by Audrey Pietrucha
It was just after four o’clock in the afternoon last Monday when I exited the New York State Thruway and drove toward my sister’s house outside of Rochester. A CD I had been listening to ended and I turned on the radio to the shocking reports coming out of Boston. Like almost every other American, I was stunned and horrified. I grieved for the dead, the injured and their families. I hurt for the city and worried for my nation.
When I reached my sister’s home a few minutes later, we turned the television to ABC news. There was not much new information yet – the attack had taken place only 45 minutes or so earlier. However, information is not always necessary in today’s media, as I discovered when ABC’s national security analyst, Richard Clarke, started speculating about the motivation for the bombs.
Clarke pointed out it was Patriots’ Day as well as the day by which tax returns must be filed and concluded a right-wing, small-government, ideologically-driven group could be responsible for the carnage. Huh?
To come to such a conclusion based on as little evidence as a calendar date is highly irresponsible but it was soon apparent that Clarke was not the only one making reckless accusations. Over the next few hours and days pundits filled the airwaves and cyberspace with the logical fallacy that some people hate taxes and oppressive government and therefore are potential domestic terrorists.
From Wolf Blitzer and Chris Matthews to Anderson Cooper and Peter Bergen any mention of domestic terrorism was accompanied by some variation of “It could be some right-wing group. “ On Twitter New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff linked the bombing to the Senate Republicans blocking some appointments at the ATF (he later apologized). Michael Moore also made insinuations via Twitter. “2+2= “ said one tweet. A later one was more explicit: “Tax Day. Patriots (sic)Day.”
It was a stark contrast to the sensitivity shown toward other potential perpetrators of this violence. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod defended the president’s refusal to use the term “terror attack” immediately after the bombs went off so as to avoid creating suspicion of foreign groups. Fair enough, but Axelrod then proceeded to create suspicion of domestic groups by pointing out “It was tax day.”
Liberal commentator David Sirota went so far as to write a column entitled “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” The substance of Sirota’s column – that the nationality and ethnicity of the party responsible for this attack will influence how we deal with it – was obscured by his unconscionable wish that a fellow American be the culprit in the marathon bombing.
The head of one liberal organization had the integrity to decline a ride on the “shoot your mouth off now, ask questions later” punditry bandwagon. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said what many political observers were thinking. “You know, I’ve never seen anything like THIS from the radical right, you know, bombs simply in the middle of random crowds . . . I don’t have any particular feeling about where this may have come from, but you know, maybe it’s worth thinking about the target a little bit.” He went on to point out anti-government terror is usually aimed at government symbols, representatives and buildings and concluded,“ It seems to me the only thing that really ties all of the victims together is they were Americans.”
Indeed they were and, at that awful moment, so were those who came to their aid, no matter their country of origin. The people who lined the streets of Boston and experienced the horror of the bomb attack fought past their own feelings of panic, fear and confusion to help one another. No one asked about party affiliation, religious views or political ideology. As President Obama said in his speech following the attack, “ . . . on days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats — we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens.”
It is disheartening that so many members of the media gave in to an impulse to divide Americans at a time we should have been united in our support for our fellow countrymen. That people who had absolutely nothing to do with this attack were made guilty by association for even a short time is unconscionable.
It is understandable that some facts and details will be missed in the initial chaos surrounding a story such as this but to willfully go beyond facts and into the realm of guesswork is irresponsible. It is human to want to understand events and why they have happened but media professionals have an obligation to avoid premature and uninformed conjecture. By virtue of their profession their words have the power to be heard and believed by many. They need to, as much as possible, get them right.
Audrey Pietrucha is a member of the executive board of Vermonters for Liberty. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.