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One Year Ago, Media Jumped to Blame Boston Bombing on 'Anti-Government' 'Extreme Right'

Scott Whitlock's picture

On April 15, 2013, one year ago, two Muslim extremists planted bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264 others. This tragic event was sadly exploited by some in the media who quickly speculated that "extreme right" and "anti-government" individuals could be responsible for the mayhem. [See below for a round-up, including video, of the worst examples of journalistic malpractice.]

The morning after the attack, Good Morning America's Pierre Thomas narrated a segment with an on-screen graphic wondering, "Could this be homegrown terror?" Thomas noted that April 15th was only four days before the anniversaries of the bloody end of the Branch Davidian standoff and the Oklahoma City bombing. Regarding the date the attack occurred, GMA guest Mark Potok linked, "The real Patriots Day is April 19th. That is the date that counts for people on the extreme right in the United States."  [MP3 audio here.] 

Chris Matthews, on the day of the bombing, sneered: 

"Normally, domestic terrorists, people, tend to be on the far right — well, that’s not a good category, just extremists, let’s call them that. Do they advertise after they do something like this? Do they try to get credit as a group, or do they just hate America so much or its politics or its government that they just want to do the damage?...Would you as an expert be thinking domestic at this point? I don’t think Tax Day means a whole lot to the Arab world, or Islamic world, or the — certainly not to al Qaeda, in terms of their world. It doesn’t have any iconic significance."

Hardball host Chris Matthews on April 15, 2013, asking terrorism expert Michael Leiter about potential suspects in the Boston marathon bombings.

While warning others not to jump to conclusions, some journalists did just that: 

"Obviously, nobody knows anything yet, but I would caution folks jumping to conclusions about foreign terrorism to remember that this is the official Patriots Day holiday in Massachusetts, celebrating the battles at Lexington and Concord, and that the actual date (April 19) was of some significance to, among other people, Tim McVeigh, because he fancied himself a waterer of the tree of liberty and the like."

— Former Boston Globe reporter Charles Pierce writing on Esquire’s politics blog at 3:22pm April 15, 2013, barely half an hour after the bombings occurred.

"The thinking, as we’ve been reporting, is that this is a domestic extremist attack. And officials are leaning that way largely because of the timing of the attack. April is a big month for anti-government and right-wing individuals. There’s the Columbine anniversary. There’s Hitler’s birthday. There’s the Oklahoma City bombing. There’s the assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco."

— NPR correspondent Dina Temple-Raston on All Things Considered, April 16, 2013. 

Other examples include: 

"But the fact that there were two explosions – two bombings – one of the things I'd be looking at is once the device, if it is a device, is found, what kind of explosives were used? For instance, if it was hydrogen peroxide, this is a signature of al-Qaeda. If it was more conventional explosives, which are much harder to get a hold of now, that might be some other kind of right-wing extremists."

– CNN's national security analyst Peter Bergen just hours after the Boston bombing, April 15, 2013. 

"Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is a White American"

— Headline over an April 16, 2013 Salon.com article by writer David Sirota.

"explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment."

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in an April 15, 2013 Twitter posting about an hour after the bombing. About 30 minutes later, Kristof apologized: “ok, that was low blow. i take it back.” (All punctuation as in the original.)

(For more, see the April 29, 2013 edition of the Notable Quotables.) Apparently, some in the media didn't listen to former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Appearing on the Today show the morning after the attack, he cautioned, "I think everybody has to take a deep breath...report what we know, and do the best we can with the information that we're able to get reliably." 

Brokaw's MSNBC colleagues clearly didn't get the message. The hosts of The Cycle on April 16, 2013 brought on author Adam Lankford to recklessly speculate, "We don't know whether they're trying to complain about abortion, about taxes. This did happen on tax day in Boston, the place of the Tea Party." 

If, God forbid, America faces another tragic event like the Boston bombing, it would be nice if certain journalists could refrain from reflexively blaming conservatives.