Events in Boston have been dramatic and chilling in equal measure, but the coverage has been absurd.
What happened in Boston this week was an awful thing. A marathon was curtailed by the murder of three, the injuring of scores more and terrorizing of thousands. Two young American men were ultimately cornered and over a 24-hour period, one was killed and the other captured.
Although 11,000 Americans shoot each other every year, this was different. This was war. It’s no surprise Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held as an enemy combatant. It’s a wonder he is alive at all. If President Obama hadn’t banned it, Tsarnaev would currently be pushing hard for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding record (183 in a month).
But aside from the sadness, loss, pain and fear, this was drama. And didn’t the news stations know it.
“Good Evening, on a terrible day,” began CBS news anchor Scott Pelley who appeared so devastated by the attacks on Saturday evening that I became worried he might collapse and thus wouldn’t be able to actually tell me anything at all. How will he begin the news when North Korea prompts thermo-nuclear war? “Good Evening, on a really terrible day much worse than the last day which wasn’t actually that bad compared to this one.”
He later surpassed himself, calling the chase that followed ‘The greatest manhunt in the history of the United States.’
On the other side, our own bastion of informed journalism, the BBC, was claiming to have reports that the criminals could have been “lone wolves.” Why the wolves? Does it aid my understanding of the story? Not really. Not at all, actually; all it reminds me of is ‘The Bourne Identity’, where Matt Damon does stuff that lone wolves do like go rogue and shoot stuff.
But that’s the point. The Bourne Identity is exciting to watch. Often after tragedies such as this, it takes days for a clear picture to be pieced together, even by good journalists. Scott Pelley can’t sit there and tell you they don’t quite know what happened. So a narrative is created. A narrative that includes 8 more packages, the War on Terror, Chechnya, 9/11, race, religion, helicopters flying overhead and strikingly unremarkable eyewitness accounts of police sirens. As the authorities released images of suspect #1, white hat and suspect #2, brown hat, the media went into hyperdrive.
Before we could say “brownhatwhitehat” we had reports of a car chase, grenades thrown, one suspect dead and one brown hat missing. At which point the media’s prayers were answered and the authorities decided to send everyone with a gun to the region. As a viewer you were now watching a glorified training day, as teams of faceless men in black went from house to house checking if the doors worked. The SWAT teams spent most of their time pointing their guns at potentially threatening walls and trees. A garden shed was traversed. A controlled explosion was carried out on a bottle of water. Media briefings were given by a walrus.
All the while we were fed a constant diet of nonsense by the news stations. There was a crazy Uncle, a father claiming conspiracy; the BBC interviewed a man with a pink dildo on the table behind him (Google it). Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s Facebook was dug up and insightfully Sky told us that he had ‘liked’ “Chechnya” and “Football.” My likes include Miso soup and Sol Campbell. What Adam Boulton would make of that?
After all the gluttonous excitement of deep fried news, what emerged was a sad situation. 5 had died, including 3 innocent people and a University policeman. A 19-year old boy will spend the next 100 years in prison. Amid all of the excitement of the news bulletins, the cameras, the lights, the helicopters, the speculation, the grenades, those whose lives are changed forever are given fifteen minutes on the television. If they are lucky they may have a photo shared on Facebook like Carlos Arredondo, but give it another ten and they are forgotten, because Matt Damon’s on the other channel.