James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for September, 2017

After yet another school shooting

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2017

The school shooter could have been me.

I was a 14-year-old freshman who had friends, close siblings, concerned teachers, and two parents who loved me. I played in the school band and was on the football team and the freshman basketball team. I read a lot, wrote bad poetry, and earned good grades.

I was also tall, skinny, and incredibly uncoordinated. I had acne and a slight speech impediment, which other boys ridiculed. Girls generally just ignored me. One older boy used to stomp my toes with his boots, while another would walk past me in the lunch line and hit the back of my head with his heavy class ring. Freshmen basketball practice started an hour or so after school, after the varsity team finished, and I sometimes spent the time in between school and practice hiding from kids who were threatened to beat me up, or worse. Sometimes I fought, though neither winning nor losing a fistfight seemed to resolve much. I never told my parents or teachers.

I grew up a in small town in Idaho, and I had easy access to guns. And maybe because I had a few friends, and was involved in sports and music, I never thought about bringing a gun to school. I fantasized about beating up bigger kids, not about shooting them. Like most 14-year-old boys, I assume, I fantasized more about girls who ignored me than about boys who bullied me. I was more likely to harm myself than someone else.

That year, for whatever reason, my body seemed to catch up with itself. As a sophomore, I became a starter on the football team and a regular on the varsity basketball team. I was tall and could make people laugh – with me, rather than at me. I graduated second in my class, and my classmates voted me “most likely to succeed.”

Today, my biggest regrets about my younger years have nothing to do with being bullied myself. What I regret are the times I failed to step in to defend someone who was being bullied. There are worse injuries than those that come from being punched in the face. And sometimes those who end up paying the biggest price are neither the bullies nor the bullied. I grieve for all involved.

Forty-five years later, I still can’t help but wonder what might have happened if things had been only slightly different in my case. If the social awkwardness and/or the bullying had continued. If I hadn’t had loving parents and friends and siblings and creative intellectual outlets. If I hadn’t become a star athlete and a good student. If I hadn’t lived in a small town where I watched little television and rarely went to movies, long before the invention of video games or the Internet. If I’d suffered a great loss of some sort.

I harbor no illusions that I’m morally or emotionally stronger than anyone else. Perhaps, under slightly different conditions, the school shooter could have been me.

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