to “own” the Columbine tragedy. Interesting stuff.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.