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"Observed beyond all recognition."

 
 
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:03 am
I've been reading Dave Cullen's excellent book "Columbine", about the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Everything I thought I knew about this incident was pretty much wrong.

At one point the author cites the Heisenberg uncertainty priciple -- that by oberving an entity you alter it. He says that Littleton was "observed beyond all recognition". The community and the police were appalled by the way the story was reported and by the folklore that became "fact".

I think that many of my misconceptions, (and maybe your misconceptions?) about this story are actually pretty dangerous.

The whole thing makes me wonder: does the media have the responsiblilty to dispell the myths it helps create? What should their role be in setting the record straight? Or, is it okay for them to observe beyond all recognition?
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Type: Question • Score: 6 • Views: 1,902 • Replies: 23
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:06 am
Whether or not it is "OK" by your lights or mine, they will be motivated by what sells newspapers . . . or television news shows . . . i seriously doubt that any media organization has an interest in setting the story straight after the fact. That's the province of documentary film makers and the authors of books.
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:11 am
@Setanta,
Yeah.... I know where you're coming from.

But I think some of this information is, like I said, dangerous. It seems to me that the media might want to get this information out.

For instance: the misconception that these kids were goth, video game playing, violent movie watching, outcasts that were bullied. Instead they were straight A students who read the classics, were fairly popular and were bullies.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:15 am
That don't sell newspapers, though . . . which is my only point. Although i am basically an optimist about the human race, i'm pessimistic about the probable behavior of individuals--and that includes the corporate individual which sells newspapers or television programming. The public would rather see them as loner goths, evil video-game playing victims striking out at their tomentors. So those who sell stories to the public sell them what they want. The public definitely does not want to see "nice kids" as potential murderers.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:18 am
Maybe i should expand on that. Reporters are looking for "an angle." If the situation is inexplicable, if they can't point to some pop-psychology pathology, they won't seem to have the answers, and that's anathema to an editor or a producer. Better to cobble together a story than for them to admit that they know no more about it than someone you meet on the street.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:19 am
@boomerang,
The media sucks.

You have to work hard to get the real story and I think that's a shame.

One of the many many elements of suckitude is that I think individual reporters get tied to a narrative, and then they don't want to be "wrong" -- that is, they suggested something (or outright claim it) and then don't want to go back and say "um actually not so much." They want to be prescient and quoted and stuff.

Matt Bai at the NYT has really irritated me with that, he was very pro-Clinton and has always kind of looked askance at Obama, suggesting portentously that he couldn't win, first (I think he was behind some of the Latino stories when that was a thing, ya know, Latinos won't vote for Obama), and he keeps coming back with snark that rarely has any particular substance to it. He has a narrative, which is "Obama can't win...OK even though he won he shouldn't have, Hillary would've been better," and that leaks through his so-called "reporting."

And that's the New York Times, which is the only paper I subscribe to because the local paper (Columbus Dispatch) is REALLY bad.

(I'm not 100% certain I'm thinking of Matt Bai, I plugged "Matt Bai hates Obama" into Google and came up with this, which is still making the point that a NYT reporter is sloppy, whether my details are correct or not:)

http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/11/11/matt_bai_on_alaska_senate_race/index.html
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:22 am
@Setanta,
I suppose you're right.

<sigh>

I've been making my way though an unrelated but strangely relevant article on heuristics. It sounds very much like what you're saying.
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:26 am
loved the book
engineer
 
  2  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 11:36 am
@sozobe,
I think another part is that the news cycle is so fast that reporters take what they are given and give it very little further thought. The poor nerds who were bullied story sounds great so run with it. Example: Hurricane Predictions. Every year some PhD in Colorado (?) predicts how many hurricanes there will be and the story runs in every eastern seaboard and gulf state newspaper. PhD expert made a prediction so you have to run with it, right? Except that his prediction is not worth anything as in has no correlation to the actual results at all. That's not saying the correlation is poor, it's saying there is no correlation. To discover this, newspapers given a free story would have to actually do a little research. Maybe ask a local statistician to look at the data from past years (available on the Internet), but for the most part they don't have the time or training to do that.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 12:06 pm
@boomerang,
Yeah, that's not unreasonable. They (the editors or producers) want an explanation right now, and they want a hook. It doesn't necessarily always take the same form as what you have described--there can be the John Wayne Gayce, angle, well liked member of the community, no one would have ever suspected. But they want some kind of hook. Heuristics apply in that they often attempt to appeal to "common sense," and the argumentum ad populum (in the sense that everyone "in the know" thinks this way) fallacy.
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 12:25 pm
@sozobe,
Yeah soz.... it's the ole' "I'm not right but I'm not wrong either" gambit.

I think it was Phoenix who replied on another thread about getting two daily papers and how small changes in reporting the same story created very different appearances. The personality of the journalist can certainly make a big difference in how someone "learns" an event.
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 12:26 pm
@djjd62,
Damn. I can hardly put this book down.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 12:30 pm
@boomerang,
Yeah... I wrote a blog post about that a while ago (still up but ignore the error message thingies at the top):

http://observationalism.com/2009/03/26/knowing-what-i-dont-know/

Oh, and the end is cut off! Can't remember how much more there was or how important it was. You get the gist though.
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 12:31 pm
@engineer,
It is fast, and it's big and everyone has to be first.

I think they must think that they can't not run something and they don't have time to question it or someone will beat them to the punch.

Somewhere in this book it says something to the effect that this was one of the first really big news stories where most of the people involved had cell phones -- and that instant communication changed everything, and not always in postive ways.
0 Replies
 
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 12:36 pm
@Setanta,
Indeed.

I think we do want short cuts. I'm guilty too. I thought I knew who the boogy man was.

I read something a while back about the "he seemed like such a nice guy" phenomonon. The author suggested that someone usually suspect they aren't so nice and the rest of us just aren't really paying attention.
0 Replies
 
NAACP
 
  0  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 01:59 pm
Here's an idea: Why do we NEED to hear news in the first place? Why do we need to hear about what's happening to other people? Do we not have lives to live ourselves?
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 02:16 pm
@NAACP,
The news affects the lives we live ourselves, whether in large or small ways. Or sometimes not at all, but sometimes it's hard to predict whether it will affect us or not, I'd much rather have the option of knowing. (And that's entirely leaving out the altruistic aspects -- if something horrible is happening to people I don't know at all, and I can help in some way, usually I would like to do that.)
NAACP
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 02:18 pm
@sozobe,
Fair enough.
0 Replies
 
PUNKEY
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 02:22 pm
Well, we want to know motive, don't we?
Because it's all so scarey and we just want reasons.

Local community here is upset about news of an attack on a couple in the small town of Yale, MI. Father was killed, mother stabbed 20 TIMES (how someone gets that "into" stabbing someone is a story in of itself!)

Turns out that the 17 year old adopted daughter, her boyfriend and another friend are in custody right now. They are all making incriminating statements about each other during police interviews. Parents disapproved of boyfriend. Mother is a teacher at local school. Newspaper is quoting city manager as calling it a "very signficant trauma to the community.'


boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Nov, 2010 02:47 pm
@sozobe,
Excellent blog, soz. Thanks for the link!
0 Replies
 
 

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