The Paper Chase

Elvis is dead -- but Columbine lives on.

On January 16, 1976, the Howard-edited News wrote about one Elvis episode. In town to celebrate his birthday, Elvis had invited all of his local cop friends to the party -- Kennedy, Pietrafeso, even DPD chief Art Dill, who gave the King a gold badge designating him an honorary DPD captain. (It's still on display at Graceland.) A few days later, Elvis gave Kennedy a Lincoln Continental and Pietrafeso a Caddy. (Chief Dill declined a new car.) None of the cops noted anything odd about Elvis -- not then, not later. Asked about potential conflicts posed by his moonlighting jobs, Kennedy told the News: "Where there are drugs, we make arrests."

They were equally blind to Howard's cocaine addiction, which was becoming increasingly common knowledge around town. Called before the Senate committee, they rivaled the Keystone Kops for entertainment value.

But the real star of those proceedings was the transcript of Howard's Post interview, subpoenaed by the committee, released to the public, and splayed across the Post day after day -- the rantings of a very sick man. "Just telling the truth, it's amazing what telling the truth does, you know," Howard had told Green and company, even as his wife was trying to evict the unwanted reporters from the hospital room. "It's like giving your mind an enema."

And as with an enema, while the confession itself might have been purging, the end result was shit. The Organized Crime Strike Force dissolved, but none of its members was charged with a crime. Kennedy is retired. Paul Powers, the senator who led the hearings, is a developer working with Bill Pauls. Michael Howard went on to teach journalism and made a brief comeback as a News columnist. And Chuck Green, of course, flushes his system in print almost every day.

Today, when a policeman caught napping on duty rates the ten o'clock news, stories of Caddy-driving moonlighting cops sound like fairytales. Today, when the DPD keeps files on Joe Sixpack citizens who join in anti-police protests, the thought of law-enforcement officials looking the other way for a coke-snorting newspaper editor is almost hallucinatory.

But today, uncovering the truth about Columbine -- by whatever means possible, including a legislative commission -- remains a deadly serious business.

Like Elvis, Columbine has changed our cultural history, and even as we seek the truth, the myths start merging into popular culture. A&E plans to show a "psychiatric autopsy" of killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on April 15, five days before the third anniversary of the day they gunned down twelve fellow students and a teacher. Lawrence Schiller, who dissected Boulder's response to the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, has a deal to make Columbine USA. And filmmaker/author Michael Moore wants to release his new movie, Bowling for Columbine, at the Cannes Film Festival.

Now is the time for the truth -- and only the true story will set the Columbine community free. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Jungian psychotherapist and author, told the task force Monday: "I know people heal by being able to tell the story -- the whole story."

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