Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis has made himself the face and the voice of tenth anniversary coverage related to the killing spree that took place at the high school on April 20, 1999. Indeed, he got started weeks before the actual date. On April 2, FM 104.3/The Fan host Jim Armstrong had to take a break from discussing that afternoon's trade of Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears in order to chat with DeAngelis. On April 8, Channel 12 broadcast a DeAngelis interview with Steffan Tubbs for the Studio 12 program -- and a separate Tubbs-DeAngelis conversation is airing on KOA/850 AM today. On April 17, an extensive DeAngelis interview by KUNC's Kirk Siegler turned up on National Public Radio stations across the country. (He also gabbed with the folks at Colorado Public Radio as part of CPR's flood of Columbine-related coverage.) On April 19, he was at the center of a large Denver Post feature article. And last Wednesday, DeAngelis was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for a program originally scheduled to debut today -- although Dave Cullen, author of the book Columbine, sent out an e-mail yesterday afternoon revealing that the show's producers had decided not to run the piece due to "a production decision." For more details, read the blog "Randy Brown on the Cancellation of Today's Columbine-Related Oprah Broadcast."
This sort of blitz is usually reserved for media campaigns related to the promotion of books, movies and the like. But what exactly is DeAngelis selling?
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Perhaps he's simply trying to be responsive to press inquiries, of which he's no doubt swamped on a regular basis -- although saying "yes" to every request tends to reenforce the equating of Columbine and school shootings, as opposed to emphasizing that the school has moved on. Or maybe he's interested in establishing himself as the person most responsible for bringing Columbine back from an unimaginable nightmare, as opposed to helping to fuel problems that may have contributed to the event.
For example, many early critics faulted DeAngelis for allowing an athletes-first culture to permeate Columbine. This ethos was exemplified by the way students were greeted upon returning to Columbine in August 1999 -- with what was essentially a giant pep rally.
Of course, such complaints quickly faded. After Columbine won the state 5A football championship in 1999, the mainstream press immediately acted as if the victory would help the healing process. See the last item in this December 1999 Message column for details.
After DeAngelis' latest TV, radio and print barrage, even fewer folks are apt to recall a time when the principal was in the media's crosshairs, as opposed to the seat of honor. Still, there's something a bit unsettling about how eagerly the principal is drawn to the spotlight. After all, the incident we've come to know as Columbine wasn't only about him.