Boston Marathon Bombing Was Plagued By Media Irresponsibility

Now that the world knows that the Boston Marathon bombers were Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, let's take a moment to reflect on who was NOT responsible.

It wasn't that Saudi Arabian guy who was blamed on the first day. It wasn't the tall skinny guy in the blue shirt whose picture was plastered all over the New York Post, nor was it his friend. Most important of all, it wasn't every single Muslim in America.

I make the first two observations because, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist act, media organizations irresponsibly jumped on any fragment of a hint they could find as to the perpetrator's identity. As a result, several innocent men were pre-emptively identified as possible suspects by the media before full information had been provided.

Since these men have suffered enough by having their names and/or faces dragged through the mud, I'm not going to continue their sufferng by citing their personal information here. Likewise, in order to avoid rewarding the news organizations which libelled them, I refuse to include links to the websites which pointed the finger at these men, since I don't want to increase their hits. Instead I'm going to share this quote from Richard Jewell, a security guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta who was likewise wrongly blamed by the media for an instance of sporting event terrorism:

"The heroes are soon forgotten. The villains last a lifetime. I dare say more people know I was called a suspect than know I was the one who found the package and know I was cleared."

One would think that, after ruining an innocent man's life 17 years ago, the media would be especially diligent in practicing morally responsibility today. Unfortunately, that notion would be based on two erroneous assumptions: That the media is morally responsible in the first place and that the media is willing to learn from its mistakes.

Assuming that there is any faint hope of the latter occurring, however and I am just quixotic enough to swing at the windmills on this one I will arrive at the final point made in my earlier paragraph:

If the media wants to walk away from this ordeal with even a semblance of its ethical character intact, it will emphasize as often as possible that the vast majority of Muslims had absolutely nothing to do with, and have no sympathy for, this terrorist act.

Already message board comments are popping up everywhere that revert to the hoary old Islamophobic claims that have become especially prevalent since September 11. Ignoring how each of the last three national mass murders were perpetrated by white males (a white supremacist shooting up the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and two lone nuts doing so at the movie theater in Colorado and the elementary school in Connecticut), these individuals risk creating a climate in which discriminatory attitudes toward Muslims endanger our society's pluralistic fabric, one that is absolutely vital to the maintenance of American ideals.

While it is unlikely that the media will be able to persuade outright bigots, it does have the opportunity to dispel anti-Muslim attitudes that may be brewing among those who have not yet made up their minds. This is the last opportunity they have to do something right during a situation that has cast members of their vocation in a distinctly unflattering light. Until then, the world will have to look back wistfully at the time when a man like Thomas Jefferson could honestly say, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Matthew Rozsa

is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University as well as a political columnist. His editorials have been published in "The Morning Call," "The Express-Times," "The Newark Star-Ledger," "The Baltimore Sun," and various college newspapers and blogs. I actively encourage people to reach out to me at matt.rozsa@gmail.com.

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