Many around the world breathed a sigh of relief last Friday when a second Boston Marathon bombing suspect was arrested, following the death of the first in a firefight with police hours before.
“The terror is over,” Boston police tweeted following the arrest, yet another sign of the times in a case in which speed of reporting by mainstream media and the spread of information through social media reached a dizzying velocity.
Sober reflection may finally result in a recognition of the risks of media letting speed trump accuracy – particularly among some mainstream news-gathering organizations that should have known better.
But as media began to paint the picture of two alienated emigre brothers from Chechnya, harbouring unspecified grudges against the U.S., the case immediately began to assume more manageable dimensions. As deadly as it had been – the final tally including three initial bombing victims and a police officer killed, not to mention scores of marathon spectators injured April 15, a robbery and hostage taking, and the death of one of the alleged perpetrators – it was still somehow easier to get one’s head around than if it had all remained a mysterious terrorist plot.
The terror isn’t over, of course – evidenced by the announced arrests in Canada this week of two men accused of plotting to derail a Toronto-New York passenger train – just one particular terror. And as the world comes to grips with the realization that the bombers’ motives may never fully be known, what is evident from the Boston case is that we already live in a very different world from the one temporarily paralyzed by the events of 9-11.
The startling tempo of today’s media, whether mainstream or amateur, is in direct proportion with people’s hunger for the truth. Today’s audience, the marathon bombing shows, is far more wary and skeptical – and less likely to passively accept officially sanctioned reports and platitudes.
There are many, Boston has also shown, who want to help in times of emergency, whether it’s pitching in to care for casualties, or volunteering digital images to help identify possible perpetrators.
And is it just optimism, or could it be that there has been a slight increase in transparency, as authorities and the media have come to realize, that the people themselves – many of them armed as never before with picture-taking capability, can be an important part of the information and evidence-gathering chain?