Dave Cullen, author of the New York Times bestseller Columbine was part of a roundtable discussion this morning on MSNBC with Chris Hayes. The topic was the media coverage of the latest mass shooting. When conducting research for his book, Cullen reviewed the early news reports regarding the “facts” about the two shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In the several days after the shooting, the media interviewed many acquaintances of the two boys. What Cullen ultimately realized was that those early “facts” about Eric and Dylan, (proffered mainly by acquaintances) what essentially became the media narrative, were untrue. Despite that media narrative being untrue, many people still continue to believe those “facts.”
The same thing could easily happen in this case.
Another interesting element of the Columbine shooting media aftermath, mentioned by Cullen, was the leading questions asked by reporters to the acquaintances being interviewed about Eric and Dylan. Those leading questions included (paraphrasing): “we heard Eric and Dylan were loners, is this true? We heard that they were part of the “trench coat mafia,” what do you know about this? We heard that they were bullied, what did you see?” and so forth. Those leading questions by reporters could have easily swayed those being interviewed into giving an answer that they may not have given otherwise.
The Psychological Status of the Colorado Shooter
At this time, we know virtually nothing about the shooters’ mental health history. News outlets are reporting, based mainly on interviews with acquaintances, that Holmes was quiet and shy. With regard to a psychiatric diagnosis, it is impossible to know what diagnosis he has, if any. Only after extensive evaluations and interviews, with trained mental health professionals, could a reliable diagnosis be determined. Short of that, every diagnosis is simply guess.
In time, we will learn a great deal of information about the shooter’s mental health status. Being quiet and shy, liking Guitar Hero, and possibly setting up a profile on Adult Friend Finder are not the actions and behavior of any identifiable mental illness. In the meantime, resist the urge to diagnose the shooter. Critically evaluate the media’s message and don’t jump to conclusions based on a very limited amount of information that is currently available.
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