Again

As one media squall weakens, another strikes.

During the September 27 standoff, the local broadcast media generally avoided the worst pitfalls of Columbine. Granted, some misinformation got out; at least one local TV station circulated the rumor (probably picked up from CNN) that the gunman was a 35-year-old parent at the school. And there were occasional excesses, too, as when KOA's Roger Hudson and Lois Melkonian described students on a bus motoring away from the school as looking both "wide-eyed" and "pale" -- a superhuman bit of observation, since Hudson had been standing at the side of a dirt road as the vehicle drove past. Still, most outlets did a much better job of sticking to what was known and steering clear of wild speculation. And if the helicopter shots of kids fleeing from the school looked remarkably like the type of Columbine footage most area stations stopped airing because too many viewers complained, the main person to blame for that was Morrison, whose actions may have helped trigger a similar incident in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. On October 2, Charles Carl Roberts IV (no relation, thankfully) shot ten girls execution-style in a one-room Amish schoolhouse -- an even unlikelier setting for bloodshed than Platte Canyon.

Locally, the stations' most dubious choices dealt with cutting away to entertainment programming. Channel 9 bailed in time for the 3 p.m. start of Ellen, only to jump back in shortly thereafter, and Channel 4 went to the 4 p.m. Oprah show at what proved to be the worst possible time. Obviously, there was no predicting when the Platte Canyon drama would reach resolution, but in this instance, chat could have waited. Just as suspect was Channel 7's determination to end its 10 p.m. newscast on an upbeat note. When anchor Anne Trujillo had to follow a Platte Canyon wrap-up by narrating video starring Harley, a pet goose that loves flying alongside a motorcyclist, she seemed seconds away from a shame spiral.

There was worse to come in the succeeding days, with most of the lowest moments contributed by national correspondents such as CBS's Hattie Kauffman. The September 29 Early Show found Kauffman prodding the likes of Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was slain at Columbine -- but she also spoke with current Columbine students, asking one girl if she could "feel the pain in the hallways." Betcha viewers felt the pain in their living rooms as well.

Of course, the population of reporters like Kauffman has diminished since the news in Pennsylvania broke. Their departure essentially leaves the playing field to hometowners like Rocky columnist Bill Johnson, whose September 29 offering from Bailey, the town nearest the high school, overflowed with the brand of fresh thinking to be expected from a man who's never encountered a cliche he wouldn't embrace. His first line read, "Such a tragic horror is not supposed to happen here."

If only that were true.

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