The Message

Death Wish

No surprise there.

Back to school: Another person who died by suicide -- Jeff Weise -- would have remained unknown to the country at large if he hadn't slain nine people, including seven at Minnesota's Red Lake High School, before shooting himself on March 21. Yet even though Weise's rampage was the deadliest school shooting since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, the horrific incident hardly dominated national newscasts. The next morning, in an appearance on Fox News, Darrell Scott, whose daughter, Rachel, was killed at Columbine, observed with alarm that the killings were the "third or fourth story" at most outlets, and things didn't change much as the week wore on. The network morning news programs were dominated by Columbine for weeks, but on March 24, near the start of the shows' second hour, Red Lake was ignored in favor of a gardening segment on CBS's Early Show, an interview with the wives of sports stars on Good Morning America, and a Today exposé about "teens and tanning."

There's no single reason that Weise's crimes played third fiddle on many newscasts to debates about Terri Schiavo and Michael Jackson's bad back and taste in pajamas. Red Lake is a remote location, and because it's on a closed Indian reservation whose leaders are doing their best to restrict unfettered access to journalists, getting the story isn't as easy as it was in Littleton. The fact that the Red Lake body count was lower than Columbine's comes into play as well, absurdly enough. It's also possible that many news executives deploying resources feel their audiences will be less interested in the misery of impoverished Native Americans than they were in middle-class Caucasians of the sort who dominated the Columbine casualty list.

Fred Harper

The Denver dailies have bucked this trend. The Post dispatched the aforementioned Kevin Simpson to Minnesota, while the Rocky sent three staffers, including columnist Mike Littwin. Granted, the Rocky, which was often guilty of Columbine overdose back in the day, has overplayed its hand at times; "Boy Admired Hitler," the New York Post-style headline that shrieked from the top of its March 23 front page, springs to mind. Still, earnestly focusing on the Red Lake tragedy is far preferable to treating it like an also-ran.

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