Tabloid links innocent men to Boston bombing on front page — but doesn't cover their libel suit
When the New York Post thought it had big news in the Boston bombing investigation, it splashed images of two young men — one of them a 16-year-old high school student — across its front page under the headline "Bag Men."
But when those men turned out to have nothing to do with the bombings — and sued the paper for libel — the Post's coverage was much less splashy. In fact, it doesn't seem to have acknowledged the libel suit in print or online in any way.
A close read of Friday's Post and the paper's website finds lots of stories about other people's mistakes: a 911 dispatcher who supposedly laughed about a stabbing, mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner appearing to say some cops are fat — yet there was no mention of the lawsuit over the Post's own overrreach.
Several news agencies made mistakes in their coverage of the Boston bombings — including prematurely reporting an arrest on April 17, before brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were named as suspects on April 19.
But only the Post highlighted two specific people and, raising questions about their involvement when in fact they had nothing to do with the case.
Lawyers for Salaheddin Barhoum, 16, and Yassine Zaimi, 24, said in the lawsuit filed in Massachusetts on Wednesday that they both went to police to clear their names when they learned that photos of them near the Boston Marathon finish line were circulating on Reddit and other sites.
Both wanted to make clear that they were in no way involved with the April 15 bombings that killed three and injured 260 others.
The Post put Barhoum and Zaimi on its cover April 18, saying authorities were looking for them.
In fact, according to the timeline described in their lawsuits, police didn't need to look for them — because they both went to police themselves, hours before the Post hit newstands.
By the afternoon of April 18, the Post had reported that the men had been cleared. Post editor-in-chief Col Allan said at the time that the paper stood by its original story.
"The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported," Allan said. "We did not identify them as suspects."
That night, authorities began a bloody pursuit of the Tsarnaevs, and the brothers were publicly identified the next morning.
As the lawsuit notes, the Post ran its "Bag Men" headline despite a plea from law enforcement — released after the erroneous arrest reports — that news agencies "exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”
A representative of The Post referred TheWrap Friday to Allan's April 18 statement.
A representative for the plaintiffs told TheWrap that she was unaware of the Post acknowledging in print that it was being sued for libel.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.