You might have watched the first riveting week of the Boston bombing news coverage and thought people needed to calm down a little bit. The entire city of Boston was shut down as 9,000 law enforcement officers hunted for a teenage terror suspect. Police got in a firefight with the teenager, who turned out to be unarmed while sitting in a boat. Twitter acted as an emotion amplifier. Adults tweeted photos of Mr. Rogers. "There is no 'there' anymore. All the world and all history are here, on the streets of Boston," Huffington Post reporter Howard Fineman tweeted. There was the suggestion the bombing was scarier than 9/11. It seemed like maybe we needed to take a deep breath, show a little restraint. But now, after a second week with few public answers and a brand-new federal prosecution, it turns out we've been too restrained, apparently.
"I think there has been maybe too much sensitivity on this question of Islamic jihad," CNN's Howard Kurtz said Friday, speaking of the few hours it took from the moment police released the Tsarneavs' names for reporters to track their Internet and ethnic history and form a thesis of why they did it. But, just a few minutes later, Kurtz said, "I have the sense now that, 90 percent [of the coverage] has been profiles and psychoanalysis of the Tsarnaev brothers, taking the spotlight away from where it should be — the people who were killed." Would the ideal coverage be to immediately assume the Tsarnaevs were motivated by Islamic extremism and then immediately stop looking for any more information about them? There is something weird about wanting to end inquiry into why they acted — federal investigators are certainly trying to find out. But Rush Limbaugh sees media bias in even posting photos of Dzhokhar, because he is too cute. An attempt to figure out their motives, Limbaugh says, is an attempt to define deviancy down, to normalize terrorism.
At Bloomberg View, Stephen L. Carter, a Yale law professor, takes issue with the major newspapers' description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev as a "suspect." He's dead, so we don't have to worry about tainting the jury pool by presuming his guilt, Carter says. (Dzhokhar is alive, so "suspect" is OK for him.) But it's not just that it's not legally necessary, he writes. "Perhaps the message isn’t that we should preserve the question of guilt for trial, but rather that we should never rush to judgment on anyone, about anything," he says.
What a bunch of hippie free-to-be-you-and-me types! While Tamerlan is dead, Dzhokhar is not. Accepting as established fact that Tamerlan is guilty says an awful lot about his alleged accomplice. If you want something more direct, there are plenty of places to find it: "There are times, like with Little Brother Bomber, when the death penalty needs an express lane," The National Review's Jim Geraghty tweeted, for example. In the ultimate assessment of his guilt, maybe a little restraint is OK, even if it's temporary, in only a few newspapers, and just a formality.