Are Media Downplaying Red Lake School Shootings?


The school shootings at Red Lake, Mn., received much less attention from the news media and officials in Washington, D.C., than did the 1999 massacre at Colorado’s Columbine high school. Some see racism at play, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Red Lake is a poor Indian reservation; Littleton, Colo. is a predominantly white suburb. Still, “Columbine was among the events that got the most coverage of any story in any year,” said Jeffrey Schneider of ABC News. “That’s an extremely high bar for comparison” and may lead to a false impression that Red Lake was ignored, when in fact it got enormous attention.

Jane Kirtley, media ethics expert at the University of Minnesota, said racism is not the explanation. Red Lake is five hours north of the Twin Cities. By the time news crews reached the reservation, the shootings had ended. Then tribal authorities severely limited access to the reservation by journalists. Gary Hill of KSTP in St. Paul, said, “Television needs images. We need people on camera talking. The tribal authorities’ stance did make it difficult to get to the people who could tell their stories.” Journalism Prof. Jay Rosen of New York University said, “Columbine was a media frenzy. It was overdone. Red Lake is a media frenzy. If this is a smaller media frenzy, I’m not going to get too upset about it, and I think activists who are asking for a bigger media frenzy have found a strange way of advancing the interests of their group.”


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