Randy Brown on the cancellation of today's Columbine-related Oprah broadcast
As pointed out earlier today in a blog about the many media appearances of Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis, Colorado journalist Dave Cullen, author of the widely praised volume Columbine, was scheduled to appear on Oprah today, the tenth anniversary of the massacre at the high school. However, yesterday afternoon, Cullen sent out a note to folks on his e-mail list revealing that the program wouldn't run due to "a production decision." This choice was confirmed earlier today on the Oprah website. A note from host Oprah Winfrey reads: "I decided to pull the Columbine show today. After reviewing it, I thought it focused too much on the killers. Today, hold a thought for the Columbine community. This is a hard day for them."
The Winfrey comment suggests that there's more to the story -- and there is. Randy Brown, father of Brooks Brown, a friend of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who has worked indefatigably over the past ten years to make information about the killings public, says that he was among several members of the Columbine community, including relatives of victims he declines to name, who contacted producers to express concerns about the show, which was heavily promoted in recent days on Channel 4, Oprah's broadcast home in Denver. Brown and company were especially distressed by the presence as guests of Kate Battan, Jefferson County's chief Columbine investigator, whom Brown believes was part of an information cover-up, as well as Dwayne Fuselier, an FBI profiler whose son was a Columbine student who made a parody video depicting the destruction of the school two years before the assault.
Brown, who has appeared on Oprah in the past, doesn't denigrate Winfrey for moving forward with this particular lineup. Instead, he praises her profusely for taking to heart complaints from families. "I think it's an incredible sign of Oprah's humanity and understanding that she would listen to these people and do something about it -- not air the show out of respect for them," he says. "That's a really good thing."
A spokesperson for Oprah doesn't make the same cause-and-effect connection between the complaints and the change in the content of today's show, which now features a segment about a mother released from prison. The spokesperson says family members voiced objections prior to the taping, and the decision not to air the Columbine program was Winfrey's alone.
Whatever the case, Brown is clearly no fan of Cullen's book. He posted a one-star review of the tome on the Amazon.com website in which he states, "This book is not the true story of Columbine."
"The biggest problem I have with Cullen's book is his conclusion that Eric is a psychopath," Brown adds. "Whether that's true or not, Dylan wasn't a psychopath -- and these children had motivation for what they did. As misguided and ridiculous as their response was, they had a motivation: bullying at the school, and the atmosphere there. You can't bully and humiliate people without them having a response to it. Now, in this case, that response was ridiculous and violent and wrong. But to just say they're psychopaths is so easy. People don't have to think anymore. They don't have to worry. They can say, 'There's nothing I can do about it.' But that's not true. You can do something. You can stop bullying and harrassment in schools and in the workplace."
That Cullen would be joined on Oprah by Battan, who some Columbine families despise, and Fuselier, a man with what Brown considers to be a major conflict of interest on the Columbine story, only raised more red flags, Brown says. And he has just as many negative remarks to offer about DeAngelis, who appeared on the taping of the show last Wednesday via Skype. "He's making his attempt to rewrite his place in the Columbine tragedy," Brown argues. "And he's very good at it."
Such thoughts were shared in e-mails sent to the Oprah production office, Brown notes, "and a senior producer responded to -- well, it's an understatement to say 'misgivings.' More like anger at having Battan and Fuselier and Cullen on that show. And the people at Oprah listened to them and responded accordingly out of respect for the families."
The eleventh-hour plug-pulling is a huge blow to Cullen, who declined to comment for this item. After all, author appearances on Oprah have provided larger book-sale boosts than any other promotion or forum in recent years. But Brown isn't shedding any tears on the author's behalf. Instead, he lauds Winfrey. "Television shows are big productions, and there's a lot of work that goes into that show," he says. "It had to be a difficult decision for Oprah. And I certainly think she made the right one."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.