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."
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
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.