Boston: Worst Media Performance Ever?

Probably not. Recall, to cite just one recent example, how the news media got virtually every fact wrong during the first hours and days after the Newtown shootings. Still, the media’s Boston performance has been atrocious, to the point where the FBI released a statement chiding the press:

[C]ontrary to widespread reporting, there have been no arrests made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. …

Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.

What is unique about the Boston Marathon atrocity is that it occurred not only in a public place, but a public place that was full of people taking pictures and videos. As a result, there is a treasure trove of images that, one would think, inevitably will show investigators who placed the lethal packages on the ground. Amateur sleuths have combed through the many available photos and videos and have identified several possible bombers. This conspiracy-peddling site is typical, and who knows? Maybe one or more of they suspects they have fingered will turn out to be the culprit.

Unfortunately, outlets that should have known better, like CNN and the New York Post, have jumped into the fray and either published photos of men identified as suspects or described them in a way that would be familiar to those following the online frenzy. These two guys, a 17-year-old high school runner and his track coach, were so identified, but apparently are innocent:

It strikes me as almost inevitable that the authorities will be able to identify the perpetrator(s) before long; in the meantime, speculation is unhelpful at best. One observation, though: it is interesting that when there is a bombing, we immediately assume that a group was responsible and the motive was political. On the other hand, when there is a mass shooting, we tend to assume the perpetrator is a lone nut. But is there any reason why a lone nut (or maybe a pair of nuts) couldn’t fabricate a bomb rather than use a gun? No. Bombs are, of course, a little more trouble. But so is ricin, and the perpetrator of the latest ricin attack apparently was an Elvis impersonator with delusions.

For what it’s worth–probably zero–my instinct is that the Boston attack was not carried out by Islamic terrorists. That’s just a suspicion, based on how the attack was executed and, of course, the fact that no group has claimed responsibility. If I were to speculate, I would guess that the bombing was the act of a lunatic with no more coherent political or philosophical agenda than a James Holmes or a Ted Kaczynski. But that’s just a guess; we will know the answer soon enough, in all likelihood.

UPDATE: The FBI has released photos of the suspects here.

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