On Friday, TMZ reported that dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “deep into hip hop,” had an email associated with realhiphop.com and NPR said that on Wednesday night Tsarnaev had tweeted a Jay-Z lyric, “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city. Stay safe out there.”
There was no clear connection of any of that to the bombing, but the suggestion was that someone who is deep into hip hop should be considered dangerous, particularly because, TMZ said, hip hop lyrics were associated with violence and misogyny.
It went viral and sent hip hop fans into a tizzy, feeling that the media used this tragedy to not only paint the perpetrators of the attack as evil, but to take a broader swipe at young African Americans.
Tampa Bay Times media critic Eric Deggans wrote that “King’s reporting blunder revealed two important facts about the modern reporting environment. First, there is enough diversity in America that providing a criminal suspect’s presumed skin color is really no help at all in finding the culprit.
“And it is not enough, in such heated circumstances, for journalists to accurately report what law enforcement thinks at the time. They have to be careful not to pass along law enforcement’s mistakes as cold facts.”
At some point it is less about the facts than it is showing readers, viewers and listeners how hard you are working trying to get the information and making them believe that if anyone gets it first, it’s going to be you.
Even ESPN and Sports Illustrated, obviously better known for sports, were reporting the story.
“Media outlets are starting to cross paths like basketball players and rappers, going into the others’ fields or professions and doing a terrible job at it,” Morgan student Daisane Branch wrote in an opinion writing class.
“It’s bad enough that we have millions of people on social media attempting to be reporters and conspirators, but now we have ‘professionals’ doing the same thing.”
It would be more comforting to the American people if we were more focused on getting it right instead of getting it first. In the future, until we know what we’re talking about, perhaps we ought to just go back to regularly scheduled programming until there is something substantive to say.
Because as much as we know about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s background, we still don’t know their motivation; we still don’t know if they were involved in a conspiracy, were mentally ill or somewhere in the middle.
In other words, we’ve got nothing. And that’s a ton of dead air.