A bomb in a major metropolitan area resulted in numerous dead and injured, including children. Lack of information due to the breaking and confusing situation immediately after the terrorist incident leads to rampant speculation and fingers being pointed at suspects. Experts are trotted out, claims are made, and the story runs rampant through the media.
This was 1995, the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. In the immediate aftermath, the media rushed to blame middle eastern terrorists, with memories of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, carried out by Ramzi Yousef, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Nidal A. Ayyad, Abdul Rahman Yasin and Ahmad Ajaj with support from Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. Some even went so far as to claim that there was evidence which tied the attack to four middle eastern men, with the result being an increase in vandalism and attacks on mosques and middle eastern communities across the country. However, instead of a coordinated middle eastern terrorist plot, the bombing was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, a member of a domestic militia movement with the goal of overthrowing the government.
Now, most news outlets have been cautious, and responsible with their handling of the case. But not the radical right-wing media represented by the New York Post. While Boston Police were interviewing witnesses, many in the hospital being treated for their injuries, they found that one of the witnesses was a student from Saudi Arabia named Abdulrhman Ali Alharbi, and immediately ran with this headline:
To the radical right-wing, the 22-year-old could not possibly be a witness, but had to be the terrorist himself. Why else would the police be questioning him? That the police are questioning everyone who was there, even going to witnesses apartments to retrieve evidence such as video recordings and photographs that people in the hospital cannot retrieve themselves, is irrelevant to the radical right-wing media. It is all about this lone student, who, like the other witnesses, is fully cooperating with the police in their investigation. Of course his friends paint a different story, with his classmate Abdullah Alkayid saying, “He’s a geek. He likes to study a lot.”
Instead of considering it an act of international terrorism, authorities are instead approaching it as most likely a domestic terrorist operation. The location and timing of the attack do not fit with the usual tactics used by foreign nationals, but they do with those who operate as domestic terrorists, radical right-wing groups who feel that the Constitution is a religious document and can only be understood by true believers. These groups are fed by a radical right-wing media and given terrorists wrapped in the American flag and called patriots to have as heroes. The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report just last month warning of the increasing threat of radical right-wing terrorist movements within the United States, groups dedicated to eliminating democracy and imposing their own form of dictatorship, all in the name of “patriotism.”
The response to the tragedy in Boston reveals the truth about people. While some worked to help their fellow-man, others used it as a rallying cry to force their viewpoints, and exploit the tragedy for their own personal gain. In this case, you find news agencies with an agenda to push for a war with Islam, believing that it is their sacred duty to “destroy the heathens” pushing a dialog which promotes this narrow world view. Any time something like this happens, blame the Muslim. They have twisted this logic to the point that any time they disagree on a point, they call the opposing person a Muslim as if it is something to be ashamed or afraid of.
The radical right-wing media outlet found that one of the witnesses was from Saudi Arabia, and immediately blamed him for the incident. By doing that, they made the ability to gather correct information, the facts of the case, far more difficult. Within a short period, the New York Post piece had spread, having been picked up by numerous news agencies who took the New York Post at its word. They then were all discredited at once, when the Boston Police Department dismissed this claim entirely, and have labelled the 22-year-old as a witness, not a suspect.
This incident is a tragedy for the United States. But it is a tragedy for journalistic ethics as well. By the New York Post rushing to play the blame game, they may have unwittingly assisted the real culprit in this case. People who may have had critical information will not go to the police, believing incorrectly that the terrorist has been apprehended already. By their direct actions, the New York Post has aided and abetted those behind this terrorist act.
As news comes in, the real criminals in this case are being sought. But it is through methodical, careful analysis of the facts which will catch them, just as it was with the Oklahoma City bombing, not rampant speculation designed to push an anti-Muslim agenda. As of Tuesday morning, the New York Post has not yet taken down the article, nor released a retraction. This is irresponsible, and it is itself a form of terrorism.
Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.
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