Columbine Coverage Shook the Nation. (Mass Media)

USA TODAY, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Columbine Coverage Shook the Nation. (Mass Media)


With the recent passing of the fourth anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, a new study finds that the media's coverage bred a culture of fear nationwide that defies logic. "After the Columbine media coverage, the nation became terrified that our schools were no longer safe, even though the facts show they are safer than ever," argues Glenn Muschert, a professor in the School of Liberal Arts at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., who specializes in crime and deviance. "There is a higher probability that a child will be victimized at home, involved in drug abuse, or die from drunk driving. Our schools are relatively safe, but Columbine created fear and terror in Americans for their children at school."

On April 20, 1999, two seniors killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

"My research shows our reactions went [way] beyond this particular event, its victims, or consequences. Through the press reports we can see how this event, which took place in a Denver suburb, affected people nationwide just as though it happened in a school in their neighborhood."

Muschert, who studies mass media coverage of high profile crimes, with attention to how the media defines social problems, maintains the fear created from Columbine fuels a misperception of how violence affects the country's youth. While most believe violence leads to more violence, that doesn't track with reality.

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