Proving a Conservative Caricature of Boston Bombing Coverage Wrong

Every major news organization in America has reported on and acknowledged ties to radical Islamist beliefs.

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Earlier this week, The New York Times published a front-page story about the Boston bombing suspects. The slug at the top of the page online: "Bombing Suspect Cites Islamic Extremist Beliefs As Motive." The lede: 

The portrait investigators have begun to piece together of the two brothers suspected of the Boston Marathon bombings suggests that they were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs but were not acting with known terrorist groups -- and that they may have learned to build bombs simply by logging onto the online English-language magazine of the affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

This is an undeniable instance of a "mainstream media" outlet explicitly tying the bombing to Islamic extremism. Now look at how Mark Steyn invokes that same NYT article at National Review's group blog. Here's the whole post:  

Former brother-in-law Elmirza Khozhugov explains Tamerlan Tsarnaev's grievances to the New York Times:

He was angry that the world pictures Islam as a violent religion.

So he blew up an eight-year old boy and a couple of hundred other Americans.

And now the media are full of stories about how the Tsarnaevs were all-American kids and "beautiful, beautiful boys" and maybe it was the boxing or the Ben Affleck movies or the classical music but, whatever it was, it was nothing to do with Islam. Nothing whatever. So I guess it worked.

What explains this reaction? Apparently oblivious to the Times article he himself links, Steyn cherry-picks a few examples of people positing explanations other than Islamist radicalism for the attacks (citing MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry twice) and implies that "the media" is shying away from ascribing the attack to religious extremism. Some others on the right agree.

They're deluding themselves. The fact of the matter is that every major news organization in America has chased and reported on the radical Islam angle in their coverage of the Boston bombing. I've found no exception. 

In addition to the New York Times article above, here's how the Los Angeles Times began its story, "FBI: Boston suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev followed 'radical Islam'": 

Deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was identified by a foreign government as a "follower of radical Islam and a strong believer" whose personality had changed drastically in just a year, according to the FBI.

The Associated Press reports:

In the years before the Boston Marathon bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell under the influence of a new friend, a Muslim convert who steered the religiously apathetic young man toward a strict strain of Islam, family members said. Under the tutelage of a friend known to the Tsarnaev family only as Misha, Tamerlan gave up boxing and stopped studying music, his family said. He began opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He turned to websites and literature claiming that the CIA was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Jews controlled the world.

The Washington Post's coverage includes "Radical Islamism motivated Tsarnaev brothers, say investigators," and "The obscure Russian jihadist whom Tamerlan Tsarnaev followed online." USA Today published "Mosque that Boston suspects attended has radical ties" and "Did terrorist websites help the Tsarnaev brothers?" Says the Wall Street Journal, "Suspects Roused by Jihadist Thought." CBS News published "Officials: Bombing suspect angry over U.S. wars against Muslims" and "Boston Marathon Bombing Update: Suspects were aspiring jihadists, official says."

NBC News published the Reuters produced "Special Report: The radicalization of Tamerlan Tsarnaev."

Says The Guardian, "Tamerlan Tsarnaev's YouTube account shows jihadist radicalisation in pictures." ABC News published "Boston Bomb Suspect Alarmed Russian Relatives With Extremist Views" and "Authorities Investigate Bomb Suspects' Links to Overseas Terror Groups.

Here's The Boston Globe: "Dead suspect broke angrily with Muslim speakers: Evidence mounts of radical turn."

Need I go on? That's the sort of coverage the media is "full of," not whatever Steyn last read at ThinkProgress.

Earlier this week, I wrote that, forced to bet, I'd put my money on jihadism being behind the attack, but that, since none of us has to speculate, there's wisdom and no harm in waiting for all the evidence. There is even more evidence of jihadism now than there was then, as you can see.

Generally speaking, "mainstream" outlets have been diligently reporting out the story and gathering that evidence. The conservative press has done very little reporting. Its been busy cherry-picking liberal dissents from the jihadist theory of the Boston bombing, treating those dissents as if they're representative of "the liberal media" generally, and needlessly worrying about a supposed unwillingness to confront radical Islam. "The chances are that we will learn nothing important from Boston about the enduring terrorist threat against our country," Rich Lowry writes. "When the next attack comes, and it will, we will again scratch our heads and wonder who could do such a thing, and why?" I think he's been reading too much Steyn, and that when the next attack comes, the mainstream media will thoroughly report on the people behind it too.

I think important new information about motives in the Boston bombing will receive saturation coverage, and that conservative caricatures of the media now say more about conservatives than the media.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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