Remember that scene in All the President's Men
in which Woodward and Bernstein are desperately trying to track down a source to confirm the story they already have? And they can't, so Ben Bradlee won't run the story? How quaint! All week, the New York Post
published scoop after scoop about the Boston Marathon Bombing. How'd they beat all the other outlets? Because every time they were wrong—it'll be a great case study for journalism schools in how not
to do journalism: the poorly sourced rush to publish first. It's fashionable in New York to despise the Post
, and I will agree that its editorials are reprehensible, and that its editors often work questionable language into headlines and hard news stories. But I've long respected its reporters (several of whom I know from J-school and elsewhere); ordinarily, the Post
reports the hell out of New York City and beyond. This week, though, it "found itself sewed to the far end of an informational Human Centipede," as Gawker put it
(in a superbly headlined post: "Is the New York Post Edited by a Bigoted Drunk Who Fucks Pigs?"). Here're the biggest stories it got wrong.
news outlet reported that two people had died as a result of the blast, which was true, the Post repeatedly reported
that 12 people had died, which was not. The Onion nailed it
with a piece "by" the Post
's editor: "This Is A Tragedy—Does It Really Matter Exactly How Many People Died Or What Any Of The Details Are?"
When something awful like this happens, you’re not thinking about getting the facts right, or adhering to the basic standards of reporting, or providing people with the correct information they desperately need in a time of crisis, or respecting the families of those involved, or treating human life itself as sacred, or acting like professionals, or thinking about anything other than the amount of page views your story will attract on the internet.
The Saudi Suspect
In two stories
over as many days, the Post
prominently reported about a Saudi man in the hospital who was a suspect, leading the charge in shoehorning the Boston tragedy into a familiar narrative of Middle Eastern terrorism and advancing the inherent racism that had originally led to his detention. (A spectator tackled him because he was "suspicious.") Turns out he was a witness. "He was running—so was everyone," Amy Davidson wrote
at The New Yorker
. "The police reportedly thought he smelled like explosives; his wounds might have suggested why. He said something about thinking there would be a second bomb—as there was, and often is, to target responders. If that was the reason he gave for running, it was a sensible one. He asked if anyone was dead—a question people were screaming. And he was from Saudi Arabia, which is around where the logic stops."
Surely the worst thing
did this week was what it did yesterday—placing photos of two men on the front page of the fucking newspaper
and very strongly implying that they were the bombers. These two men were not
the Tsarnaev brothers; one was a 17-year-old who had wanted to run the marathon. The Post
's language was carefully worded, which might save it from any libel suits, but our ethical standards shouldn't end at the law. This was flat out shit journalism. The editors of the Post
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