16 April 2009


The following article by ABC News offers forth 1500 words about the the Virginia Tech and Columbine killings on the anniversaries of those awful events. Fifteen hundred words of conjecture, pseudoscience, and nonsense comprise this “retrospective,” but very little in the way of journalism.

Unfortunately, the article does not mention the words “drugs” or “medication,” or anything similar even once.

As a student of journalism — as someone who was taught the responsibilities inherent with the job, it is another sad day.

It is time to face the fact that our media — and the “country club journalists” who comprise it, are not interested in tough investigations any longer, especially if it runs against their big business interests. They are not interested in truth, although they all posture as if truth is the engine for what they do on a daily basis.

When it comes to confronting the most powerful multinational corporations in the world, the important task is left to a band of independent thinkers who cannot be bought: people like journalist Robert Whitaker, for example.

We have forever retreated into “corporate journalism,” and evidently there is no shame in ignoring the tenets of the greats who came before us. As newspapers fail, and as TV fills the void, shoddy, air-filled journalism takes its place.

Have we learned nothing from Woodward, Bernstein, Cronkite and Murrow?

Yes, we have.

We have learned how to mute real journalism — and render it useless. As a society, we had better learn to support those who are the truth-tellers — before it's too late.


Psychology of Va. Tech, Columbine Killers Still Baffles Experts
Not All Psychotics, Psychopaths Will Become School Shooters; Mental Health Education Needed
April 16, 2009—

This is the second in a series on Columbine, 10 Years Later

Two years ago today, Seung-Hui Cho slaughtered 32 students at Virginia Tech, claiming to have been inspired by the two teenagers who carried out the Columbine shootings, calling them "martyrs" in delusional diatribe he videotaped for the world.
"You had a hundred billion ways to have avoided today," he said on video aired on national television. "But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."

In 1999, when Eric Harris seduced his friend Dylan Klebold to open fire at Colorado's Columbine High School, killing 13 and injuring 24, no one had a definitive profile of the school shooter.

Today -- as the 10th anniversary of the Columbine tragedy on April 20 approaches-- experts say they can't predict which teens will go on a suicide-driven rampage. "Not all psychotics or psychopaths are going to kill and most are not dangerous," said veteran FBI behavioral scientist Kenneth V. Lanning. In 2000, The National Institute of Justice joined forces with the Secret Service and the Department of Education to assess ways to prevent school shootings.

Looking at 37 school shootings to find patterns in school-aged assassins, the study concluded that all are male and most are loners, with some kind of grievance. More than half had revenge as a motive.
"But that's typical of almost every adolescent," Lanning told ABCNews.com.

Problem With False Positives and Negatives

"The biggest problem with school shooters is the false positives and false negatives," he said. "How many people in any school have all these characteristics and will never shoot anybody." Reports from the Department of Education show schools to be largely safe. But high-profile shootings have caused anxiety among parents, students and their teachers.

Contrary to public perception, school shootings declined after 1993, although there were copycat incidents from 1997 to 1999 "stimulated" by unprecedented media coverage, according to the National School Safety Center.

Still, they continue to capture the nation's imagination with images of vengeful outcasts, trench coats and bullied loners.
Some of the conclusions of the federal report were borne out in the Virginia Tech tragedy: shooters tend not to snap, but usually plan months or years in advance and often tell a friend or classmate.

Cho reportedly began planning his attack more than a month before the 2007 massacre, when he purchased his first gun. His video, made in combat gear, appears to have been made at least six days before the attack.

School Killers: Cho, Harris, Klebold

Harris and Klebold also planned in advance, with journals and "basement tapes" chronicling their plan to blow up Columbine High School. But the comparisons end there. And when the public throws around words interchangeably -- like psychotic and psychopath -- they underscore the need for better mental health education.

"When we see a person go off the deep end in a shooting, we look in hindsight and piece it together," Lanning said. "Frequently all the warning signs were there and we should have known. But you get warning signs one and two from the mother, three and four from the teacher, five and six from the counselor and probation officer."

Schools need to find better ways to accumulate information and share, within the boundaries of privacy.

"I can't just pick up any Tom, Dick or Harry under the sun," Lanning said. "I'd get sued. The bottom line is this is what American society struggles with all the time, balancing public safety with freedom and rights." The most iconic of all school shooters -- Harris and Klebold at Columbine and Cho at Virginia Tech -- could not have been more different, according to most experts.

Seung-Hui Cho Was Psychotic, Experts Say

Cho, 23, was mentally ill and delusional -- a psychotic, mental health experts have said. As early as 2005, two female students at Virginia Tech complained about the anxious son of Korean immigrants, and a state court declared him to be at risk for suicide, referring him for psychiatric treatment.

Like the Columbine killers, Cho took his own life in the rampage, but mental health experts have said he may have suffered from bipolar depression or schizophrenia. Unlike Cho, Harris was a psychopath -- controlling, manipulative and sadistic, according to journalists, psychologists and law enforcement experts who studied the case. Psychopaths are in touch with reality and rational, and nearly always well-liked and charming, according to experts.

Klebold was a lonely depressive, full of mood swings and suppressed emotional rage, according to psychiatrists involved in the case. But together, the Columbine pair was a "deadly dyad," according to Dave Cullen, a journalist who has covered the tragedy a decade and published a book, "Columbine," this month to coincide with the 10th anniversary.

Parents Say Bullying to Blame

Neither the Chos, nor the Columbine families ever talked freely with the press about their sons' actions. But in 2004, on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, Tom and Sue Klebold, who still live in Littleton, Colo., responded to an article in the New York Times.

The Klebolds told reporter David Brooks that they objected to the way their son had been described as "depressive" and blamed the toxic atmosphere of teasing at the high school.

But Cullen said that unlike Cho, who was not well-liked and kept to himself, Harris and Klebold had an active social life and were bullies, rather than bullied.

"We always get the wrong answer because we phrase the question wrong," Cullen said.

"Everyone says, 'Why did they do it?' That gets you in trouble. There isn't one thing to explain Columbine," he said. "Why Eric did it and why Dylan did it -- they are polar opposites. You can't fuse it into one.

"It's the same thing with school shooters," he said. "We still go the same route and look for a profile and think we've got one -- outcast, loners and bullies. In two-thirds of cases, they don't apply. There are three or four or five profiles."

According to former FBI psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, who worked in hostage negotiations in the 1970s, Cullen's book "hit the nail on the head."

"The general public has its own idea about evil and how it gets created, distilled and powered," Ochberg told ABCNews.com. "We have so many archtypes."

Harris was a "budding psychopath, a person without a conscience," he said. "He got his satisfaction by dominating."
"Psychopaths don't feel guilty because they are blind to guilt," Ochberg said. Harris also had sadistic tendencies, which propelled him to "seek vengeance."

Klebold, on the other hand, was depressed, with pent up anger and "mood regulation problems," but together, they had "violent creativity," Ochberg said.

"Eric needed Dylan's emotionality and impulsiveness, and Dylan needed Eric's cold psychopathy," according to Ochberg.
While Klebold longed to end his life, as seen in his journals, for Harris, suicide was not a concern, according to Ochberg.
"His life wasn't as important as his appetite," he said. "He turned a comic book fantasy into reality. The purpose was not to kill himself, but it was an option, He needed power."

Psychotics: Mentally Ill, Delusional

According to FBI trainer Lanning, psychopathy and psychosis can overlap, but the public wrongly uses the terms interchangeably.

Psychotics are mentally ill, delusional and out of touch with reality; psychopaths can be "wheeler-dealers and manipulators," he said.

Most psychotics are not violent, but their nature is unpredictable, he said.

"Neither is necessarily a killer," said Lanning. "But society tends to focus on those common violent crimes."

Whether psychopaths -- sometimes called sociopaths -- lack a moral compass is up for debate, according to Lanning.
"They have a conscience," he said. "It's just that it's their own, not society's.

"A sex offender may kidnap and rape and mutilate women, but if you put him in prison next to the guy who fondles children, he thinks he's a sick pervert," he said.

Psychopaths: Con Artists and Race Drivers

Some sub-cultures admire the character of psychopaths.

"If you're a con artist and cheating people out of their savings, the best character to be is a psychopath," Lanning said.
When raised in a nurturing family, they tend to be thrill-seekers -- race car drivers and mountain climbers, "which is more acceptable," he said.

In fiction, they are self-focused characters like J.R. Ewing from television's "Dallas" and Scarlett O'Hara from "Gone With the Wind."

Still, one of the lessons of Columbine and Virginia Tech is understanding the complexity of the human psyche and the difficulty of identifying which teens will cross the line and become a killers.

"Remember Charles Atlas?" asked Lanning, who cites the comic book character who is a 90-pound weekly, gets sand kicked in his face and builds his body up and seeks revenge.

"The idea of avenging through physical force for slights against is the age-old dream of adolescent boys," he said. "You are an outcast, you get picked on and you want to get even."

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

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Anonymous Leslie said...

Sweeping generalizations will get you nowhere, Mr. Miller. Open your eyes--there are still plenty of us out here. Your statement "We have forever retreated into 'corporate journalism,' and evidently there is no shame in ignoring the tenets of the greats who came before us." is incredibly over dramatic. Explore the great periodicals: The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune. Newspapers may be dying, but good journalism is by no means dead.

4:33 PM EDT  
Blogger Kevin P. Miller said...


Respectfully, I will disagree. I know that there are still some good individual journalists out there, but I truly do believe that "We have forever retreated into 'corporate journalism."

All I have done for the past 20 years is "explore the great periodicals," as you refer to them. When it comes to reporting on healthcare, they have all fallen flat. Two prominent journalists from the NY Times have been told of FDA collusion with the drug companies regarding mental health drugs like Prozac. They have been supplied the evidence.

Yet they arrogantly refuse to act.

I wish this were not the case. I wish I could say that journalists didn't "go along to get along." But how can it be that one of the nation's most powerful 'regulators' from the FDA is in bed with the drug companies — and no one ever reports it? How can it be that the science behind drugging children with psychiatric drugs, for example, is so reprehensibly shoddy, but for 20+ years the claims of scientists, doctors, parents and yes, even children were never investigated?

How can it be that journalists allowed the firing of two of their own — the best and the brightest — because they refused Fox corporate attorneys demands to change their facts about the dangers of rBGH in the milk we feed out children every day? And after Jane Akre and Steve Wilson were fired, why did no other major journalistic institution pursue the story about Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone — and send a message to the multinational corporation that as journalists "if you mess with one, you mess with all of us?"

So you are free to call me "incredibly over dramatic" if you choose to Leslie, but good journalists — and good journalism was created to stop back room deals, public officials on the take, dangerous drugs that are killing children, and dozens of other examples that we don't have time for here.

If you are one of a new courageous breed of journalists, may you be protected always. And if you ever choose to identify whom you are — and what kind of work you are doing, you know how to reach me.

I'll keep your secrets and I'll cover your back, as I've tried to do with Jane Akre and others.

Because that's what journalists do. Pass the word.

6:05 PM EDT  

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