Boston And The Right-Wing Media's Collapse
April 19, 2013 2:16 PM EDT ››› ERIC BOEHLERT
Prefacing his comments by insisting he knows "how foreign affairs work," Glenn Beck on April 18 announced that his website, The Blaze, was breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing: A Saudi national student on a student visa and was "absolutely involved" in the Patriot's Day blast was being deported by the U.S. government for security reasons.
Beck went further, claiming the student, or "dirt bag," as the host described him, was "possibly the ringleader" in the bombing that killed three people and injured more than one hundred, and the government was deliberately covering it up.
Beck urged listeners to spread the breaking news via Twitter and Facebook because, he warned, the mainstream media would ignore the revelation. But the right-wing media would pick up the slack. Fox News' Sean Hannity helped launch the story on April 17 and continued to fan it yesterday, claiming the student had previously "been involved with a terrorist or terror activity," while a swarm of right-wing sites pushed the paranoid tale.
By making his wild allegations, Beck was asking listeners to ignore the fact that law enforcement officials had previously, and repeatedly, denied earlier right-wing media claims that the Saudi student had been taken into "custody," or was in any way responsible for the blast.
Indeed, officials at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security both soundly denied the story, explaining that there were two different Saudi nationals: one recovering in a Boston hospital who had witnessed and been injured in the explosions but was not a suspect, and another in ICE custody who was unrelated to the bombing investigation. Beck responded by calling for President Obama to be impeached for what he considered the sprawling government cover-up that now surrounded the student, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
So yeah, it was that kind of week for the right-wing media. It was a debacle.
In the same week that Pulitzer prizes were announced honoring the finest in American journalism, many in the far-right media worked to set news standards in mindless, awful behavior in the wake of the Boston attack.
Faced with covering the most important American terror news story in a decade, too many players opted to just make stuff up. Prompting witch hunts, they cast innocents as would-be killers and then couldn't be bothered with apologies.
It was a memorable week in which the conservative media's highest profile newspaper, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, seemed committed to getting as many stories wrong about the Boston attack as possible.
The hapless Post somehow managed to completely botch the simplest Journalism 101 fact of how many people were killed in the Patriot's Day attack. But hey, according to beleaguered Post editor Col Allan thePost tried its best and that's all that really matters. (It would've taken a "crystal ball" to get the story right, Allan now complains.) So no, there doesn't appear to be much introspection unfolding inside Murdoch's daily; a big-city tabloid that managed to get wrong, for days, a breaking crime story.
Yes, CNN this week was forced to concede mistakes when it reported sources had informed the news channel that arrests had been made in the case. But CNN quickly, and publicly, corrected the errors. Those unfortunate miscues happen when reporters let a be-first mindset trump the more important be-right standard. What we saw from portions of the far-right press this week however, was completely different; they almost couldn't have gotten more stories if they had tried.
Of course Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham used the terror attacks to push her partisan agenda about immigration reform. (This, before she knew anything about the suspects.) Of course chronic Obama critics like Fox News host Oliver North attacked the president for traveling to Boston to attend a prayer service for the terror victims; to try to help comfort the rattled city. And of course Fox News couldn't wait more than five minutes after that prayer service concluded before inviting Stephen Hayes on to criticize Obama for how he'd handled the issue of gun legislation.
That's what anti-Obama programming looks like and Fox News saw little reason to alter that chronically caustic approach this week.
What was truly stunning though, as highlighted by irresponsible rants about the Saudi student, was the aggressive push by key conservative media players to simply concoct stories about the breaking news event.
Back to Beck:
Keep in mind, this was after unethical right-wing bloggers had already harassed the Saudi bombing victim online, publishing his name, home address, and what they claimed were Facebook pictures of the 20-year-old Saudi national student. The same student police had cleared of any implication in the blast. (His only crime this week appeared to be his Saudi origin.)
"I believe this is possibly the ringleader, this guy is absolutely involved, and we are flying this dirt bag out of the country because he has connections and we are covering up."
And who led the early crusade against the bomb victim? Murdoch's New York Post, which erroneously reported he was a "suspect" who had been taken "into custody."
The same Post, of course, which then made headlines by irresponsibly splashing on its front page a photo of two local men at the marathon finish line, one a high school runner, and putting them under the headline "Bag Men," strongly suggesting they were involved with the terror attack. They were not. But that didn't stop ethically-challenged blogger Jim Hoft from referring to them six times in one report as "suspects" in the deadly blast.
"Grossly irresponsible" and "egregious" were some of the descriptions media pro's used to explain the Post'sshocking performance this week. As one journalism professor told Media Matters, "It does appear that the Post, there is something crazy going on there."
Trust me, it's not just the Post.