This Is A Tragedy—Does It Really Matter Exactly How Many People Died Or What Any Of The Details Are?
By Col Allan, 'New York Post’ Editor
Yesterday’s violent attack at the Boston Marathon has left all of us struggling to come to terms with such a senseless display of carnage. In the wake of this devastating tragedy, we at the New York Post join the nation in mourning those who were lost in this horrible event so that we may console one another and ultimately emerge from this catastrophe stronger and with a greater compassion for one another.
And so, as we attempt to begin the healing process, let us not bicker over such trivial matters as the actual death toll and what exactly happened at yesterday’s bombing. After all, is it really important, in the aftermath of an event so disastrous and sad, to pick apart the so-called information surrounding this horrific situation and find out what actually happened?
To think, these poor victims have not even been buried yet, and some people out there are already quibbling over little details like how many people have died or what the basic facts of this tragedy even are. Can’t they see it’s not the time for that discussion? After all, when something awful like this happens, you’re not thinking about getting the facts right, or adhering to the basic standards of reporting, or providing people with the correct information they desperately need in a time of crisis, or respecting the families of those involved, or treating human life itself as sacred, or acting like professionals, or thinking about anything other than the amount of page views your story will attract on the internet. You’re not thinking about any of that stuff, at least I’m not. To dwell on all that stuff would just be crass.
And yet people have this obsessive need to get bogged down in all the teeny tiny minutiae—the precise number of dead, how many explosions there were, etc.—when we all know that these kinds of details don’t matter when you’re in the middle of a terrible emergent tragedy. Who focuses on that stuff? Not me, that’s for damned sure. All I cared about in the moment was giving our readers a vague, erroneous conception of what was happening on the ground while also beating our competitors to the punch with a more sensationalistic story featuring a drastically higher body count.
Why? Because in the midst of such an immense tragedy, that’s what truly mattered. And that’s the kind of reporting the New York Post strives for each and every day.
And yet, there are still people—literally millions of them—who actually have to ask why we didn’t simply slow down and wait until the whole story came in so that we could run an accurate, fact-checked article that didn’t exaggerate the number of dead by 9 or 10 people. To that, I say: How could you even think about accurately reporting a tragedy at a time like this? When those pipe bombs or whatever they were—I believe they were pipe bombs—went off, we weren’t wasting time making routine inquiries with law enforcement officials, or relying on the reporting of those actually on the ground, or maintaining even a tenuous grasp on the journalistic conventions of truth and integrity. We were doing what needed to be done: dashing off haphazard, poorly sourced yellow journalism that included an entirely speculative report on a Saudi national who we strongly suggested was behind the attack without a modicum of supportive evidence.
It was the right thing to do, and I’d do it again.
Yes, there are many questions being asked right now. Did the New York Post get the facts correct? Did we observe proper journalistic protocol? Did we simply pump out the most eye-catching story we could think of in a cynical, bald-faced attempt to boost web traffic? But these are simply not appropriate questions to be asking at a time like this. In fact, they were especially inappropriate when asked by one of our own reporters, who, in the midst of yesterday’s senseless mayhem, had the gall to wonder why we were running unconfirmed information from an unnamed source that wildly varied from that published in other news outlets.
Well, if that’s the type of question you want to be asking while dozens or perhaps hundreds of families are grieving over the loss of their sons and daughters, then you can go along with him to some other newspaper. Sorry, but that’s just not what the New York Post is about.
Also, an anonymous source is reporting there may be as many as 50 explosive devices still at large in the Boston metro area.