Columbine and the End of Journalism, Part IX…Oprah

June 27, 2010 at 2:54 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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For proof of the widespread interest in Columbine’s ten-year anniversary last April 20, look to the biggest name in book publishing: Oprah.
She had planned a show the day of the anniversary titled “10 Years Later: The Truth About Columbine.” As I have discussed in this series of blogs, many Columbine “myths” were actually debunked years ago (aside from the new ones that cropped up on the ten-year). A trailer for Oprah show touts diaries of shooter Eric Harris (released years earlier) and how a parent complained a year before the shootings (probably the story of Randy Brown, known within days of the shootings). The only topic mentioned in the trailer that might have benefited from some fresh discussion was whether the shooters were bullied. An Oprah spokeswoman did not elaborate on what new information would come out on the show.
This segment wasn’t a big deal just because Oprah can sell books like nobody’s business. The ten-year was special. As I have written, coverage of that anniversary seems eclipsed only by coverage of the shootings themselves. Oprah’s segment had to be just right.
But Oprah canceled the show as it was set to air. “After reviewing it, I thought it focused too much on the killers,” she said. “Today, hold a thought for the Columbine community. This is a hard day for them.”
In Denver’s alternative weekly, Westword, Michael Roberts chronicled the cancellation as it occurred, “The Winfrey comment suggests that there’s more to the story — and there is.”
But the question, arguably, remains whether the show was canceled due to community outcry, a misguided segment, or both.
Opposition to the segment from two of the most well-known Columbine community members, Brian Rohrbough and Randy Brown, centered on the show’s guests. Rohrbough heard about the show when an Oprah producer called him asking for photos of his son, Dan, who was killed at Columbine. The photos were to be used for the anniversary segment. Rohrbough, who had been on the show before, learned that Columbine author Dave Cullen, lead Columbine investigator Kate Battan, and FBI Columbine investigator (and psychologist) Dwayne Fuselier were among the guests. (Disclosure: An Oprah producer called me and we talked about my Columbine book, but I guess I didn’t make the final cut.)
Rohrbough, who has been among the fiercest critics of the troubled Columbine investigation, said he would like to go on the show to rebut those guests. Investigative omissions by the Jefferson County Sheriff, for example, are well documented, and Rohrbough was bothered that the views of all three guests might go unchallenged. Brown sees Fuselier as part of the investigation and therefore part of the problem. He also believes Fuselier had a conflict of interest because two of his sons attended Columbine (one graduated before the shootings).
The Brown family now famously reported Harris and fellow shooter Dylan Klebold, multiple times to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in the years leading up to the killings. The sheriff’s office did draw up a draft affidavit for a search warrant for Harris’s home, but never took it before a judge, and never acknowledged that until they were sued after the shootings. The sheriff thanked the Browns for their pre-Columbine vigilance by trying to refute their story and question whether their son Brooks Brown had prior knowledge of the shootings.
In the lead-up to the ten-year anniversary, Brown was also talking to an Oprah producer. “You’re going to hurt the [Columbine] families,” he said of the lineup. “Why are you doing this? This is the anniversary.”
The call ended up lasting maybe 40 minutes. In the end, Brown thinks Oprah listened. But he doesn’t think he himself stopped the show. “No one tells Oprah what to do,” he emphasizes.
The Denver Post at the time reported that Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis, who was also to appear, ended up opposing the show because it “was glorifying the two killers.”
Fuselier says an Oprah producer also told him on Saturday – two days before the show was to air – that it was being dropped. Fuselier did not disagree that the segment “focused too much” on the killers, but had also prepared an article on ways for parents to talk with their children.
Fuselier says that if critics have an issue with the Columbine investigation, they are “painting with a pretty broad brush” to include all the FBI too. Fuselier even recalls an instance where Brown gave him information that led to the successful prosecution of a post-Columbine threat. (Brown remembers talking to Fuselier, but on a different post-Columbine case.)
Spokeswoman Angela DePaul also has an answer as to whether anyone influenced Oprah.
“It was Ms. Winfrey’s sole decision to pull the show,” she says, and cleared up a somewhat open question when she added, “and there are no plans to air it in the future.”

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Columbine and the End of Journalism…Part VI, Bloggers

April 23, 2010 at 11:43 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Lev Grossman, who wrote the TIME‘s uneven, ten-year piece on ColumbineThe Meaning Of Murder,” also penned TIME‘s story on its Person of the Year 2006: You. “You” meaning the bloggers and other Internet posters “For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game,” Grossman explained. But many of those who blogged about Columbine on the ten-year may not have read Grossman’s article.
Aberdeen, South Dakota resident David Newquist was typical. He says his blog, “Northern Valley Beacon,” is “news notes, and observations…with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media-old and new.” On October 18, 2009 he praised an essay in O The Oprah Magazine by Susan Klebold, Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold’s mother. The essay, published nearly six months after the ten-year, garnered national attention. In a blog entry titled “Thank you, Susan Klebold” Newquist writes, “I am sure that it [the essay] will be maligned by the malice-minded, but for those who earnestly want to solve problems, the essay provides a basis for new understanding.”
Actually, even Susan Klebold would disagree with that statement. The title of her essay was, “I Will Never Know Why.” The only revelation was an indication she had met with an undisclosed number of victims parents: “On a few occasions I was contacted by the parents of some of the children killed at the school. These courageous individuals asked to meet privately so we could talk. Their compassion helped me survive.” If those three sentences were the basis of a “new understanding,” Newquist did not show it. And he took the same unknowledgeable tact when writing about the rest of Klebold’s essay. An Op-Ed I wrote for the Denver Post noted that the Klebold essay was sad not only for the lack of new revelations, but for not addressing “two of the most compelling and troubling statements the Klebolds have ever made about their son (statements that in both instances were also recanted).” I added, “Some of the stories Klebold told [in the essay] are eerily similar to others that already have been reported. For example, Klebold tells of how Dylan’s voice ‘sounded sharp’ when he said goodbye the morning of the shootings, which has been widely recounted. And Klebold talks of a survey indicating that ’83 percent of respondents said that the parents’ failure to teach Dylan and Eric proper values played a major part in the Columbine killings.’
“Yet in 2004, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a small piece after speaking with the Klebolds and noted, ‘(Dylan’s father) Tom had in front of him the poll results, news stories and documents showing that 83 percent of Americans had believed the parents were partly to blame.'”
The blogger “Must Read Faster” is Melissa Caldwell of Anniston, Alabama. “I’m a wife, a mother, and an avid lover of books!” she writes. “I love to read and love to talk about what I’m reading!” Which is, of course, great. But she notes that in reading about Columbine on the ten-year anniversary, “I was shocked to find out that police and teachers had had not just subtle hints but HUGE arrows pointing to these two guys way in advance! This tragedy could have been prevented if only things had been run a little better. If people had only listened and recognized the signs of mental illness these two were suffering from. It wasn’t as if they had hid it very well either…they slipped up and revealed some of their plans almost a year or so before the shootings took place! Teachers, the police and even their parents had chances to act, but none did.” Arguably all true (although the parents’ roles may be more open to debate). Caldwell’s reaction on the ten-year is typical, yet uninformed. Our knowledge of those things had been true for years given the ongoing revelations surrounding the police investigation.

An Op-Ed on Oprah and a Columbine killer’s mother

October 18, 2009 at 3:29 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I have an Op-Ed in today’s Denver Post on the essay written by the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold for Oprah. It begins, “One of the most compelling questions after Columbine was, ‘Who are the parents?’ Ten years later, it remains unanswered.”

The Op-Ed is a fuller version of my thoughts on the essay by Susan Klebold for O The Oprah Magazine. While observers had to make a little leap of analysis when a few select excerpts were first released, it appears those excerpts did give a pretty good picture: There was hardly anything new in the essay. “Years later, the Klebolds seem stuck on the same script,” I write in the Op-Ed titled “Klebold may not know what she knows.”

Aside from the content of the Klebold essay, released this past week, what strikes me is how many bloggers are getting it wrong. Many of the posts I have seen buy into O magazine’s (erroneous) salesmanship that the contents of the essay – or even Klebold speaking – are new.

Otherwise, there is one key recommendation I have in the Op-Ed, although the final say will come from elsewhere.

Susan Klebold on Oprah, Columbine and suicide

October 12, 2009 at 10:37 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Susan Klebold, the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, teases a key issue when she discusses suicide for The Oprah Magazine.

Klebold mentions (in the magazine ‘O’) the parallels between suicide and school shooters and indeed, many school shooters express suicidal thoughts before the shootings and/or upon being captured. The Columbine killers were different only in that they were unusually successful in carrying out their suicidal wishes.

What is the connection between suicide and homicide? I think it is one of the toughest questions in discussing school shootings. But Klebold touches on an important point – essentially an educated guess on her part – that her son Dylan did not discuss his suicidal thoughts with others because “He was accustomed to handling his own problems, and he perceived his inability to do so as a weakness.”

Handling your own problem is indeed a trademark of school shooters, I argue in my book. It’s the same as the expression “Be a sheriff in your own hearth,” a trademark of the South and West of the United States (where most school shootings occur). In those parts of the country, people have a sense of self-reliance and ‘Culture of Honor’ where they feel they have to defend themselves, especially if their honor has been violated.

That moves into the realm of homicide because school shooters feel their honor has been violated by their lowly status at school (real or perceived), and it is acceptable – even honorable – to retaliate with violence.

One other news flash is that Klebold indicates she (and I guess her husband) met privately with the parents of some of those killed at the school. I’m also guessing that she is not talking about being faced down by victims families during legal depositions. I had been told about such meetings, but never felt I had it fully confirmed.

After reading Klebold’s full essay (I’m guessing 3,000 words long) I stand by my original blog that there is little else that is substantive and new – despite what many in the media and Oprah claim.

Klebold’s essay is titled “I Will Never Know Why.” And that may be true, whatever criticisms may be leveled at the essay (and Klebold herself). But I would also argue that certain experts may be able to piece together the ‘why.’ What’s stopping them is a more forthcoming Susan Klebold.

Susan Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter, writes out for Oprah

October 10, 2009 at 1:07 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Susan Klebold, the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, is making news for a forthcoming column she has written for O, The Oprah Magazine.

Yet there appears to be more rewriting history than news.

The column – touted in a press release sent out by O – comes across as news because indeed the parents of both killers have said little. And it is a noteworthy development. But the news is also pumped up because even after 10 years and a spate of books on Columbine, the media can’t seem to get it right.

An AP story calls the column “the most detailed response yet from any of the parents of Columbine killers Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris.” But let’s recap. The Klebolds and Harrises did speak with police after Columbine, and summaries of those interviews have been released. The Klebolds were also interviewed for an (admittedly short) New York Times column. I’m not saying the killers’ parents have been forthcoming, but it doesn’t appear, based on the excerpts so far, that Susan Klebold is saying anything new.

It will also be interesting to see if Susan Klebold addresses some of the most intriguing things she has ever said previously, according to her interview summaries and other documents: That Dylan was fascinated with guns and explosives. Or that he was sullen, angry, disrespectful, intolerant, and isolated. The Klebolds have never fully explained those statements (made before, and the day of, Columbine). Or at least those discussions have never been made public.

Finally, Susan Klebold indicates she has been searching for answers, especially suicide. She is partially on the right track, as my book notes the suicidal links among school shooters across the country. But the Klebolds have a funny way of searching for answers. Their attorneys have at different times issued me a subpoena and said my sources’ hands should be cut off when I uncovered information.

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