From print to broadcast to online, there's very little the media's gotten right about this Boston tragedy before getting it wrong multiple times.
The New York Post exaggerated the death toll from Monday's Boston Marathon bombings by 400 percent before joining InfoWars in misidentifying three different people as possible suspects throughout the week. And during last night's lurid Twitter-Reddit-cable news orgy of speculation -- as shootouts and manhunts across the Boston metro area unfolded on smartphones and computer screens worldwide -- more innocent names were circulated and smeared before the media mob moved on just as quickly.
Excellent reporting on this misreporting, by The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal and others, suggest that once sufficiently frenzied, there's not too much to separate the Internet kangaroo court from mobs of the past in making something huge out of literally nothing.
Not to be outdone or made irrelevant, right-wing radio has also been participating in the witch-hunt. San Francisco's own Michael Savage has a theory, a theory that somehow made it all the way to the halls of Congress.
Boston police and most media appeared to move on quickly from the Saudi Arabian 22-year old who was wounded by shrapnel from the pressure cooker bombs planted in Boston's Back Bay on Monday. Law enforcement officers in the Massachusetts city are at this moment searching for 19-year old Dzokhar Tsarnev, a Cambridge resident and native of Chechnya, in Russia, after he and his brother, Tamerlan, 26, allegedly engaged in a flurry of violence last night. Tamerlan died in a shootout with police, after the brother allegedly killed an MIT police officer and wounded another cop.
Right-wing radio would not be swayed, however. Not one to squander an opportunity to foment ... something, Savage took to the airwaves this week to posit his own theory (before the Tsarnevs became the focus, of course). The Saudi Arabian student would be deported as part of a massive government coverup, the right-wing, San Francisco-based shock jock declared. In other words, the same old story.
Before you dismiss Savage as so many things, consider, as Alternet did, this: Savage hosts the third-most popular political talk show in the United States -- 8 million people tune in every day. His listeners, evidently, include U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan. The Republican went as far as to ask Department of Homeland Secretary secretary Janet Napolitano why someone with "some sort of link to terror" would be deported.
Napolitano rightly reminded the Congressman that no one has been deported. Yet that just means that a massive government coverup is afoot for Savage -- or, in other words, ratings.
It matters little what conspiracies or other leaps of logic the shameless among us will weave out of the events of the past 24 hours. Certainly, there's an Islamophobia thread to be pulled -- one of the brothers had "Peace be with you" in Arabic on his Twitter profiles, and radio reports described the brothers as religious. The problem is that someone, somewhere will swallow pure myths whole and believe them -- and some of the swayed may work on Capitol Hill. And worse, some may feel compelled to act upon them.
Now THAT is terrifying. But at least it's nothing new. The digital native mob is still the mob.