In a small town in Colorado, on an average school day, one of the worst mass killings took place at Columbine High School. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were average seniors on the verge of graduating. On April 20, 1999 all of that changed. Harris and Klebold were confused teens that felt the need to kill, but after the massacre, people began to make up their own images as to who Eric and Dylan were, causing stereotypes to blow out of proportion and the media being the main storytellers. The media, mainly news stations, began to cover the Columbine disaster within hours of it starting. Kids from inside the school ended up turning to the media giving play by plays as to who they think the shooters are, the number of people involved, and in what manor students were killed. Immediately, the media started to set the agenda of the story behind Columbine. Because of the media’s involvement, many different myths arose from that dreadful day. It is important to be aware of how beneficial, but harmful media can be and the new ways media gets out.
Many different myths came out of Columbine, whether students were telling them, or people were assuming what they thought could be the reason behind it or what exactly happened in the building. The main falsehoods were about Eric and Dylan, people labeled them as outcasts and Goths, saying they worshiped Hitler and Marilyn Manson and that they were apart of the school’s TCM, Trench Coat Mafia. Another myth was that there were more than two gunmen and it was a conspiracy. One more rumor that went around was that the gunmen were aiming at certain targets, such as jocks and races. It is proven that Harris and Klebold did like violence and caused a lot of destruction through out the years leading up to the big day, but they were in no means outcasts, “ Eric always made friends. Social status was important” (Cullen 2009, pp.146). People feel the need to categorize people because they may dress differently, but these boys had many friends and were involved in their school. Goth fit their physical appearance and spread because they are usually associated with hatred and violence. Eric and Dylan were not a part of the TCM, but did wear trench coats to the killing, which made people assume that the TCM had something to do with the massacre, “repetition was the problem. Only a handful of students mentioned the TCM during the first five hours of CNN coverage—reporters homed in on the idea” (Cullen 2001, pp. 150).
Agenda settings is “the process whereby the mass media determine what we think and worry about, used to remodel all the events occurring in our environment” (Wilson 2001). In other words, the media sets up what they want us to know and can shape the story however they want. During Columbine, students called into news stations because they started to have no one else to turn to and told their stories and the reporters failed to question whether these are facts or events the kids thought they saw (Cullen 2001, pp.151). People believe whatever the news tells them, so these rumors stuck for a long time and made finding out the truth even more difficult.
Columbine occurred almost exactly 13 years ago from today. Imagine what sort of media we use today that can cause even more of a panic and confusion during such a horrific event. This past fall, Virginia Tech University had an unfortunate experience of yet another shooting on their campus, just four years after the April 16, 2007 massacre. Today we have multiple ways to receive instant news, such as television, twitter, facebook, and constantly updated news web sites. Although there were only two casualties during the fall shooting, there were still many different stories flying around the campus, and the country, because of updated statuses and tweets and the news broadcasts were constantly updates before anyone new the shooter’s whereabouts. I interviewed a senior at VA tech to receive a student’s opinion on the immediate media coverage of the event, “they just broadcast anything they hear which I think can be good and bad. Like if they didn’t say anything, I don’t think people would have taken the situation that serious, but then again they get a lot wrong, which makes people jump to a lot of conclusions” (Taylor Nurmi, Virginia Tech). The main myth that went around was that there were two victims killed and the shooter was heading down a major highway, but the real story was that the killer shot an officer and then changed his clothes and shot himself in a parking lot. The Los Angeles Times updated their website less than an hour of the first shot exclaiming “an intense search is underway at Virginia Tech for the gunman who shot and killed two people—a police officer and a student” (Nation Now 2011). Which ended up causing more panic and confusion throughout the area.
The media is very informative and beneficial in pressing times, but it is important to be aware that what they are reporting may not be the entire truth. Social media is helpful for warning people to stay indoors or making people aware of what is going on, but it also confuses others and can make a situation worse. Now, we can look at the news and know we cannot jump to conclusions right away and wait for the all of the evidence.
1. Ceasar, Stephen, & Lynch, Rene. (December 2011). Virginia Tech Shooting:
‘We are looking absolutely everywhere’. Los Angeles Times: Nation
2. Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.
3. Wilson,James R., and Roy S.Wilson. Mass Media, Mass Culture, Fifth
Edition.Boston.Mc Graw Hill, 2001.
4. Taylor Nurmi