Boston Bombings: Speculation, Spin, and Shamelessness

Monday afternoon, as the reports of bomb explosions near the Boston Marathon’s finish line and the related deaths, injuries, and reassuring heroism began pouring in, my first thoughts went to prayers for the victims and their families.


Then, accompanied by an especially cold shiver, I recalled that several times during a far more innocent era I was at the same finish line of that iconic event with friends and loved ones. Now — unlike then, at least in the U.S. — life-ending and life-altering acts of terror can occur anywhere, at any time, at any public event.

I then hoped that authorities would catch whoever did this quickly, so that the reality deniers and smear merchants wouldn’t have time to capitalize on the carnage to discredit those whom they despise.

Alas, as of when I submitted this column, that has not been the case — though investigators reportedly “had an image of a potential suspect whose name was not known to them and who had not been questioned.”

In the intervening period, the smears have been fast and furious. Wholly predictable and despicable speculation has come from the likes of former Congresswoman and now apparent full-time kook Cynthia McKinney, who thinks the cops are in on it; addition-challenged Michael Moore (“Tax Day. Patriots Day”); and Chris Matthews, supported by a host of others at MSNBC who also played up an alleged Tax Day connection. It didn’t matter that April 15 wasn’t “Tax Day” in Massachusetts, because Patriots’ Day is an official holiday.


Apart from irresponsibly assigning blame, the politicizing of the bombings began shortly after the smoke cleared. Nick Kristof at the New York Times got on his Twitter soapbox to take a shot at Republicans for not confirming President Obama’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; he later deleted his tweet, but he wouldn’t have without the blowback which ensued. Tuesday, former Congressman Barney Frank was telling the world that the heroism displayed by first responders and the medical community somehow proved that big and bloated government is a feature, and not a bug.

The litany of blame-gaming and politicization by the obviously agenda-driven, though truly offensive, is nowhere near as troubling to me as some of the mainstream “straight news” reports which inexplicably held back on unequivocally calling the Boston bombings what they are — terrorism — or veered into their own irresponsible speculation about the nature of the perpetrators.

The organizations involved always claim that they play it straight. Once again, their own coverage has proven them wrong.

At the Associated Press, reporter Jimmy Golen spent Tuesday morning refusing to concede the obvious, namely that the bombings, regardless of who carried them out, represented an act of terrorism. In a wee-hours dispatch, he wrote that they “raised alarms that terrorists might have struck again in the U.S.”


Later that morning he doubled down, claiming that “the blasts among the throngs of spectators raised fears of a terrorist attack.” Because it was awkwardly written, Golen left himself open to two interpretations — both damning. The first is that he still would not concede that a terrorist attack took place. The second, not supported by later context but still possible, is that he, while claiming that Monday’s bombings weren’t terrorist in nature, thought that they might lead to something he might be willing to call “terrorism.” Meanwhile, even occasionally terror-sympathetic CNN didn’t hesitate to call the bombings a “terrorist attack.”

Although it inexplicably took him about 20 hours to acknowledge it in his own words, President Barack Obama stated the obvious on Tuesday: “Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror.” Even with that, AP’s Wednesday morning “Big Story” by Jay Lindsay and Eileen Sullivan would only admit that Obama called it a terrorist attack, despite acknowledging that “[d]octors who treated the wounded corroborated reports that the bombs were packed with shrapnel intended to cause mayhem” — a defining characteristic of terrorism — and never described the bombings as “terrorism” themselves.


Over at the Christian Science Monitor,  Washington Editor Peter Grier went into speculative mode, and in an apparent effort to give equal time to the “domestic” possibility, wrote:

The fact that the target was an event of great significance to Boston but not particularly significant to the wider world could indicate that the bomber was a local or at least a native of the United States. The explosions occurred on April 15, tax day, which could be a further indication of a domestic connection.

Grier, who appears to have lived for a time in Greater Boston, somehow didn’t know that this year’s race, as is typically the case, had participants and spectators from virtually all U.S. states and territories as well as over 70 foreign countries, that most of the top ten male and female finishers were from outside the U.S., and that the race is one of six “World Marathon Majors” — the marathoning equivalent of horse racing’s Triple Crown and golf’s major tournaments.

Tuesday evening, we learned from Dylan Byers at Politico that the journalistic pack is upset that the investigation into the Boston bombings hasn’t resulted in any apprehensions — but not because that might bring some solace to victims, and not because the wheels of justice and punishment would starting turning on the monsters who did this. No, what really matters is that “[a] great deal of political, financial and emotional capital depends on the answer to that question.”


Someday, we may return to the time when straight news reporters knew that getting the who, what, where, when, why (in the story subjects’ own words), and how of a story right is very hard, that it should be all-consuming, and that it leaves no time or space for amateur “analysis” and irresponsible speculation.

Until they do, they will continue to betray what should be their true calling — and us — on a daily basis.

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