By Elias Groll
Washington • It was a tough week at the New York Post. When news first broke of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the Post was far ahead of other media outlets, reporting that 12 people had been killed in the attack. It all seemed plausible, and it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that the Post had some iron-clad law enforcement source feeding it casualty reports that bordered on the clairvoyant.
Then it all fell apart. Every media outlet not named the New York Post nailed down the death toll at three, and the Post was left looking rather silly.
Then the paper reported that a Saudi national kept under guard at a local hospital had been named a "suspect." That, too, turned out to be false.
Thursday, the Post managed to really outdo itself, splashing a photo of two dark-skinned young men who the paper claimed were sought by the FBI. "BAG MEN," the headline screamed, "Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon."
ABC News tracked down one of the two men, a 17-year-old runner named Salah Barhoun, who said he had decided to watch the race when he couldn't run it. "It's the worst feeling that I can possibly feel," he told ABC. "I'm only 17."
Call it the tabloid death spiral: attempting to make readers forget yesterday's inaccuracies with even worse conjecture on today's front page. When asked to comment on the article, New York Post editor Col Allan said he stands by the story:
We stand by our story. The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects.
Thursday afternoon, the Post caught up somewhat to the facts, reporting that the two men on their cover had been cleared by investigators.
In all fairness, the paper has gotten some things right in its coverage. As Vanity Fair points out (for another priceless take on the paper's editorial strategy, see the Onion):
The New York Post correctly reported that the Boston Marathon takes place in Boston, Massachusetts.
"Boston" is spelled correctly.
The current governor of the state is Deval Patrick
Participants in the Boston Marathon are, in American English, colloquially referred to as "runners."
Massachusetts General Hospital is a medical facility.
So what's going on at the Post? In its initial story on the attacks the one that pegged the death toll at 12 the paper has simply scrubbed its initial, inaccurate reporting from the story. The number "12" is nowhere to be found, nor is a death toll. Meanwhile, its story on the Saudi "suspect" remained online without a correction, editor's note, or any kind of acknowledgement that it is completely false.