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News on tragedies should inform, not entertain

I’m not denying that the events were tragic. Tragic beyond comprehension. But I don’t want to talk about the twisted narrative of the Boston bombings – I want to talk about what was done with it.

The Boston attacks were a tragedy fully covered by the media. Witnesses documented the events on social media as they unfolded, blurring the line between experiencing and reacting. On the one hand, this was incredibly helpful to investigators who clung to any possible clues. However, when reactions precede information, there are high costs.

According to a National Geographic news article from April 26, “a Saudi student, injured in the blast, was tackled by another bystander and labeled a suspect by The New York Post.” Before Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were identified as prime suspects, the hashtag #Muslims was trending on Twitter. Prayers and well-wishes ran alongside blind accusations and sheer prejudiced hatred.

Not everyone can get on board with Ron Paul’s politics, but he made an eerie observation to Politico: “The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city.” Paul cited brutal home searches performed without official warrants and civilians threatened at gunpoint.

Of course, in the high drama of an alleged terrorist attack, it’s hard to see anything beyond the initial shock. What makes terrorism distinctive from other forms of violence is its ability to pull an entire nation into an undertow of cold fear. Yet, if we’ve learned anything from the 9/11 era, it’s that we have to be vigilant about our civil liberties, even in the wake of tragedy. No, especially in the wake of tragedy – because that’s when they are most likely to be violated.

Attacks on American soil inevitably clog up the news media. I recall checking the Atlantic Wire on the Sunday after the bombing six days later and the top 10 most-clicked stories all focused on the recently-identified suspects. As we moved into the next week, news outlets peddled stories about Dzhokhar’s collegiate pot smoking and small-scale dealing.

It’s natural to want to know exactly who is to blame, and what factors might have led them to do what they did – but by this point, were we acting like responsible citizens and informing ourselves, or were we just indulging in cheap sensationalism? More importantly, when we gorge on inconsequential details of the bombers’ lives and entertain their family’s media-courting nonsense, what is passing by without our notice?

It’s nothing new, but in the past year, we’ve been extra-guilty of giving perpetrators more attention than victims and helpers. We give gossip more attention than political action. That’s why the coverage of the Steubenville rape trials was so provocative and disturbing. Apparently, not much is changing. We’re watching the same skewed patterns reincarnate themselves.

Always remember to look for the story that isn’t being told; headline news or “most popular” articles will always cater to traffic over truth.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Abby Grosse ’15 is from North Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and women’s and gender studies.

Illustration by Daniel Bynum