When the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred, I immediately knew two things were going to happen. First, people were going to mouth off and engage in passive-aggressive yet incendiary speculation about the Tea Party. The Tea Party is anathema to my political, social and moral beliefs but even I tensed as people pointed out the links between Tax Day and Patriot Day, both happening on April 15th, and the Tea Party. And when I say people, I mean liberal pundits, and I was not disappointed. Michael Moore and David Axelrod were the two whose comments I found the most ridiculous (I didn’t mind Chris Matthews mentioning that most domestic terrorists in the USA are from the extreme right wing because it’s an accurate statement based on actual evidence – this just wasn’t the right time to bring it up). We live in a world of pundits. Everyone with a little bit of knowledge and access to a television camera offers instant opinions based on very little fact and we pay them to do it. It used to be that pundits were experts, but perhaps we now need to rethink their value because when the truth matters the most they seem to do more harm than good. When Moore and Axelrod postulated about the Tea Party, there was zero proof of anything other than that two bombs went off and that people were gravely injured. Their speculation about who was to blame was irresponsible.
The response to this was equally as tiresome. With no small amount of disgust, I noticed the sanctimonious and oh-so-offended tones of those on the right, so sorely aggrieved that anyone would think the right wing responsible for bombings, as if Tim McVeigh, Eric Rudolph and Ted Kaczynski did not exist. But all of that’s beside the point. I advise all people who were not injured in the attack or who are not close to someone injured in the attack to pull up their socks and stop making this terrible tragedy all about them and their sense of continual victimization.
The second thing I knew would happen was that Alex Jones would declare it a false flag operation launched against innocent citizens by a government so craven it would kill its own in order to erode our civil rights. His bloviating performance during the Sandy Hook shooting caused many like me to expect the worst from him and on cue, just like the barking seal he is, he began to perform for the paranoid types who make up the core of his support. Grass is green, sky is blue, blood is on the ground, and Alex Jones is pandering to the delusions of the crowd. It must be Monday.
But even though pundits are loosely considered journalists in this country, I was not prepared for the utter failure of not just the journalists in the USA, but journalists worldwide, to cover the bombings in a professional manner. I expect pundits to act like fools – it’s what they are paid to do. I expect Alex Jones to concoct improbable conspiracies and pass them off as news – it is what he is paid to do. But I did not expect mainstream media, supposedly run by trained journalists, to go so very wrong as they adopted the instant idiocy of punditry and the Infowars tactic to treat every rumor as fact. I know we are a society wherein we demand instant news and that CNN, the New York Post and other “legitimate” news sources were just trying to give us what we want, but the fact that legitimate news media decided to use the same metrics as Reddit to determine the factual worthiness of information they received is distressing and cannot be excused just because people want instant news.
I posit the complete news failures we witnessed and are still witnessing happened because the mainstream media and pundits followed the examples set by conspiracy-mongers like Alex Jones. The mainstream media failed to follow some of the most basic rules of journalism in their reporting of the Boston Marathon Bombings and acted as if they, hubs of world news, needed to behave like people on message boards, reporting every tiny bit of information before vetting it, giving as much credence to chatter on a police radio as they did to actual news releases from the Boston police and the FBI. It is nothing short of knee-slappingly hilarious that after such a failure of basic reporting ethics and rules, the mainstream media tried to blame social media sites like Reddit for muddying the waters as members worked over every detail of the bombings, coming to good conclusions, bad conclusions and outright crazy conclusions. In a world where proper journalism matters, the mutterings on message boards mean nothing. The media blaming Reddit for their failures and the harms they caused is pathetic and sniveling. Whether or not we like the idea that people gather on social media sites to engage in armchair sleuthing, it happens and will continue to happen. Armchair sleuths are not the problem. Mainstream media who give credence to armchair sleuths are the problem, but, as we will see, just reading the Find Boston Bombers subReddit was hardly the whole of the media failure.