by   Michael  Hammerschlag

                                               CLEAR + PRESENT DANGERS


In the beginning of Loren Coleman’s important new book, THE COPYCAT EFFECT   How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow’s Headlines  (Paraview Publishing- $14), he muses on a plane crash you may vaguely remember. A “lone nut” had stolen a plane and crashed it into the White House- just below the Lincoln bedroom. The date now may make you sit up and take notice: Sept 11, 1994. Within 3 ½ months of that, Martin Duran, a deranged felon, sprayed the White House with 29 semi-auto rifle shots till he was tackled by a bystander; another 2 jumped the fence and were tackled by Secret Service, a homeless man waving a knife was shot and killed by police; and an unidentified assailant fired at least 4 bullets at the White House, one of which went through a dining room window.


Again and again you hear of some massive school shooting, or workplace rampage, or type of suicide; which is followed within days or weeks by more of the same- same type of person, same type of place, same type of event. The media, as one, repeats the same stock vapid phrases even as it sensationalizes the event: “he’d been having trouble at home”, “co-workers said he was strange”, “they didn’t understand what could have set him off”. Unspoken, of course, is the fact that he was simply copying some previous horror…  and the media culpability in mindless promotion of all of them. If It Bleeds It Leads, says Coleman. “Death and the fear of death are the dominant forces behind the news.” Don’t believe it?


The first school shooting happened in San Diego in 1979 when 16 year old Brenda Spencer took the new rifle her father had given her and opened up from her bedroom window on the Cleveland Elementary School, killing 2 staff and wounding 9 students. Asked to explain why, she said “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays”, immortalized by the Boomtown Rats group in their song of that name. The next horrific mass shooting of kids took place in July 1984 at a San Ysidro McDonalds by violent anti-social gun-nut James Huberty, 41, who slaughtered 21 people and wounded 19 with an Uzi in what was then the worst attack the world had seen. But San Ysidro borders Mexico, and San Diego.


 In the next mass school shooting in January 1989, hallucinating multiple felon Patrick Purdy opened fire at a Stockton, CA schoolyard with an AK-47, killing 5 kids and wounding 30. Where? Cleveland Elementary School.  He had recently seen a TV documentary on Huberty’s McDonalds horror. That September, in Kentucky, it happened again: a disabled employee of Standard Gravure Plant returning with a vengeance.

UPI: When Joseph Wesbecker, a mental patient, read about the destructive power of Patrick Purdy's weapon in a Stockdale[sic], Calif., schoolyard massacre in January, Wesbecker knew he'd have to have the gun. So he bought an AK-47, a Chinese-made assault rifle firing 7.62mm rounds capable of blowing holes in concrete walls. Wesbecker, police say, already planned a massacre of his own -- one which killed eight Thursday and wounded 13. He used an AK-47 on all victims but himself. He committed suicide with a pistol. In the same way Wesbecker's interest was peaked[sic] -- he had clipped out a February Time magazine article on some of Purdy's exploits.


In the worst shooting in US history in Oct. ‘91, deranged woman-hating drummer George Hennard crashed his truck through the glass of Luby’s Café in Killeen TX, 30 miles from Crawford, and slaughtered 23 people and wounded 27 with Glock and Ruger handguns. On his body a ticket for The Fisher King was found, a film in which a random killer shoots Robin Williams’s girlfriend in a restaurant, and he then descends into a world of fantasy. 


Sometimes the trigger for events can be a book. The 1774 Goethe book The Sorrows of Young Werther caused so many copycat suicides of lovelorn young men who dressed alike and shot themselves at the same time at their writing desk- straight from the story- that it was banned in Germany, Italy and Denmark. In a more chillingly modern story, Stephen King’s 1977 Rage has been the pattern for maybe 5 school shootings. In it a troubled student takes a gun to his algebra class and kills his teacher, another adult, and takes the algebra class hostage. First enacted in a 1982 Las Vegas algebra class by a student who killed 2 and wounded 2, it popped up again in 1993 in a Kentucky English class. But the February 1996 Moses Lake, WA rampage of Barry Loukaitis set the pattern:


dressed all in black, with a long coat that hid his father’s hunting rifle and 2 handguns, Loukaitis walked into his Frontier Jr. High algebra class and started shooting. Loukaitis killed..2 classmates, .. wounded another..aimed at the back of his algebra teacher and killed her. With carnage all around him.., Loukaitis calmly..smiled and said,  “This sure beats algebra, doesn’t it?”-CCE   It was a direct quote from the book, a well-used copy of which he had in his bedroom. He had also rented Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers 7 times.


After Loukaitis, school shootings exploded onto the American cultural landscape. A week later a 16 year old student shot 3 kids on a basketball court, a month later a diseased 43 year old fired Boy Scout leader killed 18, and wounded 11 in a kindergarten in Dunblane, Scottland.  The American contagion had spread. A month later a Vancouver BC man killed his estranged wife and 8 in-laws at her wedding. In remote Tasmania 3 weeks after that, a blond surfer madman killed 35 people and wounded 11 at a café and resort with a high-powered rifle.† A crushed close cousin of one of Loukaitis’s victims shot himself, mother, and half-sister- with a hunting rifle in Dec in Moses Lake.


In Oct 97, Adolph Hitler fan Luke Woodham, stabbed his mother to death and killed 2 and wounded 7 at Pearl High School in Mississippi.  Exactly 2 months later Michael Carneal, dressed in black, killed 3 girls, wounded 5 in an outside prayer circle in W. Paducah KY. in Dec. 97. He also had a copy of Rage in his locker. 2 weeks later a student in Stamps, AK hid in the woods and shot 2 students in a parking lot. In an exact copycat 3 months later, shockingly young boys aged 11 and 13 pulled the fire alarm at a Jonesboro AK junior high school and blasted their classmates (mostly girls) with an arsenal from the woods: 5 dead, 10 wounded. In Edinboro Pa, a month later, a student killed 1, wounded 3. 3 days later in May 1998 in Springfield Oregon, Kip Kinkel killed 2 and wounded 22 in the school cafeteria after killing his parents. On the same day a student in WA state took a girl hostage from his bus and killed himself, and another student in Rialto CA shot himself.  Then came Columbine on April 20, 1999, the ultimate Rage, though by this time The Matrix was a more proximate source of motivation. Stephan King pulled his book from the market in chagrin. In the widespread paranoia that followed Columbine, 400 bomb and shooting threats were reported. “They are 100% suicidal young white males in rural settings,” says Coleman. “With every school shooting, I feel I’m partially responsible. What if they got their idea from what I did?” said Brenda Spencer. The phenomenon then jumped the oceans and mass school killings happened in Holland, Germany (Erfurt- 18 dead), Bosnia, and Brazil. America was a disease, and the world was catching it.


Still not convinced? From: Clayton Cramer’s Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage In The Mass Media:

Unfortunately, it happened again. Gian Luigi Ferri entered a San Francisco law office, murdered eight people, and wounded six others. When it became apparent that he would not escape the building alive, he killed himself. In his briefcase he had "the names and addresses of more than a dozen TV shows, including 'Oprah Winfrey,' 'Phil Donahue' and even 'Washington Week in Review.'" Ferri apparently believed that this infamous crime would provide him a platform from which to describe his "victimization" by lawyers, real estate firms, and the manufacturers of monosodium glutamate

… Less than two weeks later, in Antioch, California, a suburb of San Francisco, Joel Souza murdered his children, then killed himself as an act of revenge against his estranged wife. When police searched a van that Souza had rented, they found a copy of a July 4th newspaper with headlines about Ferri's crime….Fame and infamy are in an ethical sense, opposites. Functionally, they are nearly identical.

The Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc, protesting the shooting of Vietnamese Buddhists by police, on June 11, 1963 enacted a horrid spectacle that would eventually kill tens of thousands- he doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze in the Saigon public square. Western media transmitted the stunning event all over the world. 7 more in Vietnam copied this most terrible of deaths by the end of the year, 5 more in the next 2 years. But the phenomenon found a home in 1965 India, where cremation was the traditional method of burial- a Tamil protester named Chinnasamy immolated himself. 9 more died in the next week. More people burned themselves in Vietnam, the USA, and Czechoslovakia to protest the ‘68 Soviet invasion (26, 7 dead), France over Biafra in 1970 (16); in a year in England from Oct 78, 82 members of an Indian sect torched themselves; Lithuania 1990, Iran 1994, Ukraine and Russia 2002, Czech Republic 2003 (16, 5 dead), Vietnam again 2001+2004. But India is the champion: 1583 people burned themselves in 2001 alone in what is called the Chinnasamy Effect. A study in 1972 shows 71% of self-immolations within the last 202 years occurred in the previous 10 years.


Modern press sensationalism started in 1888, just after the first transatlantic cable was laid. Jack the Ripper terrorized London, but though he killed only 5 women over 10 weeks, his actions would ripple down through history and cause hundreds or thousands of copycat killings of women, and be made into 38 movies. “It became the first big phenomenon to sell newspapers,” says Coleman, because it was instantly transmitted all over the English speaking world. The movies were a fabulous source of inspiration to the deadly insane: every time the 1978 Deerhunter airs, people shoot themselves reenacting the Russian roulette scene, where the N. Vietnamese force their prisoners to put one bullet in the gun and fire at each other; 43 died by 1986. Even a Secret Service agent in the Carter White House did that while watching the movie in 1980 (maybe distressed over Reagan’s victory). Michael Ryan’s rampage through the forest and village of Hungerford, England with an AK-47 in 1987 (16d 14w) eerily mirrored Rambo’s exploits in First Blood (prominently aired on BBC 11 months before) and may have inspired Purdy 18 mo. later.  The Basketball Diaries, with its scenes of trench coat clad school mayhem was another favorite of incipient maniacs; The Matrix’s stunning imagery was inspiring to Nietzschean killers Harris and Klebold and others, while Natural Born Killers was blamed for a 3 state 8 victim killing spree and was a favorite of Loukaitis. Unlike Stanley Kubrick, who pulled A Clockwork Orange from circulation after violent copycats, Oliver Stone denied any responsibility- he was exposing tawdry press sensationalism, not trumping it.

Cramer says,  “As art or simply as entertainment, amusements that portray violence can .. be justified. But we must remember that entertainment in the United States is a big business, and however much someone may justify .. movies as "art," the real reason is profit, and lots of it.


I was exposed to the subject when I saw the ominous bleak 1976 film Taxi Driver, which I was convinced would lead to a Senator’s murder- the stalking of disturbed Bickel was so chillingly portrayed. Ronald Reagan, Jim Brady, Delahanty, and McCarthy paid the price: shot by John Hinckley in 1981 over his obsession with Jody Foster, a child prostitute in the movie. In 1982, I happened to be in a Chicago hospital after the 7 Tylenol cyanide murders when a woman came in with stomach pains and the entire place- 15 people- stopped and jumped to help her. “They were there to see something big, something that TV had told them was important, more important than anything else,” read The Tylenol War of the Worlds, a column in which I argued for more restraint in media treatment of such sensational and fiendish stories, which I knew were causing copycat murders all over America (9 other cyanide deaths that I've found in a quick search and 450-odd tamperings).  I broke the national story of the faked photo of the “spaceship” accompanying comet Hale-Bopp on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser in 1997. That was the trigger for 39 Heavens Gate cult members in San Diego to trade in their Nikes for a trip to the stars.


There is no denying what every reporter knows: their reporting has an effect- on horrific events sometimes it can create the story again. After the RI nightclub fire that killed 100 people, people who had seen their friends burn to death and stayed up all night, stood in the bitter cold morning and gave Today Show interviews with all the aplomb of seasoned network correspondents. We change things. The prominent example (and exploitation) of murders or suicides can dissolve the inhibitions of fear and morality that keep depressed and disturbed individuals in check. 


Coleman’s book is an overwhelming compendium of the patterns and connections between events: sniper shootings, teen “suicide clusters” (the name of another book by Coleman), self-immolations, ancient group suicides, postal* and workplace rampages, music idol suicides, copycat movie madness, suicide magnet locations. There is a striking correlation of dates in copycat events- in many they tend to happen within 3 days or at one week or one month or the same day of the month (11th is popular), or same day in a subsequent year- in right wing events or nazi-related school shootings they often happen on anniversaries of Hitler’s birth or death, or Hess’s birth, or OK City bombing/Waco (these are all clustered in the latter of April, making it gigantic security alert for law enforcement and schools). In the many suicide clusters Coleman has researched and worked with, they seem invariably to start in February. Some of these links are co-incidences, but the overwhelming volume of them makes his premise irrefutable.


* Patrick Sherrill killed 14, wounded 6 at a Edmonds OK post office on Aug. 20, 1986, but 3 years earlier, on almost the same date- Aug 19, in Johnston SC, another worker had killed the postmaster and wounded 3. After Edmonds, postal shootings erupted in Melbourne, Australia- 9D 17W, Chelsea MA, New Orleans, Boston MA, Escondido CA, Ridgewood NJ, Royal Oak MI, Dana Pt. CA, Dearborn MI, Montclair NJ, Paterson NJ, Miami Beach. Going Postal became slang – for workplace rampages, to the Post Office’s horror. Note how multiple events happened in nearby towns in the same states, where media saturation of previous attack was heaviest.


Despite the mordant material, this is an eminently readable book, because of the many gee-whiz moments where some connection and reason for an event becomes clear (I didn’t know song I Don’t Like Mondays was about a shooting). There’s a plethora of fascinating arcana: the 1933 Hungarian song Gloomy Sunday was so successful in provoking suicides that it was banned,  the largest suicide ever happened when 5000 Gamelans threw themselves off the Israeli cliffs rather than submit to the besieging Romans (just before Masada), there were 911 days between 9-11 and the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004; and the bizarre Marshall Appelwhite, eunuch leader of spaceship devotees Heaven’s Gate was misleading lost sheep with a psychiatric nurse for 3 decades as Bo and Peep, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Guinea and Pig, and they were portrayed in a 1982 NBC movie with John Forsythe, The Mysterious Two. There is an 11 page chronological list of different death events at the end, a useful reference.


The most difficult section to read is the teen suicide clusters, which started nationally in Dallas suburb Plano TX, where 9 kids killed themselves in 1983, mostly from car exhaust. By 1984, death was everywhere. 6 kids shot themselves in Houston suburb Clear Lake, in Westchester NY 15 kids died mostly by hanging (Officer and a Gentleman was the model), in Leominster MA, 5 kids died from car crashes and guns (7 more would die in 1985-86). “Teenagers have this fantasy that they could fly over the funeral and see who was crying and how much they were missed,” explains Coleman in an extended interview. “When the media comes in and does a graphic depiction of it- it doesn’t work to scare kids away. The method is repeated- exactly the same kind of person dies the same kind of way.” The things schools did to cope could make it worse: large assemblies or big funerals were discouraged:  In that way a kid with no importance becomes important through death,” says a suicide assoc. president, “kids copy that”. Coleman expands: “You have to have a division between appropriate grief and glorification… and therefore reinforce the suicide.”


 The hits kept coming: Wind River WY (10 dead in Fall ‘85), 3 clusters at once in Mankato MN (5 dead), Omaha NE (3 dead 2 attempt), and Union Co. SD (8) in Feb. 86; the massive exhaust poisonings in Bergenfield NJ (18 and 4 at once in March 87); Bethel AK (which would have a school shooting a decade later, 8 dead), Broken Arrow OK (8), Dade Co (37 in 88 +89).


In many, the victims were friends, or simply identified so strongly with previous suicides that they blithely followed them, often on week or month anniversaries, or same day of the month. One wants to reach in and yank these kids back by the scruff of their neck. But shame apparently does work. In ancient hanging suicides of virgin girls in Miletus, the Hellenistic Greeks stopped it flat by simply carrying the bodies through the town market… naked.  “Not very applicable in our culture,” says Coleman unnecessary. A social worker, Coleman makes no excuses- abuse or bullying is never mentioned. “I’m not a big believer in bullying as a cause.”  (I am.) The victims and perpetrators are never romanticized, but not demonized either, since that’s another way of glamorizing them, like the Time story on Red lake shooter Jeff Weise: The Devil in Red Lake. Monsters are powerful, and envied by the disturbed and abused, which is why so many absorb neo-Nazi sentiments. In 1996-97 the horror returned to Plano- 34 kids died of heroin overdoses. To Clear Lake also, which was the site of Andrea Yates drowning of her children. During her 2002 trial 6 kids were deliberately killed in a house fire on Vancouver Island, a Los Angeles father killed 5 children with the fumes from a charcoal grill, and a US Army mother drowned her two toddlers in her Berlin bathtub. Extreme acts can embed themselves deeply in the local consciousness; and transmute into others after a decade or so.


The media understandably reacts strongly to this massive evidence of linkage- because news is most often bad news, and what can be worse than twisted teenagers slaughtering their classmates in a temple of learning. “I’ve heard so many people say ‘why don’t you just ignore this kind of thing’. You can’t! You’ve got to report what happens,” say U Missouri Journalism School professor and host of a KBAI (NPR) radio show Views of the News  Rod Gelatt. “Do you have to give it so much play- do you have to lead every newscast with it- does it have to be above the fold on Page 1?  That’s the question… I remember the McDonald’s shooting, and a local television station going out on the streets and saying can it happen here?- in a McDonalds in Columbia?”      “Your job is to tell the truth. Sometimes telling the truth causes harm, and you’re obligated to find a way to minimize that harm,” offers Kelly McBride, head of the Poynter Institute’s Ethics Dept.. With the 24 hour cable news stations and majors, fancy sensational theme graphics are created almost instantly: PLUGGED in PADUCAH – school shooting siege (made-up). Are there methods of discouraging the "shoot your way to temporary fame" approach? asks Cramer. 


Yes, in schools, says McBride. “you talk about what they might be experiencing, provide resources they can turn to, downplay any elements that could be glorified, play up the tragedy of the event, resist urge to attribute shooting to one single event in the shooter’s life, resist the urge to oversimplify. There are way to responsibly report on issues … without causing a copycat phenomenon.”   Coleman is definitive, “the media has to stop using rampage shootings, celebrity suicides, bridge jumpers the way it uses tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes to get people to watch their programs.”


Incredibly, Cramer’s award winning article on mass killing events in which he evaluates Time and Newsweek coverage from 1984-1991, show 5 of 6 papers deliberately ignored the Time Magazine connection in Wesbecker’s Louisville rampage, instead focusing on him reading Soldier of Fortune. 


  “…the connection between the Time article and Wesbecker's actions didn't make it into Time, Newsweek, or ..The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Santa Rosa (Cal.) Press-Democrat.  The Los Angeles Times, the Press-Democrat, and the New York Times all suggested a connection between Wesbecker's actions and Soldier of Fortune. Apparently, Soldier of Fortune's mere presence in Wesbecker's home was an important piece of news, while the marked-up copy of Time, left open, wasn't important enough to merit coverage.”   Only the San Francisco Chronicle had the real news: “At Wesbecker's home, police found …a February 6 issue of Time magazine devoted to mass killers, including Robert Sherrill, who slaughtered 14 people in an Oklahoma post office three years ago, and Patrick Purdy.” Clayton Cramer, Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage In The Mass Media


In his study he found 9 times more coverage in Newsweek and Time (by column inch) of mass shooting murders than comparable mass killings by arson, knife, or beatings from 1984-1991.

In spite of the 17,489 murders committed with knives and other "cutting instruments" in the years 1987-1991 (about 18% of the total murders), these crimes are almost non-existent in Time and Newsweek. The same is true for the murders with blunt objects, hands, fists, and feet (11,088 in 1987-1991, or 11% of the total murders).... In the years 1987-1991, a total of 96,666 people were murdered in the United States (FBI, 1992). Mass murder victims from our sampled articles during this period totaled 318. Time and Newsweek, in order to give equivalent coverage to the other 96,348 murders, would have needed more than 42 pages per week between them!  A U. Oregon study about the comparative health risks of disease and shootings found:    "the pictures inside the heads of the people they talked to were more like the spooky, violent world of newspaper content than they were like the real world."  Cramer believes some of the unequal coverage is because of an agenda to push gun control. Coleman talks about the summer of 2001, when shark and crocodile attacks on people were the media rage until 9-11 made them moot, but the numbers of both attacks were below average.

There’s another reason media people virulently resist the web of connections between deadly events: if the coverage is, as seems obvious, causing more, they could be responsible for it. “I don’t know that! …That somehow there’s a direct relationship between journalistic coverage and some 14 year old taking a gun to school  and  shoot  his classmates. I think that sort of assertion actually does a lot more harm than good, said U. Missouri Journalism School ethicist Lee Wilkins. [note: not to students] “I do know about suicide clusters. There’s a lot of literature on that. They actually do have policies in most news organizations about the reporting of suicides” (partly due to Coleman’s work over 20 years). She understandably wanted to study the book and issue first, but Coleman’s numbers tell the story: in the 3¼  years 1986-1989 from Moses Lake to Columbine there were about 174 people shot in schools in mass shootings, vs. 25 in the 6½  years before, a rate 14 times higher. Can anyone honestly think that less coverage wouldn’t have led to less deaths?  Does one need to do 10 and 20 year sociological studies? Many journalism people declined to comment for this article- so radioactive is the subject. Rod Gelatt is less sanguine, Do I think that things that appear in media can fertilize people’s ideas they already have and cause them to do things? Yeah, I do… Am I a believer in having some sense of responsibility. You bet I am!”


Nobody advocates censorship (except self-censorship, like say, what the media is doing re. Bush Administration transgressions), but limits on coverage actually works: “Austria banned coverage after a rash of subway suicides, and those types of suicides were cut by 75%,” says Coleman.  “After 9-11, we had a situational blackout, where news media was not interested in reporting on school shootings for 18 months.”  They virtually ended, though 911 also shocked people out of their private worlds into the greater community.       "A crime of violence should be given attention proportionate to its size, relative to other crimes of violence, and relative to the importance of its victim,” advocates Cramer.


Seattle area in the late 80’s was the hunting grounds for multiple serial killers- almost every week women’s bodies were being found, but news was on page C8, not A1. After the shock of Ted Bundy’s 35-80 murders and the shameful publicity, Seattle media clamped down and categorically ignored reporting on what were staggering levels of random murder. The silence was deafening- I remember only one Sunday 2 page spread dealing with the issue: they had a map of Washington State with the sites of 10 currently operating serial killers, each of whom had killed 5 or more (Green River Killer was ~46); most recently DC snipers Muhammed + Malvo were from there. It may have been more an indigenous problem than copycat, but the immense publicity about Bundy and Green River had to contribute.


Copycatting isn’t rocket science, just simple observations of human nature, and no one is better at that than social scientists like Coleman. Humans are 98% chimpanzees, and monkeys copy things. That's how we learn; including the lost and damaged people that commit these acts. They are looking for something to jam into the cracks of their dissolving psyches, and extreme acts fit the bill. The truth is- in a nation of 300 million people there are enough twisted individuals to latch on the sickest example….  if it’s drawn clearly enough. It's the elephant in the room of journalism, and for decades we've been pretending it doesn't exist.. because the answers aren't comfortable for our profession. But if we ignore such manifest and obvious truths, what stock should be placed in the rest of our observations? Every day sees another beach, another province, lost to the rising tide of un-countered official propaganda.


Other suggestions by Coleman:


1. The media must be more aware of the power of their words. Using language like “successful” sniper attacks, suicides, and bridge jumpers, and “failed” murder-suicides, for example, clearly suggest to viewers and readers that someone should keep trying again until they “succeed.”

2. The media must drop their clichéd stories about the “nice boy next door” or the “lone nut.” The copycat violent individual is neither mysterious nor healthy, or usually an overachiever. They are often a fatal combination of despondency, depression, and mental illness.

3. The media must cease its graphic and sensationalized wall-to-wall commentary and coverage of violent acts and the details of the actual methods and places where they occur. Tapes of people jumping off bridges, and live shots of things like car chases ending in deadly crashes, for example, merely glamorize these deaths, and create models for others.

4. The media should show more details about the grief of the survivors and victims (without glorifying the death), and highlight the alternatives to the violent acts

5. The media must avoid stereotypes in portraying the victims or the perpeators. Why set up situations that like-minded individuals (e.g. neo-Nazis) can use as a roadmap for a future rampages against similar victims?

6. The media should never publish a report on suicide or murder-suicide without adding the protective factors, such as the contact information for hot lines, help lines.

 7. The media should reflect more on their role in creating our increasingly perceived violent society. Most of our lives are mundane, safe, and uneventful.


The coverage of most of these death events is incredibly shallow, with the same reference-less shallow examination, as if it was a startling new phenomenon and was unrelated to all previous events. “How could it happen here?”, “How could they miss the signs?” I’ve never heard any context of how a death event relates to any previous one on TV, and almost ever in print. Never. That’s because that would admit the connections, and causality, and liability. Police leadership (politician?) cowardice in delaying going in after shooters isn’t discussed until much later, if at all, when every situation proves a quick strong response saves lives (like the heroic security guard at the Red Lake school who tried). People were dying for over 2 hours at Columbine after Klebold and Harris had killed themselves, but nobody was allowed to go in.


Coleman exposes one example of shabby surface coverage:  The suicide by Cessna by 15 year old Charles Bishop, who flew into Tampa’s Bank of America skyscraper on Jan. 5, 2002. While they said he was a fan of Osama, no one printed the furious note, and he was even characterized as the “good boy next door” (“he seemed like such a nice guy- he always said good morning,” stock line published for last 35 years from neighbors of some crazed mass killer). One Muslim civil rights advocate on Fox News even said that proved there were American terrorists too; they weren’t all Arabs or Muslims. But Bishop’s real name was Bishara- his mother had changed it during the Gulf War, his father was Lebanese, and had left him at a young age.


He was Arab and he knew it, says Coleman’s book. He makes the distant, but intriguing connection between Charles Bishara Bishop and Arab immigrant Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, whose father left him to return to Jordan at 12, and who shot RFK June 5, 1968- the first anniversary of the start of the 1967 Arab-Israeli 6 Day War, a fact categorically ignored at the time. In his suicide note, Bishop said, “OBL is planning to blow up the Super Bowl with an antiquated nuclear bomb left over from the 1967 Israeli-Syrian war”, the exact plot of the Tom Clancy book and movie,  The Sum of All Fears. [Clancy also predicted 911 in 1994.]


So maybe he was American after all- he was threat copycatting the movies, or the new real one Bin Laden had just copied from Clancy or Die Hard. Which is live and which is Memorex?… in the hall of cultural mirrors…. That weekend, there were 18 small plane crashes, many more than normal… as after any prominent suicide, especially one with a plane.



- I make my living off the evening news, people love it when you lose. Get the bubble headed bleach blond,  comes on at 5, she can tell you about the plane crash, with the gleam in her eye,  it’s interesting when people die- give us dirty laundry.    Kick em when they’re up, kick em when they’re down, kick em when they’re stiff, kick em all around – Don Henley

Michael Hammerschlag©2005



† Australia has had a disproportionate number of rampages for its small size: 2 in Melbourne in 1987- street 7d 10w, post office 9d 17w; a shopping mall in Straithfield in 1991- 9d; another in Sydney in 1992- 6d; and the nightmare in 1996 Tasmania, the worst rampage on record. “Look who first populated the country,” says Coleman. “The media is open and loose (there).”

 ADDEN: 2 European economists claim newspaper coverage of terrorist incidents leads directly to more attacks. 6-2006



Michael Hammerschlag's commentary and articles ( have appeared in Seattle Times, Providence. Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Honolulu Advertiser, Capital Times, MediaChannel; and Moscow News, Tribune, Times,  and Guardian. He's been a TV reporter, foreign correspondent, and produced documentaries over 25 years. He spent 2 years in Russia as the empire collapsed, and he broke the story of the faked spaceship photo altered from a U. Hawaii telescope pic that provoked the Heavens Gate cultists to commit suicide.