This morning, the New York Post published on its front page a photo of two spectators near the Boston Marathon finish line, one wearing a backpack and one with a duffel bag slung at his side, under the headline "BAG MEN."
"Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon," the giant subhead added.
The two had nothing to do with the bombing. One of them, whose face is clearly shown on the front page, is a 17-year-old high-school runner. They were among the many bag-toting people whose images were being studied by the internet hive-mind yesterday, and there was no good reason to think they were the bombers. Yet there they were, on every newsstand in New York: "Feds seek these two."
As it has been all week, the New York Post was wrong. And as it has all week, the Post denied being wrong. This afternoon—after the Post had run a story conceding that the two were not suspects—Col Allan, the paper's editor, issued a statement defending the front page:
We stand by our story. The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects.
This is legalistic horseshit. In small type, the cover did say that "there is no direct evidence linking them to the crime, but authorities want to identify them." But it was the front page image in the newspaper. The whole point of putting them on the cover was to imply that these two—rather than the dozens of other backpack-bearing figures being scrutinized yesterday—were under serious suspicion.
A normal newspaper editor—someone who wanted a scoop yet was concerned about embarrassing the paper or harming an innocent person—would not have slapped that picture on Page One without some deep underlying confidence that the two were serious suspects, and that the absence of "direct evidence" was a temporary condition. There is no sign that Col Allan had such confidence.
Given all the surrounding discussion and the shaky performance of the Post and its law-enforcement sources, one might even conclude that to have slapped the photo on the front page, an editor would have had to have been cripplingly stupid, cripplingly reckless, or both. We do not know for sure that Col Allan is cripplingly stupid and reckless. We may have heard from sources that Col Allan is stupid and reckless. But we do not know it, so we are not saying it.
Sources have also suggested that Col Allan may drink to excess, but we have no direct knowledge that he is an alcoholic, or that he was drunk at any time that he was guiding the Post through its various blunders in the marathon coverage. Col Allan may have been too drunk to recognize the mistakes that the Post was making—say, to see that it was publishing a front-page photo of young man carrying a royal-blue duffel bag when the authorities were saying the bombs had been in black bags. That is a mistake that a drunk person could conceivably have made, but we do not know that Col Allan was drunk when the Post made it.
The Post had previously identified an innocent Saudi as a suspect before it decided to put this brown-skinned teenager on the front page. The back-to-back focus on innocent people of non-European ancestry could imply that the Post is systematically hostile to nonwhite people, and that the paper's editors are so wedded to the notion that all Muslims are terrorists that they literally do not care which Muslim or "Muslim-looking" person they happen to be targeting on any particular day. We are not saying that Col Allan, motivated by bigotry, is intentionally trying to use the Post to stir up hostility against Muslims. We do not know that Col Allan is a racist. The evidence may suggest that he is a racist, but we are not saying that Col Allan is a racist.
It does seem clear, based on the flow of images and facts through Internet and the media yesterday, that the New York Post found itself sewed to the far end of an informational Human Centipede—evidently beginning with a crowd photo published on Deadspin, passing through Reddit and 4chan and Reddit and Reddit, being passed on to the investigators actively working the Boston case, then trickling through gossip-mongering New York law-enforcement officials, till it flowed over Col Allan's taste buds.
But we are not drawing any conclusions about that. Perhaps Col Allan and the New York Post are having an incredibly unlucky week. Perhaps the worthlessness of every single scoop the Post has had—its inability even to get the body count straight—does not prove that the editor is a booze-addled, race-baiting, information-illiterate moron who has neither the common sense nor the journalistic skills to avoid repeatedly humiliating his newspaper.
We would not say that, any more than we would say that Col Allan fucks pigs. He is from Australia; if he were to engage in bestiality, it's much more likely that it would be with sheep. But we are not saying Col Allan fucks sheep, either. It could be that Col Allan fucks pigs or sheep. We do not know. It would be irresponsible to speculate.
[Image via AP]