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NY Post: Fueling Hate With Fake Headlines

We are now 3 days in the aftermath of the horrific Boston Marathon bombing – where at least 3 people were killed, and over 170 injured.  As search continues for who exactly is behind the attack – we are also in the midst of a full-on media meltdown, as they pursue the scoop on this story.

And while we take a reprieve from the air of tragedy, to laugh at (and rightfully so) at the likes of CNN for their ongoing comedy of errors – there is a much more egregious and reckless form of reporting done by the right wing media – specifically the New York Post.

But Wait….It’s the New York Post.

Nobody considers the Post to be anything more than the paper-manifestation of the xenophobic, right-wing echo-chamber – as this is their stock and trade.  However – the publication somehow continues to outdo itself, profiteering and fear-mongering off a national tragedy.  The race-baiting began before the smoke was literally even clearing from the crime scene – as the Post was the first to perpetuate the fallacious story about a “20 year old Saudi national” who roused suspicion because he was running away from the explosion – like everyone else.  As it turns out, the Saudi was not a suspect – nor a person of interest in the bombing.  Rather – he was a victim of the horrific attack, being treated for injuries at a local hospital.  Those are the real facts.

Facts don’t matter though – for all intents and purposes, once the Post ran with the Saudi story, Islamophobes smelled blood in the water.  The equally repulsive Drudge Report kept the false Saudi story up for the next 2 days.  Glenn Beck told his legions of tinfoil-cap wearing fans that “this is likely the work of Islamists.”  This fervor has caused one of the “godfathers” of Islamophobia in the U.S. – self-desribed terrorism expert Steve Emerson to emerge from the woodworks.

After other mainstream outlets put the silly “Saudi” rumor to sleep – NY Post and Emerson continue to double down on their conspiracy theories.  Add that to the fervor that CNN caused – citing that an arrest had been made of a “dark-skinned male” in the case, and we are now seeing the seeds being planed for a whole new backlash against Muslim and Arab-Americans.

Have The Islamophobic Backlash Started?

So far, in the last 2 days – there have been reports of a Bangladeshi man being attacked and left semiconscious with a dislocated shoulder in the Bronx.  A Palestinian-American was also assaulted and harassed in Boston.  Less than 72 hours in, the seeds of “dark skinned” or Arab suspicion have now started to bear their bitter fruit.

We’re not done yet.  The Post has committed its most egregious and reckless piece of “journalism” yet – when it decided to double-down on the “Saudi” conspiracy and publish the photos of a so-called “potential suspect” – who turned out to be an innocent 17 year old track athlete at a local high school.  Now, young Salah Barhoun – whose image has been put out there in the most horrendous context, for the entire world to see – is now doing everything he can to clear his name.

This gets to the heart of the matter of just how irresponsible and detrimental to society those who fan the flames of Islamophobia in the U.S. are.  There is no punitive action – other than in the “court of public opinion” for those who are willing to jeopardize the safety of individuals or communities for the sake of generating headlines.  Fox News contributor Erik Rush sent out a tweet that alluded to “killing all Muslims” in the direct aftermath of the attacks – and has not yet received any type of reprimand or removal from his role with the network.  Rush has now doubled-down on his comments, evoking jargon such as “dhimmi” that has made Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer household names.  While these hate-mongers continually spew misinformation (Geller and Spencer are loving the Saudi conspiracy theories, btw) – they take shelter under the guise of free-speech.  While they can surely claim freedom of speech, it is also known that hate-speech can manifest itself in violent endings – as Geller, Spencer and Emerson were all cited in Norway killer Anders Breivik’s anti-Islam manifesto prior to his murder of 77 innocent individuals.

Violent Effects of Unchecked Rhetoric

Last year, we saw the same cause and effect relationship between Islamophobia and violent action for a man who was just sentenced to 20 years in prison for the arson of a Toledo, Ohio mosque.  After Randy Linn was apprehended for the blaze that almost destroyed the Muslim house of worship – he stated that the only information he knew about Islam – he got from Fox News, which happens to be the New York Post’s sister company.  We saw a violent wave of attacks on Muslim houses of worship as well as a hate-fueled, murderous attack on the Oak Creek, WI Sikh Temple.  As we move forward from this heightened state of fear-mongering and finger-pointing, do we have more of the same to fear?

And what about 17-year old Salah, who undoubtedly has faced xenophobia and bullying even prior to his image being blasted into millions of homes – falsely labeled as a suspect in a terror attack?  Will he be able to put the pieces of his life back together?  For young Arab and Muslim immigrants trying to fit into the school system over here – the environment of bullying and racism has never been higher.  It is commonplace to be heckled, be labeled a terrorist, and to be alienated from other classmates and even teammates.  Having your name thrown out there with no fact-checking or journalistic principles during a time of such heightened emotions can have a devastating effect on a young child.  We can only hope and pray that he is able to recover his good name from this.

As we can see, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim wagons are circling – facts be damned.  We will continue to see the echo-chamber, headed by the NY Post – whose irresponsible reporting is adding fuel to an already heated situation.  The reports of attacks on brown-skinned and Muslim individuals in the aftermath of the marathon bombing are a harsh reminder of the effects of such poisonous rhetoric and yellow journalism.  Now we must ask ourselves, what lies in the coming days ahead of us?