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When it comes to explaining great tragedies, there's one question television news can't answer: Why?

The Big Question

The problem is not with the who, what, when, where and sometimes how. Television, like the rest of the media, doesn't have any difficulty with those basic questions when something awful happens and the world seems to blow up in our faces.

The killer question, though, is "Why?"

That's the one that brings all the pretty anchorpeople and all their slick experts to their knees every time.

Take Kosovo and Littleton, Colo., for example. With neck-snapping speed, TV news switched back and forth between the two stories for weeks, and if we watched with any regularity, we quickly learned the basics of both — who did what, when they did it, where they did it, and how they did it.

But the why escaped them every time.

Oh, sure, there were feints and jabs at telling the why of both stories. With regard to Kosovo, TV's journalists had no trouble explaining Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing," NATO's retaliation and a bit of the history behind a millennium of conflict in the Balkans. The where was easy: TV does maps and graphics well. The how was straightforward, too: Out from the files come pictures and descriptions of missiles, planes, helicopters, ships, and a multiplicity of complex bombs and delivery systems. And Yugoslavian TV, when it managed to stay on the air, showed the world what it looked like when the night skies were lit up by bombs.

But the why remained a mystery.

Same thing in Littleton. Who? Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. What? Fifteen shot to death, including themselves. When? Just about an hour before the first live pictures began to fill our TV screens. Where? At a suburban high school outside Denver. How? With three long guns, a handgun, and enough homemade bombs to level the school if they had all worked as planned.

But why? We still don't know.

Because in Yugoslavia it's about history, and about race, and about religion,and about hate. But it goes deeper than that. It's really about one man, Slobodan Milosevic, and his capacity to kill parts of his own country's populace. And in Littleton, it's not TV, and it's not the Internet, and it's not video games, and it's not teen-age angst, and it's not about in-groups vs. out-groups. Most teen-agers who face those same influences every day don't solve their problems by slaughtering their classmates. But in Littleton, Eric and Dylan did.

And that's what TV can't get a grip on. Why Milosevic kills his own people, and why these two teen-agers snapped.

We all have fantasies about power and revenge. But that's where it stops for most of us. In the fantasy realm.

For most of us there's a little gate inside our heads with a sign that says "Fantasy is not reality" and "Don't go there." So we don't. But for some terrible few cursed souls, the little gate is ajar, or the warning sign is missing.


That's the question that TV can't answer for us. Nor can

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