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Author(s) Muschert, Glenn W.
Year 2002
Title Media and Massacre: The Social Construction of the Columbine Shootings
Published in University of Colorado at Bouler
Link [1]
Abstract The Columbine shootings were a watershed event that threatened the moral foundation of society. The Columbine story was the media's response and coverage of this landmark crime. This study is a thematic content analysis of the mainstream U.S. news media coverage of the Columbine High School shootings of 1999. It is an empirical and rhetorical investigation of the cultural meaning of the discussion the Columbine event and reactions to it. The data are 728 articles from ABC, CNN, PBS, the Associated Press, New York Times, Time, and Newsweek, collected using an on-line database search, and were analyzed using inductive content analysis techniques. Chapter 1 presents a narrative of the development of the media's focus on the event, and a discussion of the Columbine media story as public moral discourse. Chapter 2 continues the narrative, focusing on the perpetrators, victims, and commentaries, and connects these discussions to theoretical debates in the sociology of culture. Chapter 4 reports the descriptive findings, including the volume and frequency of coverage. Nearly two-thirds of the coverage focused on reactions to the shootings, while only one-third covered the Columbine event. Chapter 5 examined the media's characterization of the perpetrators, and concluded of the two shooters, the media portrayed Eric Harris as more nefarious. An analysis of the sequencing of the media account of the event revealed that journalists broke with normal stylistic conventions when writing about the shootings, a phenomenon likely caused by the terroristic and racial elements of the shootings. Chapter 6 examined the media coverage of three of the victims. Those victims whose life histories or circumstances of death were more interesting received higher coverage. Also, victims whose stories were related to existing social movements received more coverage, as commentators framed their stories in terms of their causes. The media avoided covering the perpetrators in proximity to the victims, because the perpetrators heinous acts stripped them of their humanness.

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