Posted by Chicago Tribune on April 24, 2013 in News Clips
Some media found the possibility that foreign terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon to be too tantalizing of an explanation to pass up, even when it snares the wrong suspects.
On the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, for example, the New York Post proudly presented a scoop that misidentified an injured "Saudi national" as a terror suspect. By the next day, authorities confirmed that the badly burned man actually was a witness, not a suspect. Sorry about that.
Online vigilantism ran so wild on the Reddit online link-sharing community that its general manager Erik Martin issued an apology this week. Before brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and alleged co-conspirator Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, were identified as the alleged bombing suspects, the photos and names of several innocent men were circulated through Reddit, including that of a 17-year-old high school student and a Brown University student who has been missing since March. Sorry again.
The meteoric rise of new Internet media has created a new and dangerous rise of send-before-you-think journalism, especially in do-it-yourself media circles. That puts a greater burden on news consumers to be skeptical regarding how and what they are being served.
Unfortunately, it also can create real dangers to individual lives, social dialogue and even national security.
For example, in a New York Times essay a day after the Boston bombings, Haider Javed Warraich, a medical resident in Boston, gave this explanation for why he decided against running into the action: As "a 20-something Pakistani male with dark stubble" owing to his hectic schedule in an intensive-care unit, he wrote, "I look like Hollywood's favorite post-Cold-War movie villain."
That night CNN and ABC News journalist Christiane Amanpour read from Warraich's op-ed at the Arab American Institute's annual dinner in Washington, which I attended as a guest.
Amanpour was receiving an achievement award named for Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent and Lebanese-American who died while covering Syria's unrest last year.
Amanpour used Warraich's quote to underscore a point she wanted to make about what she called "the elephant in the room." She was referring to the haunting concern by many in that hotel ballroom that the marathon bombers, then not yet identified, might turn out to be Arab — and rekindle post-Sept. 11 prejudices and suspicions about all Arabs.
"How many of us feel this burden of association and hope beyond hope that this doesn't turn out to be what it might be?" said Amanpour. "No conclusions yet. ... Is it international? Is it domestic? But like all of you — I'm not Pakistani, and I'm not Arab, but I am part Iranian. And I do understand the burden of association."
As an African-American I, too, understand the burden of guilt by association. I took no consolation when the focus of racial-profiling discussions, a hot issue in the 2000 presidential primaries, suddenly shifted after Sept.11, 2001, from "driving while black" or Latino to anyone who looked as though he or she might be Arab or Muslim.
That's why I find it ironic to hear increasingly about how much white conservatives don't like to be profiled, either. Breitbart.com, among other conservative websites, slammed NPR, for example, for a publicly funded "smear" in "the media's never-ending crusade to falsely blame the right for mass murder."
Their complaint? They didn't like NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston's report that officials were investigating possible connections between the marathon bombs and "anti-government, right-wing folks," among other possible leads.
My response? Step back and take a breath, folks, unless you really want to be identified with the sort of nitwits who celebrate Hitler's birthday.
As the facts unfold, the backgrounds of the Boston bombing brother suspects frustrate our usual narratives and stereotypes. They're foreign-born, but domestically raised without obvious ties to terror groups.
We need to get past everyone's hurt feelings to have a serious conversation about how we deal with all forms of threats to our national security.
Clarence Page, a member of the Tribune's editorial board, blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage.