Arrest? No arrest?

Today’s flurry of journalists debating each other over whether an arrest has been made in the Boston bombing is certainly interesting, given that it’s being waged on Twitter.

On the “there’s been an arrest” side is CNN, and the normally very conservative (in journalism protocol) Associated Press:

On the other wise is NBC and CBS:

Who to believe?

CBS’ point person on this story is John Miller, whom the network describes as “a former director of the FBI.” Well, sort of. He was the former director of public affairs, so he’s more journalist than cop. He’s gotten a lot of credit for good sources, especially in the Newtown shootings. But he also did his part to spread the “Saudi national” story that has since been thoroughly discredited. So his sources aren’t that good.

You can usually count on the Associated Press to get it right.

Nonetheless, the Boston Globe, which also reported an arrest, is backing off:

There’ll be a news conference in Boston in a few hours. It won’t be hard to determine who got this one right. (Update: See who got it right. Contains obscenity.)

Meanwhile, at Esquire, Charles Pierce is immersed in the idea of the surveillance.


This presents an interesting conundrum to those of us who have spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of privacy in a modern surveillance state, and the ways that espionage technology has come home and is running so far ahead that the law and the instincts of democracy never may catch up. The fact is that, in most cities, almost everything you do in public is subject to surveillance and, very likely, recorded somewhere. This should give anybody who values their privacy, and their liberty, to use an overused and often abused word, a severe case of the whim-whams. But now, the surveillance culture appears to be the technological hero in this story. Some day, this will be a very interesting debate to have.

It’s actually one that people are having now. On Reddit, for example, people have been analyzing all of the imagery in an attempt to see if they could spot the bomber. (h/t: Jess Mador).

Like this, for example:

reddit_bomb.jpg

But Alexis Madrigal, an editor at The Atlantic, calls the hunt “misguided.”


This is not how civil society works. There is a reason that police have procedures around investigations and evidence. Due process is important. It exists to systematize justice, and in doing so prevent the sort of excesses common when people take justice into their own hands. And if anything, we don’t have *enough* due process in this country.

All of these statements are obvious. And it is possible to see what some set of Reddit users are doing as insubstantial or silly. At best, they help the investigation. At worst, it’s a distraction. But we need to take both the rhetoric and actions of this group seriously. It doesn’t matter that it’s happening in a forum, and not around a burning cross.

One can make a defense of vigilantism in certain circumstances: say, “in the absence of foundations regulating social order.” But this is not one of those cases. The FBI and other law enforcement officials are clearly looking for the bomber, and with access to far more information and technical resources.

We’ll wait and see what the cops and experts find. Fair warning: You won’t read about it here first.