17-year-old Salah Barhoum was one of two teenagers falsely identified by the New York Post as “Bag Men”— a slang term for criminal — on Thursday’s front page in what many are calling a “new low” for the New York tabloid.
The cover story, which featured the photo above of Barhoum and friend Yassine Zaime, cited an internal law enforcement email stating that this photo and others was being circulated in an attempt to identify the individuals therein. It features the young men holding a backpack and duffel bag, which led to suspicion as authorities believe a bag was how the bomber planted the explosive at the scene.
The Post did not specify how many photos were being circulated.
The photo was one of many turned up by the Reddit community, where a group of amateur sleuths had taken it upon themselves to scour images and video clips of the finish-line area of the marathon for possible suspects (read: everyone at the finish-line area of the marathon). Within a few hours a number of photos of the young men were circulating; Barhoum said that friends had begun tagging him in them by late Wednesday. He had called the police early Thursday, only to find out later that day that the Post had preemptively published the photo.
“It’s the worse feeling that I can possibly feel,” said a frightened Barhoum in an interview to ABC. “I’m only 17.”
This follows a week of exceedingly sloppy journalism surrounding the bombings as major news outlets outbid each other for the fastest story and biggest hit counts, leading to multiple instances of false reporting and misinformation.
The Post has since put out an update noting that Barhoum and Zaime had been officially cleared by investigators, but that didn’t stop Post editor Col Allan from defending the story. “We stand by our story,” Allan said. “The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects.”
The incident has led many to question whether the Post was unethical in prematurely publishing the photograph with so little substantiating information. Bahroun, who has since changed the name on his Facebook account, says his whole family is on guard. “I’m going to be scared going to school. Workwise, my family, everything is going to be scary.” His father, El Houssein Barhoum, said that “Right now, we are not secure. So the news [media], when they put something, they should be sure about the information.”
This comes just months after the Post made headlines for publishing a gruesomely insensitive photo of Ki Suk Han, moments before he was run-over by a subway car.
“It hurts,” Barhoum says, “because the person who did it must be happy right now, looking at the people who are getting blamed. And I’m one of them.”