The horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon dominated the news again Tuesday, even though there was nothing new to report. There were the sympathetic portraits of the victims and celebratory tales of the kindness and heroism that also occurred, both of which are obligatory rites of journalism in the aftermath of such tragedies, but nothing to answer the crucial questions of who was responsible.
Journalists are obliged to write something about such events, however, and after 35 years of working for newspapers we can attest that most of them are loathe to admit when they have no answers. We’ve had numerous editors over the years who insisted on answers to unanswerable questions, apparently under the impression that the ultimate truth is just another phone call and any failure to provide it is a dereliction of journalistic duty, and in today’s dwindling labor market too many reporters are eager to oblige them even without any sound proof. There are always the sympathetic portraits to write, which make for grim duty but contribute some small human aspect to the truth, as well as the celebratory tales of kindness and heroism, which are also a true part of the story and certainly merit celebration, but in his heart the typical reporter of our experience wants to be able to point a finger of blame.
All the better if one is able to point that dreaded finger at the preferred villains, which explains the eagerness of so many in the establishment media to note that the culprit might be a right-wing extremist. At this point it is quite true that it might be so, given that no definitive evidence has been uncovered to prove otherwise, but it would be just as true and just as pointless to note that it might also be a left-wing extremist or an Islamist extremist or any number of other sorts of extremists. The main evidence offered for the right-wing extremist theory is that the attacks occurred on the day that income taxes are due, but the more pertinent fact would seem to be that it occurred on the day of the Boston Marathon.
Other sources would prefer to implicate Islamist terrorists, which seems at least as plausible as any other explanation. There is some circumstantial evidence for the theory that is worth reporting, such as the similarity of the bomb to the improvised explosive devices that have been used against American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it does not constitute proof of anything. Should the theory be proved it will surely be followed by reminders that the work of a few extremists should not reflect poorly on a broader ideology, a point that those blaming right-wing extremism have not made on behalf of conservatism, but to much of the press Islamist terrorists are not the preferred villains.
Journalists needing something to write about as they await real information about the Boston Marathon bombings have no lack of material. The on-going debates about guns and illegal immigration have been so completely overlooked in the aftermath of Monday’s bombing that a savvy Senator might well choose to rush through something that would provoke widespread public outrage in different circumstances, and there’s a trial of an abortion doctor going in Philadelphia that much of the press has been looking for reasons to ignore.
The bombings in Boston are of the utmost importance, of course, but that’s all the more reason to wait until there are hard facts to report.
— Bud Norman