instead of creating his own. The bombs bursting in air over Serbia and the bombs planted
in high school corridors in Colorado may have differed in scale–and impact–but there are
eerie parallels between l999’s two biggest news stories.
It is a connection that is rarely made in the media , but the fact is that wars
overseas often intensify wars at home. The Vietnam experience was not that long ago. The
absurdity of President Clinton lecturing students about the power of non-violence while
NATO, under his command, relies on violence was not lost on many journalists–especially
in other countries.
In both cases, violence has been the method of choice. Frustrated by an inability to
bring Milosovic to heel through a rather convoluted diplomatic process., NATO launched
missiles rather than stepping up less violent sanctions. Unable to make peace with their
schoolmates who they felt victimized by, the self styled Trench Coat Mafia launched its
own "cleansing " offensive, to wipe out the other cultural groupings which it
had demonized. The macho, the testosterone, the war is the only road to peace option was
in play in both situations. At Columbine High, the perpetrators committed suicide in a
library where they had seemingly no time to read and get some perspective on their
disaffection. In the former Yugolslavia, it is the Government which seems to be bent on
suicide with the co-complicity of its miscalculating NATO adversaries with their far
ineffective air campaign.
Perhaps that’s why the news coverage of both events followed a similar trajectory. On
both stories, the networks deployed regiments of correspondents with the assignment of
providing saturation coverage. In both cases, the analysis of causes were downplayed in
favor of images of the action–constantly replayed helicopter footage of students fleeing
their school in horror in one instance, endlessly recycled footage of refugees fleeing in
horror in the other.
In both cases, the genre has been crime and punishment. In Kosovo, that has meant an
almost exclusive focus on Milosovic’s criminality, with barely any examination of the role
the West played over the years in looking the other way and not consistently challenging
the pervasive human rights abuses.
At Colorado, and in communities across America, young people are virtually ignored by a
media more interested in selling them products than engaging their concerns. The video
games they buy, the slasher movies they consume, and the TV shows like MTV’s
"celebrity death match" are all manufactured by corporate America which does
very little to provide other programming about positive role models and alternatives to
conflict. This Beavis and Butthead culture has been fostered by a dumbing down of TV
programming–a calculated strategy that media companies have no interest in critiquing in
any serious way. How many times have you seen the suggestion that there is a link between
media violence and real world violence brushed off –despite all the studies that document
The Kosovo story has been presented through two images–fires in the sky, and lines of
displaced people on the road or in camps. It has been relatively bloodless and stage
managed with well tested propaganda techniques on both sides. NATO bombs Serb TV after it
shows the consequences to civilians of the growing number of collateral damage’ incidents.
This language is as dehumanized as much of the coverage. The Serbs in turn muzzle the
brave voices of their independent media while the media here the critics and even the
victims who are shown but rarely heard. The confusing vote on the issue in the American
Congress–where a majority voted for and against the war at the same time mirrors media
coverage that lacks depth, context and background.
In Colorado meanwhile, most of the coverage initially highlighted the military style
SWAT squad police operation which looked like it might have been taking place in the
Balkans. There were endless human interest stories about the bravery of the police, the
tragedy of the families who had lost children, and the shocked community who though
"it can’t happen here." Give us a break. There has been a form of low intensity
warfare between generations and cultures within America for years that has been ignored by
educators and media alike. Getting kids to conform as a form of socialization is what many
schools do with their standardized tests. emphasis on team sports and reinforcing gender
Ultimately, both Columbine and Kosovo are treated as entertainments–with their
dramatic footage, conflicts, characters, and narrative story telling style journalism.
These are stories tailor made for news magazines that prefer emotion to information. What
we are learning from all of this is that we won’t learn very much. The lessons of Vietnam
are lost on the NATO Generals who are bombing Kosovo to save it. The lessons of the
lessons are children are learning is more obscure. Meanwhile at the networks the ratings
Danny Schechter, executive producer of Globalvision, is the author of "The More
You Watch, The Less You Know " just out in paperback from (Seven Stories Press) and
the forthcoming "News Dissector."(Electron Press). He has won awards for TV
coverage of the Balkans and youth issues,