Chaos in Boston, and the Inherent Danger in Jumping to Conclusions

tsarnaevIt’s been a long, stressful and scary night in Boston and the surrounding areas, and it’s not over yet. In an unprecedented situation, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has declared city-wide shelter in place for all of Boston, effectively shutting everything down and ordering people to stay in their homes. We now know that the “man in the black hat” at the Boston Marathon was 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and he was killed overnight after a shootout with police. His brother (the “man in the white hat”) was 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and a massive manhunt is ongoing to track him down and bring him to justice.

That’s what we know, or at least what has been confirmed to us by authorities. But ever since the bombings happened Monday afternoon, we’ve been bombarded by a seemingly nonstop flow of misinformation and “bad sources” being relied upon by the media. At the same time, the armchair investigators on the internet have done nothing to help the situation, plastering the faces of innocent people to millions and proudly proclaiming they’ve “solved the case.”

The most glaring example on cable news came on Wednesday when CNN’s John King inexplicably made a total ass out of himself and his network, announcing prematurely that an arrest had been made after a “dark-skinned male” had been identified as a suspect. “I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things,” King said on air at the time.

No you don’t, Mr. King. If you wanted to be careful, you would have confirmed your information with multiple sources and made sure it was rock solid, instead of relying on a single “source within law enforcement.” On top of that, you wouldn’t have even bothered mentioning a “dark-skinned male” without giving a full description of what you were told. Doing this did nothing to educate the viewer or anybody in the area who may have been directly affected. All you did was prove without a shadow of a doubt you haven’t got a shred of journalistic integrity left in your career.

In print, the New York Post hit us with a bold front page headline proclaiming “BAG MEN: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon,” plastered over a photo showing two men talking to each other. The problem, of course, was that these two men were completely innocent and had nothing to do with the bombings. But the New York Post didn’t give a damn–they got their money headline and sold it to anybody who would bite. Who cares that it was premature, unverified, and could have ruined innocent lives, right? A quick buck trumps journalistic integrity any day!

Then of course we had the armchair detectives all over reddit and other social networks, absolutely certain that they had the entire scene mapped out and had pinpointed every suspect involved. One of the suspects was a young man who had been missing since last month, they said. They were sure of it–there was no way it wasn’t him! Except it wasn’t him, and it wasn’t any of the other “suspects” they pointed out either. This claim was spread so far that by the time the manhunt was on last night, supposedly “respected” journalists were reporting this young man’s name as the “man in the white hat.” Meanwhile, this young man (who I will not name since he IS NOT involved) has been missing since last month when he was supposedly suicidal and left home. If he’s alive, on the off chance he’s been paying attention to anything going on, do you honestly think being portrayed as a murderer and terrorist is going to do anything to help his self-esteem?

There are several other examples since the bombings as well, but these ones stick out as prime examples. So here we have our cable news, printed news and online “news” sources all infiltrated by bad information and misinformed “sources.” Don’t you think that, perhaps, this is exactly what terrorists would hope for, and possibly plan for? What if these guys built this into their plan, banking on spreading misinformation as part of their overall scheme to spread fear? All it would take is a few outlets eager to be the first with the “big break,” and uninterested in spending the extra time and effort to verify it. Move over to social media, and that’s even easier to manipulate and purposefully spread misinformation to suit your own agenda. Thousands upon thousands (if not millions) of armchair detectives salivating at the mouth to be led in the “right direction” and expand on that themselves. Just slip your musings into a forum and watch as they run with it if it’s even the slightest bit believable.

The bottom line is, it’s far better to have an unknown within a situation, instead of fabricating a false reality and then having to backtrack from that. In the age we live in now, people are always going to post their speculations online–that cannot be avoided. Responsible and ethical journalists listen to sources and supposed information, but don’t run with it unless it can be verified through several solid sources. The situation in Boston the past few days has proven that some people just don’t care, and when we allow that disregard for the truth to start spreading, it can become almost impossible to stop. And that’s exactly what our enemies love to see.

Thomas Barr

Thomas Barr

Thomas Barr is a writer, editor and activist who's passionate about progressive ideals, with extra attention given to the fight for universal health care, medical marijuana, and saving our nation from decades of devastating trickle-down policies. Thomas is also a dedicated advocate for Type 1 diabetes research and education.
Be sure to check out his archives on Forward Progressives for more of his viewpoints.
Thomas Barr

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  • IT IS SO WRONG TO REPORT FALSE NEWS…WE AS A COUNTRY NEED TO MAKE THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF ONE’S LIFE IN THE RESULT OF SENSATIONALISM AND LIES IN ORDER TO MAKE HEADLINES AND PROFIT !!! THIS IS NOT ABOUT FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!! BOYCOTT THE NEW YORK POST..FIRE CNN’S JOHN KING AND MAKE CNN PAY DEEP POCKET FINES OR SHUTEM DOWN! NUFF SAID!

    • jabberwocky

      Wrong to report false news? But the progressives have been doing it for years.

      • Say what? Are you just here to throw elbows? Your sense making, or lack there of-is exactly that.

      • Reggie

        Right and Fox News and fair and balanced stop drinking the cool-aid I stop watching News years ago. Get over yourself!

  • the problem is people don’t care about the truth, only their version of it

    • jabberwocky

      The progressives have an agenda. That agenda always trumps the truth.

      • yethica

        Um… WHAT? That statement makes no effing sense WHATSOEVER. What the FUCK do “progressives” have to do with this? This is a case of the news media (and might I add, mostly the RIGHT WING news media) being irresponsible and totally full of shit. I don’t see NPR or MSNBC or BBC World News pointing fingers at the wrong person — I see the New York Post, Fox News, and CNN fucking up. I mean… really. Take off your tin foil hat and see the world for what it is already.

      • Precisely her point. Congratulations for providing an apt illustration!

  • jabberwocky

    Obama has been soft on terrorism. He did not want to kill bin Laden but he knew he had to or the outrage in the US might cost him the election. Now he wants to let even more illegals into our country and give them ObamaPhones and food stamps.

    • Justin Tierney

      Id much rather have lots of immigrents that work hard but need assitstance than someone like you.

      • jabberwocky

        Sorry, you’re stuck with me. More illegals are lazy anyway.

    • MadameDelphi

      Oh you’ve been posting on every comment section on the internet. Do you all work in cubicles? Is the pay good or are you all outsourced too?

      • jabberwocky

        I be the boss man.
        Know what I’m sayin’?

      • pepperinyoureye

        That means you have no job at all, because you are too busy whining on the internet to go look for one.

    • Really

      Obama said in his first campaign that he would get Osama Bin Laden and he did. Now I’m sorry to inject truth into your delusional ramblings, but there it is.

    • You’re so confused that you made me laugh. You should read what you wrote. It’s like you’re drunk and think Obama and Bush were two men blended into one President rather than two very different Presidents. But it’s cool, cause the way you did was really hilarious. So thank you. 😀

      • jabberwocky

        My pleasure.

    • Anonymous

      Really? Lets look at the facts here, 9/11 happened under bush who KNEW it would happen. Bush got us into 2 wars that made more terrorists, and didn’t get Bin Laden, Under bush there were 23 embassy bombings and your so called ‘progressive’ media gave him a pass on all 23! Where several Americans died, one bomb goes off in Libya and kills 4 guards and you call for blood your hypocrisy and idiocy know no bounds do they you dumb ass.

      • Srkeegan

        What revisionist history. Bush was in office for 8 months when 9/11 happened. Clinton knew about AQ for 8 years and did NOTHING after the bombing of The Cole and our African Embassies—even after he was told of bin Laden’s location.

        You accuse the President of willfully allowing the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and then you cry about the Congressional Republicans being unreasonable toward Obama?

        Don’t talk to anybody about hypocrisy.

    • therecomesatime

      you’re an idiot, Dubya initiated the free phone bill. Obama had nothing to do with it

  • What happened to Due Process in North America?
    Why are all big “suspects” hunted to the death?
    And why does society SUPPORT the killing of people who are merely SUSPECTED of a crime before they even enter a courtroom?
    This concerns me greatly. I never thought we were such a stupid civilization.
    Society is one huge mindless lynch mob controlled by the media, who is controlled by greed.

    • tammy

      Bitch this motger fucker blowing up ppl n u suggest to hring him to court?

    • bobn2010

      The suspects are not being ‘hunted to the death.’ The police would be happy to arrest the suspect and allow them their day in court. However, when a suspect shoots at police officers, they have the right to return fire.

    • Well, thank God Tammy at least has more literacy than sense.

    • jabberwocky

      Hunted to death? It was him or another cop.

    • Explosivo

      `Well, shooting at cops is enough of a reason to be shot. If you were being shot at and you were a cop would you just let it happen? No, you’d return fire. had he not shot at the cops he’d have been arrested then he’d have had a trial in a courtroom.

    • Srkeegan

      I love all the liberal hand-wringing.

  • jabberwocky

    Has anyone checked to see if Bill Ayers has an alibi?

  • Silvia Wilson

    Disregard for truth is the mark of a twisted mind. Opinions are not facts. A reasonable person changes their opinions when new facts emerge. A logical person strives to keep an open mind until all the facts are in.

    • All that is meaningless to people who were born “smart”…

  • Srkeegan

    Chris Matthews had no trouble jumping to the conclusion that it was a right wing Tea Party guy because it happened on April 15. As if Tea Party people are just blowing things up left and right.

  • Srkeegan

    Pretty easy to jump to conclusions when they are lobbing bombs at the cops. I’m going to go out on a limb and say these are the guys.

  • I got hammered the other day by a local facebook page for being WRONG, when I just didn’t have ALL the info I missed ‘one man was homeless’ in a shootout and I got vilified in a two paragraph article they failed to mention that the other facts were correct…

  • The New York Post printed “12 dead” about an hour after the bombing. First to print… totally inaccurate info 🙁

  • This is one of the pitfalls of living in a free country – you can say or print almost any kind of baloney and get away with it. The media proves this every day, especially the Right-Wing nutjobs, who often claim their free speech is being suppressed. Crap journalism is definitely a bad thing; but I will say here that the alternative is unthinkable. We simply need to be smarter, better critical thinkers, and learn to sort the wheat from the chaff.