It began a week ago at Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s arraignment for the Boston marathon bombing. As discussed in a previous post, the media noted that he pleaded not guilty, but were much more interested in his facial features while doing so: They interpreted the distortion of his visage caused by injuries sustained when he was arrested as a “smirk,” and were concerned to record spectators’ anger at seeing this on top of his effrontery in daring to deny that he set off any bombs.
But it did not stop there. The attack has continued with other riffs on the presumption that Tsarnaev is guilty as charged even before a trial. One direction is to stylize those who doubt his guilt and are female as “fan-girls,” i.e., in sexist fashion, and engage in pop-psychological analysis of their motives. This tendency reaches its extreme in claiming that they are women with secret wishes to hook up with violent men, as in this Slate article dating from two days after the arraignment.
Here I cannot resist quoting from the response of lauraw, who says (comment #24 in the above-cited thread) that initial reports about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
got me curious enough to browse his Twitter account, where it became clear that he is a sensitive and likeable human being, not an evil psychopath.
I was offended to see words such as “disgusting” used to describe girls and women (like me) who instinctively felt sympathy for him. I came across comments such as “why should women be in positions of power if they can be so easily swayed by an attractive face?”
Now that it’s becoming clear that Dzhokhar was probably set up, my answer to those sexist comments might be “Maybe we ‘digusting, stupid’ women had some good intuition about this young man.”
Another direction is the tried and true method of invoking the presumed evil nature of Dzhokhar’s deceased older brother Tamerlan, trusting that the disrepute will rub off on him as well. Here it can be noted that the 2011 Waltham, Mass. triple murders are in the news again. In “How Local Police Missed a Chance to Stop Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011,” published two days after the arraignment, The Daily Beast recycles every rumor treated as fact you’ve ever heard about how Tamerlan and Ibragim Todashev perpetrated the 2011 event, as Todashev was about to confess before he became violent so that the FBI had to kill him.
The article argues that the police failed to follow up leads that should have led them to Tamerlan and thereby prevented the Boston bombing two years later (i.e., implicitly, which we all know he and his brother Dzhokhar perpetrated). There is no mention of the point that Todashev’s wife claims he was with her in Atlanta at the time of the Waltham murders. I’m told that Erin Burnett covered similar ground in her CNN show last night.
In a sense this story is of a piece with all the congressional committee hearings a couple of months ago that tried to blame the FBI for not acting against Tamerlan before the bombing, the unstated premise being that of course he was guilty of it. (That effort now seems to have subsided, perhaps out of a desire to not call too much attention to the FBI in view of the controversy surrounding its operation with Todashev, which in fact was run out of its Boston office.)
There is one curious point here. When the Boston FBI office identified the Tsarnaevs as the Boston bombers, began operations in Todashev’s Orlando Chechen community, and re-opened the Waltham case all within a few days of each other in April, they initially said that they had forensic evidence pointing to both Tsarnaevs as suspects in the latter murders, but subsequently they quietly dropped Dzhokhar from that allegation. One wonders why.
And then there is Rolling Stone. In a lengthy article dated today but to be published in the August 1 print edition, entitled “Jahar’s World,” contributing editor Janet Reitman purports to offer an in-depth account based on extensive research of how “a charming kid with a bright future” became a “monster,” as the piece’s sub-heading puts it. In fact it does nothing of the sort. It has some detail about the dysfunctional Tsarnaev family, but never really draws a connection that would explain how that led a happy-go-lucky kid to become a terrorist. And of course it simply assumes that the indictment to which Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty is fact, that being sufficient in the author’s mind to show that he is indeed the monster of the sub-headline. In one place she quotes a former acquaintance saying that Tsarnaev once told him that acts of terror such as 9/11 could be justified, but while admitting that that was a common opinion in their circle. Most of the article simply bears out that the teenager was as normal as everyone says.
To be sure, this article’s agreement with the government’s Boston bombing narrative has not been enough to squelch a controversy over the magazine’s use of a fairly attractive photo of Dzhokhar for its cover, where as the rest of the MSM have been at pains to inform us today, there have been expressions of outrage in the social media.
But do not let that persuade you that the article is anything like a balanced presentation of its subject. I find no hint in it of the possibility that the government narrative could be wrong: no questioning of how Dzhokhar could have known that his brother was dead when he supposedly wrote on the side of a boat that he would join him in paradise; no explanation of how a backpack casually slung over one shoulder would be carrying a 30 lb bomb; and no answer as to why the brothers thought the MIT campus would be a likely place to be able to steal a gun, if they really drove there three days after the bombing and killed a campus policeman.
No, for all its Bildungsroman pretensions and “hip” veneer this article is another hatchet job.
I do not know if this spate of verbiage shoring up the government’s Boston narrative is simply a matter of the media cashing in on the sensationalism of the arraignment last week, so that it will die out until the next public event related to the case comes up, or if it portends a sustained trend. I rather suspect the latter, and that it serves to influence plea negotiations in the hope of persuading the defendant to accept the prosecution’s “reluctant” offer of life without parole instead of execution. In that way the government could avoid a trial where a lot of its dirty linen would come out. But time will tell.