Blogging the Bookshelf

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A Vicious Cycle – “Columbine” – Dave Cullen

November 22nd, 2011 · No Comments · Crime, Journalism, Sociology, The Media

Repetition was the problem. Only a handful of students mentioned the Trench Coat Mafia during the first five hours of CNN coverage—virtually all fed from local news stations. But reporters homed in on the idea. They were responsible about how they addressed the rumors, but blind to the impact of how often. Kids “knew” the TCM was involved because witnesses and news anchors had said so on TV. They confirmed it with friends watching similar reports. Word spread fast—conversation was the only teen activity in south Jeffco Tuesday afternoon. Pretty soon, most of the students had multiple independent confirmations. They believed they knew the TCM was behind the attack as a fact. From 1:00 to 8:00 P.M., the number of students in Clement Park citing the group went from almost none to nearly all. They weren’t making it up, they were repeating it back. The second problem was a failure to question. In those first five hours, not a single person on the CNN feeds asked a student how they knew the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia. Print reporters, talk show hosts, and the rest of the media chain repeated those mistakes. “All over town, the ominous new phrase ‘Trench Coat Mafia’ was on everyone’s lips,” USA Today reported Wednesday morning. That was a fact. But who was telling whom? The writers assumed kids were informing the media. It was the other way around.

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