NORTH: The American landscape after the massacre

Lots of ‘information’ and some of it was accurate

We’re beginning to uncover details about how two brothers from Dagestan in southern Russia purportedly set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding more than 170 others on April 15. In an era of instant information, a 24/7 news cycle, ubiquitous social media, countless smartphones and tens of thousands of government security cameras in metropolitan areas, our FBI called for the public to help find and catch those who carried out this terrorist attack. That the perpetrators were not immediately identified and taken into custody apparently frustrated many of our countrymen. They shouldn’t have been.

Just minutes after the two bombs detonated, images and video of the carnage and rescuers bravely rushing to help grievously injured victims appeared on media outlets and the Internet. Local, state and federal politicians rushed to microphones to pontificate about the event and ensuing investigation. Then there was a virtual tsunami of information, imagery, speculation and opinion about the bombing. A shootout with the two suspects followed early Friday morning, which left 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead. His 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, was arrested Friday night.

Within hours of the catastrophe, journalists and bloggers were claiming that additional bombs had been found and disarmed and that a Saudi national supposedly a person of interest in the investigation was being interviewed. By 2 p.m. on Wednesday, amid reports that suspicious packages laced with poisonous ricin had been intercepted in Washington, a host of news agencies were claiming that a suspect in the marathon bombings had been arrested.

Later that afternoon, a deadly fire at a fertilizer plant in the small community of West, Texas, drew firemen, first responders and onlookers with smartphones and hand-held cameras to the scene. When the blaze erupted in a massive explosion, it killed at least 12 and injured more than 100.

Initial media reports on radio, television and the Internet speculated that the ricin-tainted mail and the conflagration in Texas might be connected to the Boston Marathon bombings. We now know that much of what we have been told and shown since the bombs went off in Boston especially that attributed to “informed” anonymous sources and unnamed “officials close to the investigation” was simply wrong.

At an extraordinary news conference in Boston on Thursday evening, the FBI posted a “new-normal” wanted poster: video and still photos of two men, identified only as Suspect No. 1 and Suspect No. 2 in the Boston bombings. The images instantly flashed around the world, along with a request for anyone with information about the suspects to contact the FBI. The plea went out with a warning: The suspects should be presumed to be armed and extremely dangerous. Within hours, the suspects were exchanging fire with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown.

Despite all the erroneous information, hearsay, theories and conjecture about what actually transpired in Boston, there is both good news and bad news in what we do know for certain. First, the bad news:

Seeing as we cannot ban all cooking pots, cellphones and batteries used to detonate improvised explosive devices, we never will be completely safe, because we must be right every time, and terrorists need be right only once.

Our government will continue to do really stupid things, such as changing the rules to allow airline passengers to carry knives with blades less than 2.4 inches aboard commercial flights. Bring a micrometer calibrated to tenths of an inch to the Transportation Safety Administration bag check.

The Obama administration will continue its effort to strip constitutionally protected rights from law-abiding citizens who own firearms. The president took to the cameras and microphones in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday to describe opponents of a gun-control measure that was defeated in the Senate as “liars” and tell us all it was “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”

Now the good news:

There have been fewer than 20 Americans killed in the United States by terrorists since the al Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 including those who died in the November 2009 outburst of “workplace violence” at Fort Hood, Texas.

The FBI plea for public help in identifying the Boston suspects reduces the likelihood that there will be a repeat of what happened in July 1996, when Richard Jewell, a security guard at the Atlanta Olympics, was first lauded and then deemed a person of interest when anonymous sources told reporters that he fit the profile of a lone bomber.

Newsweek magazine is gone and no longer can create completely phony stories, such as the one it concocted in May 2005 about a Koran being flushed down a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, terrorist-detention facility an article that cost more than a dozen lives during anti-American riots throughout the Middle East.

Finally, the appeal for public help solving the marathon bombing pushed self-serving government leakers and anonymous sources out of the picture. That’s a good thing.

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