THE BLOG
05/21/2010 11:26 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Columbine and the End of Journalism: Part VIII, More Good Stuff

Another clear-headed review of the Columbine shootings on the ten-year mark came from Vincent Carroll, the former Rocky Mountain News editorial page editor who has since moved to the Denver Post. His review "A Nightmare Re-Examined" appeared in the Wall Street Journal and again, the secret was not only examining more than one source, but examining the sources critically. In other words, journalism.

Carroll talks of Columbine's image problem: "It remains the bloodiest attack at any high school and almost certainly is beset with more misconceptions than any other shooting, too." (Note that he says misconceptions - not misreporting.) One issue he explores is bullying, and namely, was it a cause behind the shootings? The conventional wisdom on the ten-year was that bullying did not play a part. But there is room for nuanced views, even if the final answer is unclear.

Carroll points out that bullying is not played up in a round of new books as a cause behind Columbine but adds "Mr. Kass...offers a wider spectrum of opinion on the matter, including that of a classmate who had been a friend of the two teens and later claimed that 'Columbine is responsible for creating Eric and Dylan.'"

That classmate is Brooks Brown, the on and off again friend of Harris and Klebold. As Brown wrote in his book, No Easy Answers:

Sometimes kids would just ignore us. But often, we were targets. We were freshmen, and computer-geek freshmen at that. At lunchtime the jocks would kick our chairs, or push us down onto the table from behind. They would knock our food trays onto the floor, trip us, or throw food as we were walking by. When we sat down, they would pelt us with candy from another table. In the hallways, they would push kids into lockers and call them names while their friends stood by and laughed at the show. In gym class, they would beat kids up in the locker room because the teachers weren't around.


True, Eric and Dylan do not mention being bullied in their diaries. But that is not proof it never happened - especially if there are other accounts to the contrary. And there is the broader point Carroll brings up: "Perhaps the more relevant question is whether Harris and Klebold felt socially isolated." And from that crucible, they saw themselves as losers. (See, for example, virtually every diary entry written by either one of the teens.)

One of the faulty hinges some use to showcase Harris' allegedly glowing social life was the tattered account of Brenda Parker, who was 24 at the time of Columbine. She told police she met Harris and Klebold over a year before the shootings at a mall, but could not remember the mall's name. She was with a friend at the time, but the friend's last name is listed as unknown in a police report. Parker said she had "intimate relations" with Harris twice, but could not remember any of his scars or birth marks because it was in the dark. She wasn't sure if he wore an earring. She only learned Harris was 17, she claimed, after dating him for several months. She said she had a photo of Eric, but police said it "could not be identified as anyone related to the case." Parker offered a voice recording of Harris, but police said it did not match Harris' voice found on other recordings.

Police then confronted Parker because she claimed to have been in on plans for the shooting and had meant to participate in it. "Parker was counseled about the seriousness of claiming to participate in the shooting, when indeed, that did not occur," police wrote in a report.

On the ten-year anniversary, Parker's account was roundly accepted as the gospel truth. Carroll was one of the few naysayers who actually pored through the police reports and wrote, (this time in the Denver Post) "She [Parker] seems to have indulged in pathetic fantasies." Another round of actual fact-checking came on the Web discussion board for the video game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! - making it one of the few Web sites to accurately fulfill the promise of TIME's Person of the Year as "You" ("You" meaning everyday people who use the Internet to voice their views).

In the Journal Carroll ends with the question of whether Columbine could have been prevented and notes the draft affidavit for a search warrant for the Harris home drawn up about one year before Columbine but never followed up on. "One of the most overlooked lessons of Columbine, in short, may be the enduring importance of determined police who run down every lead." The same might be said of reporters and book reviewers.