Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

Sensationalism over the Boston ­Bombing blew public response out of proportion

Opinion | Philippe Schennach | May 2013

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, fear mongering was rampant.The news coverage was sensationalised and empathy selectively applied. It was a media race to racism, immediate and disturbingly familiar. Everyone wanted to be the first to report on the identity, nationality and ethnicity of the culprits.

But surely, reality was bad enough. The city didn’t need the endless speculation, often unfounded, and inflated reports of the nature of the threat. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was captured on 19 April and has since been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction. His elder brother and fellow bomb suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died during the police chase.

Three people were killed and more than 260 were wounded during the horrific event.

Through our concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others, we can try and put ourselves in the position of those who have lost loved-ones or were so brutally injured to understand how painful this time must be for them. But if just a fraction of that compassion and outrage was also directed at the many U.S. perpetrated attacks on innocent victims in other countries, it would be a victory for perspective.

According to Iraq Body Count, an ongoing human security project, 71 civilians faced a violent death in Iraq on 23 April, as an enduring result of the U.S.-led invasion. They weren’t all victims of the same incident, but rather various incidents taking place throughout the country.

It is understandable that western media places greater emphasis on calamities that happen nearby, but when an innocent life is pointlessly lost, it deserves the same level of empathy, whether as a result of a terrorist attack, a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan, or poor safety standards that cause a garment factory to collapse burying its workers within.

However, major events like this have stark political implications and there will be those who use this to advance their own agendas through fear. Although the Obama administration advised against early conclusions, the shows of hatred towards Muslims and the threats of violent retaliation, were thoughtlessly publicised by others through the various vices of social media. Twitter in particular circulated thousands of hateful and blatantly racist comments.

Nate Bell, an anti-gun-control Republican, tweeted an insensitive message aimed at liberal Bostonians: "I wonder how many Boston liberals spend the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?"

The same day of the marathon bombing, guns murdered 11 Americans, and more than 30,000 Americans die through gun violence every year, compared to the 17 who died last year in terror attacks. But populist pundits like to strike fear in the hearts of their viewers. Fox News’s Erik Rush sent out an Islamophobic tweet following the bombing.

When he was questioned whether he might actually be blaming Muslims prematurely, as no solid information was yet available, he replied: "Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all." He later retracted this statement, saying he was being sarcastic.

Even news organisations like CNN falsely ran John King’s exclusive news update that described the bomber as a "dark-skinned male" with a "foreign accent", before retracting the report as false. The Murdoch-owned New York Post ran a cover story implicating two innocent high school students as possible suspects.

The FBI even released a statement calling on journalists to be more thorough with their investigations: "Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media," requested Special Agent Greg Comcowich, "… to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting."

But misinformation spread like a wildfire. Petr Gandalovic, the Czech ambassador to the United States was worried that Americans on social media sites appeared to confuse the Czech Republic with Chechnya – a Russian republic where the two suspects’ parents were born.

Gandalovic found it necessary to explain that two similar sounding country names, must not necessarily be the same: "As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding. The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities."

Sometimes too little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

As a result of misinformation and fear mongering, Muslims living in the U.S. are bracing themselves for retaliation, according to a BBC investigation.

Although many feel they have seen progress in recent years, it is sad to see how an act of terror by solitary individuals, can condemn an entire community.

Philippe Schennach is TVR Online Editor and is a regular ­contributor to The Vienna Review. He holds a BA in Politics and International Studies from ­Warwick University, and is completeing an MA in East Asian Society and Economy.

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