Why Doesn't the "so-called Great White Father in Washington" Care about School Shootings?


No national tragedy can long pass without race and ethnicity creeping into the discussion. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the Terri Schiavo case is that somehow it hasn't become embroiled in some fight over The Sopranos vs. The Godfather as a proper signifier of Italian-American identity; at this point, the closest we're likely to come to that is whether Robert Loggia or Danny Aiello gets cast in the inevitable TV movie version of the story.

The recent school shooting in Minnesota is a different story on that score. Here's Clyde Bellecourt of the American Indian Movement, sounding a little too much like Russell Means as Powhatan in Disney's Pocahontas for comfort:

"From all over the world we are getting letters of condolence, the Red Cross has come, but the so-called Great White Father in Washington hasn't said or done a thing," said Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement here.

Skip the Amerindian angle for a moment and George Bush's apparent silence on the matter. It is interesting that the Red Lake school shooting–the second deadliest in history, as every news report has told us–hasn't ignited the same sort of moralistic, largely uninformed, and generally nauseating 24/7 "national conversation" that Columbine did.

Why? Part of it is that the War on Terror has a standing claim to media attention; Columbine occurred during a time when world affairs were pretty dead in terms of continuing news coverage. Domestically, the Schiavo case's denouement has been sucking up a huge amount of oxygen, partly because it raises issues that cleave neatly (if falsely) along Democrat/Republican, left/right, pro-life/pro-choice lines. In that sense, it's tailor-made for cable.

I suspect the location–a Minnesota Indian reservation–has helped to minimize the coverage some small bit, mostly by contributing to the idea, rightly or wrongly, that the school was somehow atypical from most public schools (whether it is or isn't, I've got no idea). That comports with Bellecourt's basic point, though not in the exact way he might think: That this took place on Indian territory displaces it as least a bit from the mainstream media. On the other hand, Columbine–which served upper-middle-class kids in the lily-white intermountain Rockies–was tailor-made for discussing what was supposedly wrong with American youth culture. The same meme runs through "new drug of choice" stories: Society really needs to examine itself when drug epidemics reach rich white kids. Lay on top of that the elaborate planning, Trenchcoat Mafia backdrop, the use of antidepressants by one of the shooters at a time when SSRI stories were relatively new in media circles, etc. and it's easy to see why the Columbine shooting was an incredibly rich social text that provoked an unending number of articles, panels, and more. (Note: There is a Prozac angle in the Minnesota shooting.)

But more than any of that, what might explain the differing reception is the general cultural climate. Columbine happened during the Clinton presidency, which was dedicated to handwringing over popular culture's excesses and purported effects on kids like no other administration. Bill and Hillary held seemingly endless White House confabs in which Rob "Meathead" Reiner and others blathered on about how many murders, rapes, and jaywalking incidents kids saw while watching the cereal commercials during the Power Ranger Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Comedy Hour. And there was also a run of school shootings before and after Columbine that combined to make the incident seem, at first blush, as a dark, leading indicator of social pathology.

None of that was true, of course. But the moment of moral panic over youth culture and violence (and sex) has passed. This shooting even came on the heels of a new study talking about how much violence there is on TV blah blah blah that nobody, except for Hillary Clinton, really noticed. None of that makes the Minnesota shooting any less disturbing and tragic. But it does help explain why it doesn't seem to be as hot a story as similar incidents were in the past.

The Smoking Gun has posted a violent video created by and posted to the Web by the school shooter Jeff Weise. That's online here.

NEXT: William Cheshire's ESP

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  1. I think the bigger reason we’re not seeing a Columbine-like media circus and “national conversation” is that the obvious knee-jerk remedy in the Minnesota case would be rather awkward for the gun-grabbers. There is no “gunshow loophole” bogeyman to carry on about here. Instead, the kid got the gun from his cop grandfather. For some reason, the Brady bunch isn’t ready to call for disarming the police. If it would save even one life, after all…

  2. The media are afraid to upset the natives.

    Now if a non-naive had been the shooter it would be the number one story.

  3. Another reason why Columbine got more attention was the fact that there were two shooters, something that had never been seen before to my knowledge. The story of the “Lone, Crazed Gunman” is pretty common in recent history (Charles Whitman, Patrick Sherill, Martin Bryant, among many others). But the story of two people who were twisted enough to do something like this together was something entirely new. Another reason why Red Lake is getting somewhat less attention (though not here in Minnesota where I am) is its remote location. Red Lake is in the middle of nowhere, about three hours from Minneapolis, while I believe Littleton, Colorado is only about an hour or so from Denver. Columbine was easier to cover on top of being sadly unique. Red Lake is easier to categorize as “just another nut with a gun” story.

  4. AIM obviously should know about the need for guns to protect your person, family, etc., in light of all the government perpetrated violence committed against them in the 1970s.

  5. hoof beats. horses. zebras.

    Columbine did not occur in the middle of a full-saturation wall to wall media freak out.

  6. I think it’s a combination of other easier-to-cover news, remote location, and the fact that this isn’t easy to pin down from a cultural and political standpoint.

    To cover something you need to either be there or get press releases about it.

    The reality is that most news these days comes from press releases – because it’s easier to crib from a press release than it is to go dig up stuff on your own. Press releases come from people with an agenda of some sort but since no one has really figured out how to may political hay out of this incident, there’s probably a lot fewer press releases.

    1. Remote location = need for press releases
    2. Press releases come from org’s with established view points
    3. This incident is tough to pigeonhole for the benefit of any org = very few press releases
    4. No press releases = less coverage

    That’s my best guess, anyway.

  7. Course, I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to the media.

    PS may = make in previous post.

  8. If only Weise had used a bow and arrows instead of firearms…

  9. It’s not a white suburban looney nazi type it’s an Indian. That doesn’t compute, which leaves ‘them’ speechless.

    I’m surprised nobody’s calling for the Polezei to start leaving their vests and guns at work when they clock out.

  10. And this is exactly why it was against the law to sell (or give) guns to Indians.


  11. Nick,
    That Flash animation was way cool. Thanks for the link.

    I think the rich white kids vs. anyone else accounts for the whole of discrepancy in media coverage.

  12. Reported in this incident was that the perp shot an “unarmed” security cop. By contrast, the Atlanta courthouse shootings involved someone who was able to grab a gun from an office trained and licensed to carry it, shoot several people without being brought down, then shoot someone on the steps of the courthouse who was attempting to use their own legally own and licensed concealed Colt .45. In both cases, the presence or absence of carried weapons did nothing to prevent the loss of life.

    I guess the moral from a gun-rights perspective is that whether these weapons are obtained legally or illegally, the outcome is tragically the same.

  13. Why does the Great Red-Skinned Father on the reservation want to hear the inarticulate Great White-Skinned Jackass stammer and stutter?

  14. [I]If only Weise had used a bow and arrows instead of firearms…[/I]

    Ed, you’ve had some gems the past few days.


  15. Why can’t I get the tags to work here?

  16. I don’t really care why the shooting hasn’t gotten attention, I’m just glad it isn’t. I was in highschool when Columbine happened, and the media push just made the witch-hunt worse for kids who didn’t shop at the GAP. I remember the vice principal getting a write-up in Newsweek a few months later for starting a program which profiled students in an attempt to predict potentially violent, disruptive, or anti-social students so they could be targeted for special attention.

  17. When I had first heard that there was a school shooting in Minnesota, the first thought in my head was that we were going to start hearing about “how dare we try to fix terrorism overseas when we have terrorism here at home” and I was confounded when I didn’t hear any such stories.

    Then I found that the shooter was a Native American.

    It doesn’t fit the stories that they already had written and waiting for something like this to happen. It takes time to write new stories.

  18. Why the minimal coverage? Simple: with the Schiavo case, the media already has their big story of the week. Now if it had happened on a slow news day…

  19. William,

    Lets not forget the mandatory clear backpack, and no more locks on lockers. One thing that bothered me was that the kid who gets tortured every day by his peers switched from victim to suspect, as if his life wasn’t hard enough already. Another was the idea that venting through creative writing, smart-ass remarks etc. were taken a deadly serious threats with arrests and all according pageantry.

  20. The tribe has had restrictions on journalists; until today they haven’t been allowed to go freely through the reservation but have been confined to the tribal offices. Reporters who went out on their own faced arrest and confiscation of their photography and recording equipment.

  21. But still, it is astounding that Bush hasn’t bothered responding at all.

  22. Many of you are probably old enough to recall the “McDonalds Massacre” (25 year ago?), wherein they demolished the Micky D’s and set up a memorial. These days they might shut the school down for the rest of the day.

    Are we more callous, more realistic, or something else?

  23. That poor kid had some serious issues. I always wonder what in the hell fucked people up when they do crazy shit like that. I mean, is it a mental condition that was more genetic, or was their something in their past that made them flip?

    It really just makes me sad that there are some people that are so tortured inside.

  24. Lowdog-
    When I taught high school I had a lot of kids–nice, non-sociopathic kids with a well-developed conscience–who told me they could relate to various school shooters. I think it’s high school that makes these kids what they are. If I hated my job because there were a bunch of bullies who picked on me, I’d have options–sue for harassment, or at least quit. Kids, however, are required by law to put themselves every day into the presence of their tormentors, and when they complain about being bullied they’re often told to “work it out” somehow.

    Imagine how differently “Lord of the Flies” would have ended if Piggy had had access to a gun.

  25. Serafina – How do you know all this stuff? I’m impressed! It also kinda props up my “hard to get to and no press releases = minimal coverage” theory.

    I’m starting to wonder if the Hmong hunter who killed the white hunters in Wisconsin actually got more coverage than this school shooting. I doubt that’s really measurable yet, but I though I recalled seeing more coverage.

    That might throw a wrench in the “it’s not a white kid in the upscale suburbs theory,” as well as my previous thoughts on the subject.

  26. Obscure or not, if this was an angry Muslim kid, the media would be on this like stink on shit.

  27. There was camera footage of the Columbine shooting as it was in progress; the reservation on which this shooting happened didn’t have any cameras around at the time and has been pretty stingy in giving the press free reign over the area. I suspect availability of footage and quotes accounts for a large part of the difference.

  28. “Obscure or not, if this was an angry Muslim kid, the media would be on this like stink on shit.”

    especially if he tried to score a checking account beforehand.

    in all seriousness, part of it is because it doesn’t fit into the script for the MSM. the voice can run a piece on how it’s the reservation system’s fault, and others can run their little “media violence” circles but libertarian nazi greens and the like – especially if the website turns out to be a joke – just don’t do it.

  29. I didn’t see anyone point out that there were at least two dramatic school shootings (one in Arkansas and one in Washington State I believe) previous to the Columbine that were still in recent memory. I think because the Columbine was the most dramatic of these gave people the impression that this was going to get a lot worse.

  30. It’s a matter of timing. So many things occurring at once have limited news coverage of the school shooting. The victims not being lily-white jocks reduces interest.

    I once watched a bear picking through a dumpster on the Red Lake Res. The bear was scrawny and sad looking. It would have made a nice video intro to a story about the isolated, impoverished setting of the tragic shooting.

    I’m sure a few writers are working on long magazine articles about the event. It may be easier to produce a good essay without excessive media coverage. A writer can just as easily screw up and not get caught if others aren’t covering the same story. We’ll see what happens.

  31. Bush Offers Condolences to Minn. Tribe

    By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer

    WACO, Texas – President Bush on Friday expressed condolences to the leader of the Minnesota Indian reservation where 10 people died Monday in the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history.

  32. Rob, I’m from northern Minnesota where the media restrictions have been fairly widely reported. I think the tribe is trying to protect the privacy of many of the victims’ families, but some of them, like the security guard’s father, really want to talk to the media. Much of the national media has been reduced to interviewing members of the local media.

  33. Reported in this incident was that the perp shot an “unarmed” security cop. By contrast, the Atlanta courthouse shootings involved someone who was able to grab a gun from an office trained and licensed to carry it, shoot several people without being brought down, then shoot someone on the steps of the courthouse who was attempting to use their own legally own and licensed concealed Colt .45. In both cases, the presence or absence of carried weapons did nothing to prevent the loss of life.

    I think you are conflating two seperate courthouse shootings, one IIRC in Texas. In the Texas case, an armed citizen interviened, but due to the killer’s body armor wasn’t able to end the shooting. He did save the killer’s son, who was about to be the killer’s next victim.

  34. Another reason why Columbine got more attention was the fact that there were two shooters, something that had never been seen before to my knowledge.

    There was another school shooting that occured not long before Columbine where two younger boys stole granpa’s gun collection (and his van), and shot at students during recess.

  35. Schiavo seems to have sucked up all the GOP oxygen.

    As far as I’m aware, Bush also hasn’t really taken the predictable victory lap claiming credit for the events in Kyrgyzstan.

  36. David, if you’re still out there, I think it’s because you need to use angle brackets for the tags, not square brackets.

  37. Rob:

    The Hmong hunter shooting was all over the TV, newspaper and radio here in Milwaukee, at the opposite corner of the state. We do have our own Hmong community here, though. While the shooting took place in NW Wisconsin, the shooter lived in Minneapolis, and I believe the crime scene was in the Mpls/St. Paul broadcast area.


    Check this out:


    Not everything will work on Hit & Run, but enough will.

    (Ampersands rule!)

  38. Kevin and BOC,

    Thanks for the help. Some message boards I frequent use the square brackets.

  39. News aims at white women, in particular the 40% of them who are interested in soap opera news. The important thing is that _they can relate_ to the story. Hence you need white people.

    These people (40% of women) choose the news because they’re the audience that comes every day, whether there’s news or not. They’re sold to advertisers, and that audience, not the news, is the product of the news ogranization.

    Ordinary people (80% of population) don’t come back most days when there’s no big story, and so are blown off, and sensibly so, by the news media.

    I suggest ridiculing the audience (not the news) is the way to go. Of course then there might not be any working business model for news at all.

  40. Y’know, for a few days after the Columbine massacre I was naive enough to believe that THIS would make school administrators realize that bullyig is indeed a serious problem. We as adults are not expected to deal with, say, a workplace where everyone around us makes a point of tormenting us every day, yet we expect immature children to tolerate situations we ourselves won’t.

    Instead, as has already been mentioned here, the kids who are likely to be victims of bullying–i.e., the ones not in the “in crowd”–have found their lives made even WORSE, in that they are no longer victims but suspects. The only analogy I can draw is if there was suddenly an outbreak of violent rape, and instead of blaming the rapists we started being suspicious of women who wear sexy clothing or make themselves look too pretty.

    Other solutions implemented after Columbine? Let’s see–kids are now required to carry school-issued ID cards, on the theory that school shooters carrying a photo ID will somehow find their guns jamming to the point of uselessness; kids are now encouraged to report any and all unusual behavior from their peers to the authorities, on the theory that singling out the loners will make them LESS likely to go off–Jesus, I can’t even go on here, because I’m too infuriated by the utter stupidity of those in charge.

  41. Two other factors (one mentioned in passing above, one not) seem to be working to limit some coverage of the reservation shootings:

    1 – The reservation authorities have been limiting media access reservation property. Fewer reporters = fewer reports per day.

    2 – The anti-gun/left can’t make as much political hay with this story because the high school inquestion had previously (prior to Columbine) implemented increased security measures as Guards/metal detectors, crisis event planning, et cetera. I got this information from NPR’s coverage of the event this week through an interview with an official (principle?) at the high school where the shooting’s occured.

  42. Jennifer,

    I wonder if the peer reportings are something like ” Mr Smith, you may want to watch out for James Jones, yesterday we threw him into a girls gym class naked, and the day before we took turns beating him, flushing his head, and making fun of his clothes. You really can’t be too careful with a guy like that. He could snap at any time.”

    The ID bit is another one of those non-solutions that stupid people think will fix everything. I could see if the school was raided by Warrirors-style roving street gang, but if the shooters go to the school anyway? What’s the point.

    I quit the ED racket during my student teaching, realizing that I hated the kids, the other teaches and the parents. I probably would have been the shooter. Now that would be news.

  43. As I mentioned, I was in highschool when Columbine hit and I saw exactly what happened. Kids who were bullies became more cautious, but school admin did exactly what they had always done. For the students who didn’t dress like freaks, who were on winning teams, whose parents played golf with the pricipal, the admin bent over backwards to reassure them that the school was a safe enviornment. For us troublemakin’ longhairs in black trenchcoats….
    Columbine got attention because it was a terrifying modern response to an old problem. Kids who were bullied got fed up and they hit back. But instead of brawling in the courtyard they brought guns. Why? When my father was in school, if someone picked on you it could be settled in the school yard or with sharp words. Now, if you make a threat (much less take a swing) the police come to pick you up. If you complain that you are being bullied, the guidance counselor asks you if you have guns at home or violent thoughts. If a kid sees himself as having no way out, he might do something stupid. If you beat up a bully you get tried as an adult, spend half a decade in prison, and you life is over. When an unballanced child is looking at consequences like that, a little bit of murder doesn’t seem much worse.
    We can blame school shootings on internet hate groups, Doom, KMFDM, or the easy availability of guns, but we only do so because we don’t want to look at the real issue. The problem is that wierd kids have no support because school administraitors generally look like characters from “The Wall.” Even if they are physically or mentally able to take of themselves, they run into problems because they are always treated as the instigator when they defend themselves.
    Even the most well adjusted and stable of adolescents do stupid things on a regular basis, when you’re dealing with a kid who is feeling trapped and under assault, its just a matter of time before something awful happens. We can ban violent videogames, restrict “subversive” music, and plop every student in a uniform, but until we address the underlying social issues in schools theres gonna be blood on the walls.

  44. Oh, and as for peer reporting…thats a great idea. I mean, really, can you think of a better way to encourage those freaks to act like their peers?

    I’ll be over in the bathroom vomiting if anyone needs me.

  45. I just remember when the Columbine shootings happened…a couple of the kids who liked to harass me cornered me in private, and said, “You know I really like you…when you snap and go on a shooting spree, please don’t shoot me? Please?”

    The funniest part, I thought, was that they said “when” instead of “if.”

    On the other hand, I went to a school where the administration was actually supportive…I used to refuse to fight back because it was against the rules to be in a fight, even if you didn’t start it. My father got so fed up with this that he called the disciplinarian, and eventually got me special permission to get into fights.

  46. This is an excerpt from a column Molly Ivins wrote post-Columbine:

    In high schools all over the country, kids are all but strip-searched on their way into school, and freedom of speech is being trampled. A horrid new trick is for kids who don’t like another kid to snitch to the authorities: “Johnny is talking about guns all the time,” or “Susie said she might kill someone.”

    Kids who follow the Goth fad for black clothes or anyone who is just different is apt to be reported to school authorities. Then parents hear that there’s a dangerous kid at the school and call hysterically to insist that the kid be removed.

    One fat boy who had been called into the principal’s office in Texas as a suspected potential killer sat there with tears running down his face. When they asked why he thought someone would report him, he said, “I guess I’m just not very popular.”

    Kids have been suspended, expelled and transferred to schools for “problem children” on no evidence, as a consequence of this hysterical atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Students wearing black armbands last spring caused one Texas principal to announce that she could care less about the Constitution — SHE was running the school. . . . .Nor is picking on kids who are “different” going to help. After all, Charlie Whitman — the infamous University of Texas tower sniper — was an Eagle Scout.

  47. Serafina and kevrob – thanks for the info. I’m starting to wonder if everyone on these boards who isn’t from the East Coast lives somewhere near my old stomping grounds north of the Twin Cities!

    Jennifer, Jadagul and William, you’re dead-on about bullying and school shootings. One of my best friends in high school was the cross-country team captain and still got beat up whenever I and a friend of mine weren’t around. Even when we WERE around, the things they said to him must have felt like being verbally flayed.

    I spent years studying martial arts after a stint with bullies in elementary school, and to this day can’t explain why parents and teachers don’t stop this kind of crap.

    The scary thing is that I think it’s an almost reasonable response to show up with a gun if you’re constantly insulted and assaulted.

    It’s a terrifying logical argument – if you’re always at a disadvantage due to size or numbers – to look for a way to even the odds. The real problem is that most of the kids who show up at school with a gun aren’t looking to even the odds anymore.

    At the point that a kid comes to school with guns, pipe bombs and bullet-proof armor, it’s way too late to even the odds. By the time of a school shooting they’re looking to get even and they rarely expect to live long enough to enjoy it.

    Maybe this sort of thing IS preventable if school faculties and parents would prevent the average public school from becoming “Lord of the Flies.”

  48. It doesn’t amaze me that teachers don’t do anything to stop the problem. Kids are clever beasts and they are careful about who they target. The valedictorian, no matter how geeky, isn’t going to catch hell from anyone because the school holds him in high esteem. Some goth kid with a half-dozen piercings and a Bauhaus shirt, well, thats he easy prey because the school will look at him as a troublemaker. Bullies know the score, they know who the school like and who the school doesn’t. More importantly, they know how to target victims that won’t speak up or won’t fight back.

  49. Being the class valedictorian – or the school cross-country team captain for that matter – didn’t seem to be much help, at least in my experience.

    I suspect it’s parents and teachers not knowing WHAT to do, coupled with not wanting to be bothered for the most part.

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