This is a post about bad journalism.
I don’t really want to weigh in on the events of the past week in Boston, but… I can’t help it.
I’m not taking sides. I’m very sure that there is a good reason that the police believe the Tsarnaev brothers are responsible for the bombings at the Boston marathon on Monday. I mean… right? There have to be leads that have been followed.
However, in the news this week I’ve read that a Saudi national was in custody in hospital, following the bombings.
Then I heard that a pair of high school students of Moroccan ancestry were the suspects.
Now, it seems fairly certain that the Tsarnaevs did it (because they’re Muslim Chechens, so you know, they’re from a scary religion and a scary country. But they’re white? I’m confused).
(Please don’t even leave a comment getting shitty at me unless you’ve read this blog before and you understand my (perhaps inappropriate) humour.)
Anyway. Like I said, I don’t want to speculate or take sides. Last night I was reading the Twitter feed of the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (not going to link to it – you can find it easily). The things that people were saying to him were horrific. I actually had to stop reading. I’ve managed to convince myself over the past few years that Twitter is a wonderful melting pot of people that, although I’ll never meet most, suggest to me that this world is full of wonderful, interesting, passionate, creative people.
Then there are the people who felt a need to tweet this 19 year old boy and threaten him with the most horrendous, most violent, most vile things I’ve ever seen come out of the mouths (fingers?) of human beings.
I get that these are impassioned times. I’m as disturbed by the bombings as anyone else. I was meant to fly in to Boston last Sunday, and would have been in Boston on Monday. I didn’t know it was marathon weekend, but maybe I would’ve gone. I probably would have been fine. But maybe I wouldn’t have. But I’m affected by this on a human level, in that I still can’t believe that people are so terrible to each other. That there’s so much hate. There’s a part of me that wants to give up and accept that it’s a really fucking shitty world, but there’s a bigger part of me that has to keep believing that things don’t have to be this bad, and that we’ve got the capacity to be better to ourselves and each other.
Even as I write this, I feel guilty that I’m talking about this event instead of focusing on all the other injustices that occur in the world on a daily basis. The reality is, though, that as Australians, we do identify with many events that happen in the United States. They’re “our” (and by that I mean that institutionally, not on an individual, personal level) closest allies. So much of our culture is influenced by them. I don’t necessarily feel a strong kinship with Americans, but I see an event like Monday’s bombings, and I can’t help but feel shocked by it.
Way back to my point, though.
I’m a news junkie, and a Twitter junkie, and over the past week I’ve read some wildly inaccurate content, both on official news sites and on Twitter. It seems like the major news networks were getting their information from Twitter, and Twitter was getting their information from the news networks, in a vicious cycle of inaccuracy. There are a number of academics that I follow, though, who live in Boston, and I came to read their Twitter feeds more than others.
This event, more than others in the past, made me consider how accurate social media is. It’s so wonderful that we can know exactly what is going on as it happens, but how much panic is symptomatic of misinformation tweeted, then retweeted, then syndicated to other platforms? How terrifying it must be to be in the midst of such an event, reading Twitter, unable to call your family, and not knowing what to believe.
an image from boston yesterday, courtesy of twitter – i think it was @interdome, but apologies if i’ve credited the wrong person
I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to checking news.com.au over the past week. I know it’s the least reliable and certainly most ridiculous news outlet in the entire universe. Articles are littered with spelling and factual errors on the reg. I remember one time that they lifted a “news” article directly from a blog without giving credit. (I know this because I’d read the original on the blog in question two weeks earlier!)
News.com.au are fucking terrible. Having studied journalism for a year, though, I have this sneaking suspicion that the people responsible for writing the appalling articles on news.com.au are the cream of the crop in their class – the students with the best results and the most experience and impressive references.
Or maybe they’re written by monkeys.
I know I shouldn’t read news.com.au. I know. Every time I do, I respect myself a little bit less. Tonight’s read through provided a real doozy, though. Reporter Paul Toohey ended his article, published at 8:47pm, ended with this little gem, regarding the Tsarnaev brothers:
Instead, they brought the war, a war they knew little about, to the country that gave them sanctuary.
Did they bring the war? How does Mr Toohey know that these young men know nothing of (what I assume was) the Chechen war?
I have a friend whose parents emigrated from Ireland during The Troubles. She knows everything about the world her parents left.
My best friends parents are from Libya, a country that has been in turmoil for most of recent history. She knows everything about the world her parents left.
Other friends parents left Bosnia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Macedonia, Russia.
Why shouldn’t the Tsarnaev brothers know about the war that drove their family to seek a better life for them in American? You certainly can’t say they are replicating a war (of which they were apparently ignorant) in a country that “gave them sanctuary”.
Sanctuary? Clearly Mr Toohey’s never witnessed the racism that migrants experience on a daily basis (racism which, incidentally, extends far beyond the migrant generation, with children of children of migrants – second, third, fourth generation Australians, Americans, British, still told to go back to where they came from).
Maybe they did it. Maybe they did bring the war. But as far as I know (and I probably don’t know shit, even though I have (most of) a Masters degree in journalism), the role of journalists is to impartially, objectively report the facts.
Guilty until proven guilty in a court that will never give them a fair trial. Mainstream news, and those who jump the gun upon consuming it, are as big a terrorist collective as those they so desperately fear.