The Boston Marathon Bombings and the Importance of Getting the Story Right

BostonI don’t like second guessing journalists who are covering breaking news, especially on live television.  It’s not easy.  Early on the story is changing by the second and it’s hard to stay on top of each new development.  So mistakes are going to be made.  And in the Boston Marathon bombing story, journalists got an awful lot wrong.

Important mainstream news organizations reported that more than two bombs were found. The venerable Associated Press citing a “senior in U.S. intelligence official” said, “Two more explosive devices have been found near the scene of the Boston marathon where two bombs detonated earlier.”  The Wall Street Journal put the number at 5.  Wrong.

CNN, where America supposedly goes for news when something big happens, said a suspect was in custody.  Wrong.

To make matters worse, CNN said he was “a dark-skinned individual.” Wrong.

The New York Post said there were “at least” 12 people dead.  Wrong.

The same paper put the picture of two innocent young men on its front page under a headline that read “Bag Men.”  Wrong.

They said a Saudi national was a person of interest.  Wrong.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof couldn’t resist the temptation to inject his liberal politics into the story.  On Twitter he wrote: “Explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment.”

He later apologized, saying it was a “low blow and I take it back.”

In the fog of war – and two bombs going off with the intent to kill and maim innocent civilians is a kind of war — journalists will get things wrong.  So those of us who were watching from the comfort of our living rooms, shouldn’t be too harsh.  But reporters need to be called on their many mistakes – because their self-inflicted wounds hurt all of us.

Every reporter wants to get the big scoop, they all understandably want to be first with an important break in the story.  But there’s a price to pay for such ambition:  Your audience will stop believing you.  I did.

Remember that stick up at the 7-11, supposedly pulled off by the brothers?  I still don’t know if that really happened.  You heard the story about how they hijacked an SUV and confessed to the driver that they were the bombers?  Did they really confess or did the press get that one wrong too?

After a while whenever a TV reporter went on the air to report something new I said to myself, “Yeah, sure.  I’ll believe it when I see it.”  This is not good for an American institution whose credibility rating is somewhere around that of used car dealers.  In a free country we need a mainstream media that we trust.

But there’s another group that has gotten off way too easy: those supposedly reliable, credible, highly placed sources.  Journalists didn’t make up their false information.  They didn’t concoct a single “fact” to boost their ratings or their personal reputations.  Every piece of incorrect information came from those reliable, credible, highly places sources – in law enforcement.

Let’s go behind the curtain to see how this could happen.

FBI sources on the scene, the ones who knew the most, clammed up early.  They weren’t sharing what they knew with the media.  So reporters had to depend on other sources who wanted to be in the loop, even though they weren’t.  These incredible sources needed to feel like they were in on the action so they passed along whatever they had –rumors, gossip, unreliable stuff they picked up on the grapevine —  to journalists anxious for any crumb they could get.

When something terrible happens, television is where most of us (who aren’t following the “news” on Twitter) go to find out what’s going on.  And television did a good job a lot of the time.  They let us in on the action as it was unfolding.  To me, the TV coverage in Boston was like a reality show:  when something wild was going on it was fascinating; when nothing was going on – which was most of the time – it was painful in a way that watching paint dry can be painful.  How many times can you watch the first bomb going off before you scream, “ENOUGH!”

Journalists should learn from their mistakes, but what’s a reporter to do when a supposedly credible law enforcement official tells a journalist he has information that is accurate?  What’s the reporter supposed to do when he gets the same wrong information from more than one “credible” source?

So the next time something terrible happens journalists will want to be first with the big scoop all over again. That’s how it should be. It’s in their DNA.  Reporters will want to believe what their sources tell them.  And there’s a 100 percent chance a lot of the information will be dead wrong, again.  And a crucially important American institution will lose yet more of its precious credibility while the unreliable sources get off easy.

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  • worldwatchers

    The FBI release pictures of two guy and they are Muslims bet
    that’s why Obama let that Saudi go. Bet he tried to bury these pictures someone
    at least is a patriot that released the pictures. I have followed the world for so many years and time will tell if Hussein protects his peo­ple?? For all you fools that follow him don’t you wonder why not one thing he has done has helped America he has stopped job creation given away of military secrets. Given hundreds of million of dollars to the people who hate and want to destroy America. It was so important to keep the Muslim
    bombers quiet Obama made sure to give Miranda rights to anyone they find that
    might have knowledge of this attack. Just like Benghazi where the United States of America allowed four brave Americans to be murdered sodomized and tortured all for the sake of his Muslim roots.

  • nameless

    we need to write a column about “Bob Hadley, Phil Silverman, and I Hate Fascists as Well As Other Commies who deserved to get shouted down and embarrassed” I despise them with every single fiber of my being as I do with all liberals. We need Joseph McCarthy back enough said.

    • Bob Hadley

      You become what you hate. Ask Bernie. :)

  • Ramon Espinosa

    “Just we’ll Said Bernie!”

  • wally12

    Bernie: I agree that many reporters print whatever they hear as facts. You would think that by now they would at least state that the point being printed has not been verified. Then the reader or listener would say OK. I also think that the reporters should not dismiss information even when it sounds like a conspiracy. Rather they should phrase the information in a manner that is questionable and follow up on the so called conspiracy to a logical end. I don’t think that has been happening in the case of the Saudi person of interest. There are some statements that this Saudi is involved, that he is just a person who overstayed his visa, that he was/is on a watch list and that, that he is being deported and that he is allowed to stay. Which is the true story? How will we find out unless a persistent reporter keeps digging? Also, why do the Saudis have a get a US free card and can bypass the normal vetting process for foreigners? No nation should have a free pass. After all, terrorists can originate from any country.

  • ClaudeinSocal

    Really Bernie?? Faux News Channel made the same mistake. & what do you & that stupid Bill O’Reilly do?? You don’t bother to mention that Megyn Kelly is as guilty as CNN & the other MSM channels you cry & moan about. Bernie Goldberg, you are the problem & all of your MSM friends. Excuses & passing the blame as always. That is very Obamaish & you & O’Reilly continue to the MSM problem yourselves! !

  • catholicvoter

    Journalists’ credibility rating being somewhere around that of used car dealers is well-deserved. I didn’t trust them when I was in elementary school because one story on the same subject was different from the next. It made no sense even way back then. And it’s only gotten much, much worse.

  • Bill

    My biggest problem was with all the supposition going on. I understand needing to fill air time in a 24 hour news cycle, but quit guessing about things (motives, developments, etc) when you don’t have a clue.

  • RickonhisHarleyJohnson

    Have you seen the information Congressman Jeff Duncan has produced on al-Harbi, especially the deportation order? Not sure the media got this wrong, Bernie.

  • FloridaJim

    When you use any source you must double check the information or you become CNN. Today’s endless news cycles create deception, lies and “created” facts.
    Even Fox News was caught up in the desire to be first and was wrong.

  • I Hate Fascists

    Well Sir, if you are sincere about this, and not just blowing smoke, why don’t you demonstrate it by pulling the piece by Dragon Lady Malkin which propagates the very misinformation about the Saudi student that you mentioned? From there she goes on to justify mistreatment of Saudis in the name of public safety and to vilify anyone who would dare to stick up for their civil rights. As usual, her hatred comes through loud and clear.

  • Leo Godzilla

    No one feels worse about a wrong story than the journalist his/herself. It’s like having the ball go through your legs in the 9th inning. But Bernie is right, there was way too much bad information passed on. It was a sloppy five days.

  • jacko

    It seems Media can not be trusted; imagine NY times and CNN running the Boston bombing story with allocating blame to the wrong men. Shame on Media that do not double check the facts. Pity some journalist have sunk so low as to be irrelevant.

  • McWeijun

    We need a news program called “Last Weeks News, The Real Story.” Remember Bernie, guns don’t kill people, pressure cookers do. Maybe after the taxpayers pay the doctors and hospitals to save this guys life, we can stick him in a cell next to the Fort Hood shooter for 4 years and let him sue the government for not letting him grow a beard.

  • Richard Manley

    Mr Bernie, I wish you were anchoring our CBS, ABC, NBC News. I would start watching them again instead of Fox News who (I think) MOST of the time TRY to get it right. I trust B Bair more than B Williams.
    God Bless You my friend.

    • Phil Silverman

      Fox news, since 01-09 has very consciously, tried to make a man named Barack Obama look like a confused adolescent – so they are not trusted anymore…esp. since using Breitbart trash as journalism. the genius who sends over edited videos so they make a great American like Mrs. Sherrod look a racist maniac.

      • Wheels55

        Barack Obama is a confused adolescent. He is the boy who became king. All he does is play and talk – like a 12 year old.

        • Phil Silverman

          he is the “boy”? sounds mildly racist. ok….now enlighten us….what particular ACTIONS of Obama make you say he’s like a kid. continuing Bush II programs may be a start, I admit.

          • Wheels55

            Phil, you are looking to play the racist card in the wrong place.
            Obama’s child-like actions include throwing a fit when he didn’t get his way on gun control, constantly pointing fingers at Republicans rather then leading and getting the job done (like Clinton did for eight years), etc. He loves to talk and talk at people. History will show he was one of the most ineffective Presidents ever. He can’t even close Gitmo.

  • Stimpy

    How about the journalist / reporter / so-called expert, or whoever he was, who kept referring to these two bomb wielding assasins as ‘gentlemen’. Do these guys ever listen to themselves speak?

    • Bob Hadley

      Remember when Pres. GW Bush called Osama Bin Ladin a gentleman? What did you say about that at the time? Or did you even notice? I don’t know of anyone who expressed dismay.

      • captdot

        There were so many times when the media went after President Bush for what he said, pronunciation, etc., no, I don’t recall that specifically. Video of that, please?

        • Bob Hadley

          I did a quick google search but couldn’t find it. I’ll look more later when i have time. It may have been the time when he was asked what happened to the search for Bin Laden and Pres. Bush said that he doesn’t think much about him.

          No one (not even those nasty liberals) made an issue of it as far as I know. i thought it sounded very odd, but I wasn’t offended.

          Some people, Pres. Bush included I thiink, habitually refer to adult males as gentlemen. It’s unimaginable that Pres. Bush meant what he said. If Pres. Obama said that, the right’s collective panties would be in a wad.
          My point above, why not debate the real issues? Why be petty?

  • EddieD_Boston


    The dead terrorist was a student of mine briefly in the spring of ’08. He dropped my class after 4 weeks but I do remember him being physically in the room but so obviously detached mentally. That struck me as odd and that’s why I remember him.

  • Wheels55

    We live in a rubber-necking society. So many slow down to look at an auto accident, even though we have all seen countless fender benders. So, a really big deal like this make us all watch for what ever information we can get. The news organizations are in competition to get us to watch them. In a free market society, we want competition for our business, even news (as opposed to a government run news media country). This mess is what we get. I’ll take this bad with all the good that comes from our free press instead of Obama Media.

  • Iklwa

    After we absorbed about 30 minutes of what was being offered on TV, I told my better half to switch to something more informative (like The Flintstones) until the dust settled and the facts could be sorted out. We flip flopped back and forth throughout the week and as it turned out, The Flintstones got it right more than everybody else. Come to think of it, from now on whenever she asks what the weather will be like tomorrow, I think I’ll tell her to turn on The Flintstones too. Weathermen are the only paid professional liars who are never taken to task for their flubs…but I digress.

    How can we reasonably expect accurate information from government agencies (i.e. local police departments) on a minute-by-minute basis when have yet to get a complete story, including the story from those who survived, on the Benghazi attack months later?

  • supie

    Oh Bernie – give us a break. As if you’re any better… booted from CBS, you now worship at the fox news alter… I see you – afraid to challenge the abrasive and arrogant and frequently misguied bill orielly.. you come close, sometimes. Maybe even you have leveled him, but that ends up on the cutting room floor as his shows are always taped.
    Your inadequate deciphering of factual information and your failure to set the record straight when you have the chance are real shortcomings…. remember Bernie –
    Father, forgive us for what we’ve done and FOR WHAT WE HAVE FAILED TO DO…..

  • David Caskey

    There are multiple things wrong with the Boston bombing. Why didn’t the police put an officer at a desk with the press and allow him to deliver information and shoot down rumors? That would have assured participation of the public. At the end of the day, it was the citizens who found these people, not the cops.

    But what is really bad, and no one is reporting on this, is that the police jumped all over the 4th amendment and broke untold numerous other laws as well. Who ever gave the police the ability to enter your home without a warrant? Just look at the videos of the cops going door to door, holding the people up at gun point and entering their homes without permission. Why? We have had similar things like this in my area. The cops come to the door and ask if everything is ok and give recommendations. They don’t treat you like a criminal. The cops will enter the yard without permission, which is ok, but to treat people like they did in Boston is a crime and needs to be addressed. You can not say that the situation was that desperate as, like I said, we run into similar problems very frequently.

    I would state that the inept handling of the situation, the abuse of rights and treatment of law abiding citizens was worse than the bombing itself. Then we have our great president who does not understand that we are at war with a hateful religion, excuse me, cult. We are not at war with radical Islam, or Saudi’s, or Russians or terror, we are under assault by Islam. People are using this religion and its advocacy of violence to further their nut concepts of the world. Why don’t we isolate this religion, like a cancer, and treat it? In the meantime, we need to remind our government that they have constraints in respect to the rest of us. One final point, in our situation in my neighborhood, it was not the cops that found the bad guy, it was the citizens looking for him, just as in Boston.

  • NorCal1

    Where was security while so many were walking around with bags, including the brothers? Most sports events don’t allow backpacks and large bags. Those that are allowed are searched and/or scanned. The first responders did a great job .. But where was security?

  • justlisa

    This was a whole new level…

    I, actually, believe that the media was fed disinformation…

    BTW, I still have the following questions (emphasis on STILL):

    * Reports indicate that Jeff Bauman (victim/double amputee) gave the “lead” in pinpointing one of the perpetrators…when he “came to” after surgery… When was that?

    * The emphasis on “how much” of the footage was gathered and sifted through is “bogus”… They would have access to extensive video of both explosions… This footage would not take over 100 hours to isolate and search out from…

    * Why did the FBI wait until Thursday evening to release images of both suspects (pretty bad video/photos, at that!)??? We know they had better images because they released them Friday morning…when they, also, named them… The “excuses” that have been given…do NOT make sense… Coverage was national…international… Why wouldn’t you put the faces, much less the names, “out there”???

    * How is it possible that NO ONE with the FBI…especially those involved in investigating #1 back in 2011…”connected” the video/images of perpetrators with the 2011 investigation???

    * How many officers were on-scene at the Watertown shootout? Is it true that #2 “charged” police, with the SUV…where police were able to “get out of the way”, but #1 was run over and killed? Presumably (and, it’s been reported) that the “car chase” and “shootout” were extensive enough to allow a massive police response… The SUV…”charging” fellow officers…should be riddled with bullet holes…shouldn’t it??? Why didn’t we see aerial support (helicopter), at that time, that could have spotlighted #2 as he fled the scene?

    I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but there are lots of questions…

  • Adrian Vance

    Does anyone trust CNN or MSNBC? I don’t think so and pretty much the same for ABC, CBS and especially NBC.

    See The Two Minute Conservative at: and when you speak ladies will swoon and liberal gentlemen will weep.

  • Bruce A.

    The only ones I saw during their job correctly without looking for publicity during this entire mess were the first responders, volunteers & hospital personnel. I thought the news people were trying to out do each other & the politicians were grandstanding.

    • Patrick H.

      Couldn’t have said it better myself! :)

  • Kathie Ampela

    Good column, Bernie, thank you. Thanks to all the new technology there is insatiable need for fresh information, especially in a fast moving story. It is very important to get the facts straight and not to accuse an innocent person, such as was the case with Richard Jewel. Another consequence of the 24 hour news cycle is over hyping of stories and the public quickly losing interest. It seems that the “Boston Bombing” story is already starting to fade in some places. A disengaged public is the one of the biggest problems we face.

  • Gail Wehling

    I thought reporting the truth was supposed to be in their DNA. How incorrect I have been!

  • volantscorpion

    How can you trust news reporters that don’t even report current news items because they don’t want to embarrass the President. They want to be the first to break the news and use any source that will give them a scoop, but sadly, they don’t even verify their sources and simply say, “reliable sources”. They hope that will satisfy the people and take no responsibility for their shoddy reporting.

  • Jim Pell

    As I watched and tried to organize, in my mind, the thrashing contradictions and misinformation, it occurred to me that I was already looking forward to reading the book about it, which should be out in about a year. Write it for us, Bernie.

  • lumen8

    After an hour of OReilly talking about the bombing, with live reports, followed by Hanity for an hour doing the same thing, along comes Greta (in Boston) with a TWO HOUR Special on the same thing. A bit much, don’t you think?

    • Ramon Espinosa

      No the two Terrorists hit Boston its our Country Damn it!

  • RobBligh

    What’s the reporter supposed to do when he gets the same wrong information from more than one “credible” source?

    How about this: Every reporter should identify the “credible” source or sources every time or refuse to repeat what the “credible” sources say. Afterwards, at least we would know who lied and maybe the “credible” sources would lie less often.

    If you are concerned that doing so would make “credible” sources refuse to speak, that is perfectly okay with me. I prefer silence over lies. I prefer a free press I can believe.

  • BrianFruman

    Well I have to say the mainstream media may have officially jumped the shark for good on this one. I mean they don’t even care anymore if they sound stupid or screw up the facts. It started with the Candy Crowley debate and now this. It is pretty clear anyone that is objective that the media tries regularly to fit a round screw in a square peg on most issues.

  • sroysr .

    “They didn’t concoct a single “fact” to boost their ratings or their personal reputations. Every piece of incorrect information came from those reliable, credible, highly places sources – in law enforcement.”
    i seem to recall another prominent boston journalist by the name of mike barnacle that seemed to do nothing BUT concoct stories and sources…

  • njnuke

    As always, we all need to process everything through our own credibility filter and, for God’s sake, have some patience. I think too many of us get caught in scoop fever ourselves so we can be the first to spread new “news” to neighbors, work colleagues, Twitter, etc. Above all, always be skeptical and pay close attention to the law enforcement pressers. That’s about all the reliable information there is in real time.

  • OregonBuzz

    It must be very difficult to attempt to be a true journalist when all of your training and on the job experience teaches you to be a master propagandist. Truth and objectivity do not mix well with propaganda.

    • Richard Hall

      It’s coercion. I honestly think CBS, NBC value “objectivity” as an overarching mission, but the temptation of “do-gooderism” suborns some people into ideological positionalities. It becomes evident with editing, and syntax as well as staffing decisions. This is why Bernie is so valuable, he really knows the game from the inside out-he’s a voice crying in the wilderness, comical as it sounds. I honestly feel we have a monolithic press that rivals the Soviet model. Thank our Good Lord for Fox News.

  • beniyyar

    Journalism is not about reporting the news and the facts to the folks, journalism is about making money and winning prizes, making money so the paper continues to publish and for the reporter to win prizes and thus making money. The days when newspapers, news programs, and reporters adhered to professional ethics and rules of behavior have Gone With the Wind for decades. Now anything goes, rumor, innuendo, anonymous sources, pure speculation, and outright fabrication are routinely considered “reliable” new sources. Indeed, far too often, the reporter becomes the “story”. It is any wonder that so few people believe what they hear on the news or read in the paper and why so many decent people follow conspiracy theories seriously?

  • eRightWinger

    I suppose the media could just wait and report what the authorities tell them. That would be more consistent and more like Pravda. Currently as the Mayor (mumbles) of Boston says the whole thing was completely run by the two brothers, the FBI is rounding up more folks in the area. So who you gonna believe? The government or your own eyes?

    • Ted Crawford

      The last three sources I check when looking for accurate information, in decending order : My Aunt Gerties Psychic – a Government source, and as a last resort a Main Stream Media Source!

  • Jim Boisvert

    I don’t watch the news any more just for those reasons. I did turn on the briefing until some of the questions got idiotic. I can wait until morning to read it in the newspaper. By that time a lot of the wrong info has been sifted through. Wall to wall coverage with no new info and instilling the media’s bias is the game. Ratings, Ho!

  • Vince Ricardo

    The Mainstream Media still has some credibility? Wrong.

    • John Colburn

      The term “mainstream media” has become a much wider net as of now.

    • Phil Silverman

      no more MM since the internet. sorry, Big Bern’ & friendz.

      • EddieD_Boston

        Was getting beat up for your lunch money by girlscouts so traumatic that you have to carry such anger and bitterness into your adulthood?

  • ClaudeinSocal

    Just wait until Bernie & Bill O’Reilly go off on this thing. These two will claim to have greater knowledge & know how to deal with this issue. Because last week Geraldo & Bill O’Reilly already had this kid strapped down to get killed. Yet, Geraldo, Bernie & Bill O’Reilly play both sides & when they get caught, who do they blame?? The people calling them out.

    • Bernie

      Claudein SOcal


    • Patrick H.

      I see your beef with Geraldo and O’ Reilly, but what did Bernie have to do with that instance? Bernie wasn’t on O’ Reilly at all last week or anywhere for that matter.

      • ClaudeinSocal

        Bernie will follow Bill O’Reilly’s lead like he always does.

        • Patrick H.

          You’re bananas, that’s all I have to say.

          • Ted Crawford

            Typical Progressive Useful Idiot! They are much like Cockroaches, they swarm, are attracted to filth and hide whenever the lights come on!

    • Pastor Ed

      Dear ClaudeinSocal, HUH ?! “Generalizations” were one of the first thing we learned to avoid in Jr. Hi. Civics class. Rather a generalization about Bill and Bernie – don’t you think ?

      • ClaudeinSocal

        Really Pastor Ed? You are going to defend Bernie & Bill? They bashed conservatives Christians & their belief’s in marriage from the Bible. & Bernie wished ill will for those who do. If you defend Bernie & Bill on this issue, no wonder you defend them in this one also.

    • ksp48

      Not sure what you mean. I’m ready to strap him down and execute him also. Right after he’s found guilty either by a court of law or if he’s designated as an enemy combatant by the President by a tribunal.

  • gbandy

    I guess the best description of the CNN type media is they expound on a story and just hope it holds to be true. Not really reporting rather it is just idle gossip. Unfortunately so many people still rely on this half news half gossip type of media coverage which in this case was only gossip.

  • Mathman6577

    My vote for the unnamed sources are Obama administration “officials” who were on the outside and wanted to get inside.

  • Gloves Donahue, Jr.

    CNN is the place to go for a big breaking story…in Chile, in Haiti, in Indonesia…
    Just not here.

    One really tiresome thing in these stories is the endless self congratulations by the different agencies and them in turn thanking their boss/politicians.

  • DSquared

    Check your information about the Saudi National. He was a person of interest and in custody. His status was changed. Why?

    • preepree

      It seems the Saudi national is back to being a person-of-interest regarding his quick and questionable deportation back to Saudi Arabia.

      Interestingly, the article didn’t mention how several reporters implied incorrectly that the terrorist(s) must be white right wing extremist(s).

      • bearmountain

        Right wing extremist’s who go to church, pay their bills, raise their kids, like to hunt and fish, respect their elderly parents and are sick and damn tired of the children who are allegedly running this country.

        • Phil Silverman

          children? name one? why is Barack Obama, the VERY FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESIDENT in a half-segregationist country always called a “boy” or a “child” here or on Fox? (same venue). There’s plenty of Dems who fought in the manufactured by the extreme right wing WARS.

          • bearmountain

            Are you trying to make a point? Public education huh?

          • Richard Hall

            Off Topic? Just an eentsie bit? Get a grip on yourself man–you’re spoiling to go to war yourself…easy does it.

          • EddieD_Boston

            He’s not African-American. He’s half white and half African. Another childish post.

          • captdot

            Show me where the President was referred to as “boy”or “child”. Unsubstantiated drivel lessens the person.

          • Ramon Espinosa

            Did you Phil ?

    • Bernie

      He was not in custody. He was questioned because a bystander saw him running from the bomb, which is what all of us would do, and tackled him.

      • Puzzled

        Sorry to get technical, but when the police stop you and prohibit you from leaving–even if it turns out they only asked you questions–that’s custody.

  • donaldeljohnson

    It’s easy to guess who the unreliable sources were. Just watch the videos of the politicians who were grandstanding in Boston last week.

    • Phil Silverman

      standing shoulder to shoulder with any full time host on Fox.

      • Richard Hall

        Cheap potshots don’t improve anything except your smug pride. As Ernie Kovacs said–“You’re great-we love you…get outta here”

      • EddieD_Boston

        Another day another childish post.