How Myths Form After a School Shooting

Friday, December 21, 2012


The press has misreported a lot about the Newtown shooting, and if history is any guide, much of that misreporting will inform our memory of the event. In his book Columbine, Dave Cullen revisited that soul shattering school shooting 13 years ago. He tells Bob that our story of that event is largely frozen in early misreporting.

Grizzly Bear- What's Wrong


Dave Cullen

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [7]

Francisco from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

You may be interested in this edition of BBC Radio 4 programme All in the Mind. One of the topics covered is why we continue to believe in erroneous after it's been corrected:

Jan. 13 2013 12:53 AM

That's a good point that Cullen is making the same kind of inferences that he advises others to avoid.

As for gun control, the NRA's PR machine is quite an embarrassment (bringing up video games and media - red herrings).

But I do agree that enthusiasts of very strict gun control often have very simplistic understanding (or misunderstanding) of the issues. I was actually researching some statistics from the FBI and planning to blog, but I don't really need to. Sam Harris already has.

Perhaps the fact that he is generally perceived as being on the political left will grant his points some credibility in certain circles, which would not be granted the NRA.

Jan. 05 2013 12:31 PM

watch youtube video documentaries of Columbine Killers in 5 parts- then forget "the myths of Columbine" by self-promoting author Cullen....These boys were OUTCASTS. Socially isolated. long history of social failure. never took responsibility- blamed others...we don't know about a precipitating event, but we sure know they had access to weapons...Mentally ill? No way.

Dec. 28 2012 09:51 PM

I've got a much better and more pertinent example of media myth-making.

Here is NPR's Brian Naylor, asserting that the Connecticut shooter Adam Lanza was wearing "body armor."

Mr. Naylor uses the weasel words, "a man described as wearing body armor."

Now that's an important point; it was a myth that was similarly tossed out in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting. And it was untrue in Aurora as well as in Newtown. The Aurora shooter (and, to the best of my understanding, the Newtown shooter a well) was wearing what is routinely called, "tactical gear." Basically, it is clothing often made out of "ballistic cloth" (a kind of durable nylon fabric used to make ordinary suitcases and backpacks) and featuring lots of utility pockets. All of which is no more bulletproof than a golf shirt.

There is import attached to the mention of "body armor." It is that notion that shooters can do much worse damage in their murderous attacks by wearing body armor that somehow renders them impervious to defensive actions by police or others. In fact, apart from one infamous Los Angeles bank robbery in the 1980's, few if any of the well-known mass shooting cases involved the donning of body armor. It almost never occurs and in the rare few cases where it has occurred, it hasn't made a difference; the shooters routinely take their own lives with a single self-inflicted shot to the head as soon as they are confronted. And yet the myth of the self-armored shooter makes people -- many of the same people who desire more restrictive gun control laws -- advocate for more restrictive body armor laws.

Dec. 24 2012 10:23 PM
Keith Otis Edwards from Detroit, MI

OTM has turned to the worst possible source for the segment on Columbine. Dave Cullen has made a career of peddling his pet theories about that school massacre. He posits as fact that Eric Harris was "a sadistic psychopath" and that Dylan Klebold was merely a depressed follower. Cullen has no evidence for this fanciful hypothesis, and his going around saying this is on the level of Republican politicians proclaiming that Terri Schiavo was not brain damaged and was about to come out of a coma -- all based on the footage they saw of her on TV.

Cullen made his "diagnosis" without ever having met either boy, and no mental health professional ever diagnosed Harris as a psychopath. But if he keeps stating this fabrication as fact, enough people will eventually accept it as such -- which, ironically, seems to be exactly what OTM is trying to prevent.

Cullen also maintains that Harris and Klebold were not members of the local Trench Coat Mafia. You can go to YouTube right now and watch videos the two made of themselves while wearing trench coats and posing with their guns. You can also hear a 911 call Harris's father made at the time of the shooting in which he states, "I think my son is involved. He's in the Trench Coat Mafia."

So who you gonna believe? Cullen? Or your own ears?

I'll leave you to form your own opinion of Cullen who has made a career out of speculating about the massacre. He has many videos on YT, but only about Columbine. He has written (and made good money from) only one book: "Columbine." He has established himself as The Go-To Guy for Columbine, and only the parents of the students involved contradict his opinions. No one, however, listens to them.

Investigate the topic and you'll discover that Cullen is full of Columbine.

Dec. 23 2012 08:03 PM
JimB from Tucson, AZ

Magister - I complement you on your perceptiveness. It appears that, as far as the popular media are concerned, as well as their loyal consumers, there is no "Malpractice" standard by which the industry must be measured.

Here is an industry charged, and trusted, to deliver FACTS, as many as possible, about the stories at hand. Yet, they jump to conclusions that virtually ALL correlations are, "Cause and Effect" (never, 'common cause' or 'effect and cause') and, as a result, have put entire companies and industries out of business, sent thousands to the unemployment lines, put incompetent politicians in office, and destroyed innocent lives, due to reckless and biased reporting... terrible offenses for which they are never held accountable.

As an example, I read with disgust the blogs on the Huffington Post, New York Times, and other papers as ignorant rants drone on and on deriding the NRA, while their statements clearly indicate they have not even taken the time to read the NRA's comments or view their video regarding the shooting. They have only read the disparaging tone of the headline, 'NRA's Answer, More Guns" and a report by the paper which does not even cover a modest amount of content of the speech.

As an engineer, I realize that what we see represents only the tip of any iceberg. When I do a sample of incoming components, if one is bad, the whole lot gets sent back... when we read, or hear one inaccuracy in the news, we need to realize that is probably just the one mistake concerning a topic with which we are knowledgeable, and, there are more we haven't noticed.

And, as, "most experts agree", those "Weasel Words" drive "the vast majority of those questioned," like me, crazy too.

Dec. 23 2012 03:00 PM

My response is too long for here. Feel free to check my blog. Brook, Bob, that goes for you too.

Dec. 23 2012 02:10 PM

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