It’s nothing new to the American culture, to see news reports about individuals that are suspected or have been convicted of heinous crimes that include the obligatory by-stander report – “I had no idea John Doe was capable of doing that!” Journalists eat up statements like that with relish, and enjoy the irony that people really don’t know each other. But when it becomes “reporting with an agenda”, that is going too far.
The New York Times has taken to reporting about Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev from the perspective that they are probably just misunderstood outsiders. It is disingenuous at best, and dangerous at the worst. Of course no one should be truly surprised that reporters can’t find anyone that knew these two that is willing to go on the record saying anything that indicates anyone knew they were capable of leaving bombs around people during the Boston Marathon. It’s no surprise they found one person that noted that at least one of them was behaving strangely – understood why in hindsight. Even the statements from the family members have been predictable – either condemning the men, or engaging in nearly delusional denials.
The problem with the New York Times report is that they have culled the most sympathetic statements they could find, and put them all together in one place. And more importantly, they have glossed over many facts. The Daily Caller pointed out a previous attempt to do the same that has since disappeared from the web. The fact remains that reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing has been politicized across the board to one extent or another from the beginning – based on that, it can be assumed it will continue as the investigation is completed.
And that is an important point – the investigation has barely started. On Friday, April 19th during the day, I was chasing down information on Chechnya in general for a background piece because it appeared we were going to be in for a long wait before Dzokhar Tsarnaev would be found. Instead of wasting time writing on the small details that were coming up all day and were quickly determined to be false anyway, I figured my time was better served crafting a basic summary of the political landscape of Chechnya. However, I did keep track of most of the background information that was coming out about the Tsarnaev brothers, and will get to that shortly. In the evening I was doing live coverage of the standoff and capture.
As for the flood of information about the Tsarnaev brothers that started coming out, I kept track of each item on the off chance that it would have offered anything useful for the Chechnya background. None of it really did, which theoretically should lend some credence to the statement from the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov that his nation was not the cause of this attack – the U.S. upbringing of the suspects was. However, nothing is ever that simple, particularly when an extremely complex political landscape is involved. Kadyrov may be right that it was not a nationalist sentiment that drove Tamerlan Tsarnaev – and I am focusing on the elder brother because all indications now are that he was the driving force in this attack. The separatist movements in Chechnya are not just nationalist, and I doubt that Kadyrov can speak to the motivations of the Chechen Islamist separatists in his country. On the contrary, it could be argued that his government is opposed to those individuals.
While much has been said about the social media presence of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, I immediately focused more on whatever I could find on Tamerlan. When the YouTube account was mentioned, I jumped on that, but unlike the vast majority of the media, I focused on his feed and his playlists. But I am not a journalist. My background certainly does include a fair amount of investigative experience, so I didn’t particularly care about finding sensationalist videos, and I essentially discounted his “Islam” list, paying more attention to his favorites and music. Why? Because unlike the journalists combing over that account, I wasn’t looking for a sound byte – I was looking for trends, dates that indicated when he became highly interested in extremist materials, and anything that would give insight into his personality. I wonder how many people in the mainstream media realize that his favorite music included nearly hour-length mixes of trance music that had photos of a nearly naked model on the screen? And yes, it is the sort of mind-numbing electronic music that some writers might prefer to listen to because it becomes white noise while focused on something else. I thought for a fleeting moment that he could very well have been listening to that as he constructed the pressure-cooker and pipe bombs, but that left me with chills and a wave of nausea.
And then there was Tamerlan’s Amazon Wish List. Again, the media focused on what was on the list, but apparently didn’t think twice about the dates they were added. At least they didn’t seem interested in mentioning them in their reports. No, it was sexy enough to point out that the list included items that someone looking to disappear for a while would want, and plenty of texts on Islam and Chechnya. The latest item added was “Voice Lessons To Go Volume 1: Vocalize and Breath”, and that was on July 8, 2007. The first of the 23 items was an audiocassette, “The Sound of Your Voice”, and that was added on January 14, 2006. But, June of 2006 was his “busy month” on that list, because he added several books, mostly concerning history, Islam, and the Chechen revolts. I’m still waiting to hear one journalist pose the question, “So, what happened in June 2006 to influence Tamerlan?”
While I haven’t honestly done an exhaustive search to find out possible answers to that question yet, I did come across something during my research for the Chechnya background piece that might be an indication. Ironically enough, NYT might have hit on something real on this one, but it’s from way back in November of 2012. They carried a short piece on Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist that was shot outside her apartment building on October 7, 2006. The article is about why she may have been killed – she was guilty of the horrible crime of putting the spotlight on human rights abuses committed by Vladimir Putin’s government in, you guessed it, Chechnya. So, back in the summer of 2006, maybe Tamerlan was reading about those abuses. If his little brother knows what was going on with him at that point, we might find out for sure, but failing that, this is just conjecture. I’m not willing to say this definitely could have been an influencing factor in this tragedy, but I’m also not ruling it out.
What I can say definitely at this point is that whatever drove Tamerlan Tsarnaev to build bombs with his brother, and plant them in Boston started sometime around the summer of 2006. I’ll also go out on a limb a bit, and suggest that since his wish list additions ended abruptly in the summer of the following year, he either started being mentored by members of a standing Islamist organization around that time, or he independently came across a list of rules from one. Given the fact that he was still “liking” and subscribing to Islamic video feeds just two months ago, I’m leaning a little more toward Tamerlan being a self-taught extremist – but again, that is just conjecture, and isn’t causing me to rule out that his mentor is out there somewhere.
As for the mainstream media, I don’t expect to see an improvement in reporting on this case. I do expect to see them latching onto any excuse they can find to make the Tsarnaev look like misunderstood young men that deserve sympathy. Based on what little evidence has been unearthed so far, that isn’t the case. It takes a complete lack of connection with humanity to leave a bomb at the feet of an 8-year-old boy – there is no doubt that is what was done. In order to even begin to understand what would motivate someone to do that requires separating oneself completely from goodness. It requires examining the nature of pure evil. There is nothing to sympathize with there.