We brushed with the context under which hundreds of thousands live every single day, a cultural, social, psychological and temporal risk of losing one’s life in one’s own neighborhood. And collectively we watch in a way, surprised, unprecedented, through the veins of social media and arteries of cable news cycles feeding information and images with stupefying rapidity, and mediocrity never before seen.
Two levels of this bear scrutiny: the multiplication of errors in reporting the events as they unfolded, justified, it appears under the mantra of exclusivity, and the overwhelming acceptance of public service preempted by a citizen.
The natural gas explosion. The dark-skinned male, running while Saudi. The bombing of the JFK library. The unexploded devices. The arrest and custodial attainment of a suspect. The FBI identifying suspects where none had actually been identified. A woman noticed the blood. The boat was on fire. All of these verifiable, yet none verified, instead were paraded before duped viewers under the auspices of speculation with stupefying rapidity.
I even sucked it up. At noon on Wednesday, the AP app on my iPhone pushed a headline that an arrest had been made and I announced the same at the beginning of class. I trusted the AP, where I should’ve known better. Later I watched as King on CNN perpetuated the same misinformation for almost an hour, leaning on his credible sources for the hit, all the while Wolf Blitzer touted the exclusivity of the report. Why was it that CBS canned Dan Rather?
At least CBS, having learned from lessons passed, filled most of their nascent air time with, “…we’re waiting for confirmation.”
This isn’t CNN. This is our Fourth Estate, our nation’s check and balance. Errors will happen. NPR reported Gabby Giffords diseased. Somewhere along that news chain a misinformation gets chambered and fired off before a producer somewhere gets to check it, or overlooks it, or trusts its impetus, and then it hits frequencies and bandwidths spraying over slackjawed viewers vacant of critical ability in the shock of breaking news.
Now, there’s a double entendre.
But that’s no excuse. I wonder how we’ve gotten to a point of tolerating this. No, I wonder how we’ve gotten to a point of not even being bothered by this. It’s easy to point fingers at the networks, especially so at Fox, but anymore if anyone’s surprised by their slant, by their filters, or those of any enculturated news outlet, they perhaps deserve what they get. They want what they get and get what they want, truth notwithstanding. Oh, wait. That sounds like the Legislative Estate.
As a researcher, I’m reduced to the pretense in the value of instant notification. In the rush of exclusivity, “while we can’t confirm,” and “we’re trying not to speculate,” are the news’ new sin licenses. We beg a sin license when we justify telling an off-color joke by saying, “I don’t usually repeat dirty jokes, but this one is really funny…”
When the second airplane hit the World Trade Center Tower, a student rushed into my morning class, interrupting in her declaration of what had happened. It didn’t appear to be out of shock or dismay, but rather the giddy feeling of knowing something the rest of us didn’t and being the first to knock us over with the severity and utter incredulousness of the story. The same with Columbine, Aurora, Newtown. You heard it here first. First has obscured fact.
As Anderson Cooper reported the capture of suspect two Friday night, he basked in the glow of throngs of happy and relieved Bostonians marching by his post chanting “USA,” in the defeat of domestic terrorism. This immune to the undercurrent of reports that the FBI had in fact observed, detained and questioned Tamerlin Tsarnaev, suspected of being radicalized upon returning to the US two years previous. This is going to get ugly. Anything politicized usually does. And, unfortunately, this is where Americans will need to depend on the Fourth Estate the most. We’re already polarized, the question for me is, how vacant will the middle become?
At the risk of being unpatriotic and sounding ungrateful, there’s something more. Boston’s finest, along with the cooperation of various agencies, hundreds of foot soldiers infiltrated a locked-down populace in the search of a wounded nineteen year-old college student, who is also a suspected terrorist.
The still images of their search seen on the network coverage showed citizens being removed from their domiciles in bare feet and bathrobes while armed and armored personnel searched premises in Watertown. After locking the city down for a day, they failed to find the suspect, and they allowed the people to resume their normal activity, charging them to be vigilant. Here, in America.
On one hand, I live in a state where its association of sheriffs vowed retaliation upon invading federal authorities intent on taking away arms. On the other is a state willing to roll over on federal mandate, surrendering constitutional rights to aid in the capture of a terrorist. Certainly, it’s just a matter of what’s at stake, right?
From the last report I heard from Rachel Maddow on msnbc, it was a man who, upon hearing the news that citizens could go back into the streets, walked out of his home for a smoke where he noticed blood, and then blood on his shrink-wrapped boat, and then a man under a tarp in the boat.
In their press conference, Watertown officials were quick to declare that suspect two was found outside of their twenty-block search radius. To their credit, after they were alerted of the suspect’s whereabouts, they were able to take him into custody alive. And perhaps releasing the public to go about their business was a tactic that paid off. I’d like to hope so.
It appears this kid was wounded in the shootout the night before as he fled police for a few hundred yards in a vehicle which he then abandoned and fled on foot. This after a shootout that killed his brother, after the two threw improvised explosive devices at officers, after suspect one reportedly ran over his brother in his escape. Escalated. Bleeding. Disappears. No question I’m armchair-quarterbacking this, but this wasn’t Boston’s finest finest moment, though it could be argued they outshined the LAPD.
My point is that in stupefying rapidity we’re quick to wrap the flag around us and declare once again that we’re not to be messed with. But we have been messed with. We’ve been hurt, we’ve suffered incredible losses. I don’t feel right in using that plural personal pronoun we, they have suffered, we as a nation have been violated. The capture of a nineteen year-old terrorist doesn’t eradicate that, and yet Monday, we’ll go back to business as usual.
And so will thousands who live with quotidien terrorism. I just hope that as Americans, we’ll still be afforded the luxury of being surprised by it.