Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. Wouldn't you say, she asked, that killings like this are influenced by violent movies? No, I said, I wouldn't say that. But what about 'Basketball Diaries'? She asked. Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun? The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office, and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it. The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. Events like this, I said, if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; These two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory.
People read the papers not in the hopes of learning something new, but in the expectation of being told what they already know. This is a form of living death. Its apotheosis is the daily poll in USA Today, which informs us what percentage of a small number of unscientifically selected people called a toll number to vote on questions that cannot possibly be responded to with a yes or no.