For at least six hours after authorities made clear there had only been three fatalities from the bombing, the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper claimed on its website that 12 people had been killed. It claimed a Saudi suspect was in custody long after authorities said he was just a witness. And three days after the bombing, the editors ran a front-page photo of two young men—looking as if they could be of Middle Eastern origin—with a screaming headline: "Bag Men: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon."
The two men, Salaheddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaimi, had never been suspects and sued the Post for libel in June.
As Jed Lewison pointed out at the time of the bombing, the Post admitted in its own article that it didn't know if the men pictured in the photo were FBI suspects. But that didn't deter the editors from publishing an incendiary headline that implied criminality with its use of the mafia term "bag men," especially in light of the fact that by then it was known that the pressure-cooker bombs set off at the marathon had been carried in backpacks.
Now we know from the Post's lawyers what spurred the headline choice. It's the readers' fault.
From the newspaper's response to the suit:
In the final analysis, all that plaintiffs ultimately have to say by way of complaint is that the Post printed a large headline that brought more attention to them than they believe was warranted, and that readers who jump to conclusions might have jumped to a wrong one—at least until they realized a day later that they were wrong.Erik Wemple, who has been following the case, hits the bullseye in his assessment:
A media critic couldn’t ask for a purer distillation of the New York Post’s ethic: How dare those readers reach the very conclusion to which our suggestive headline and photograph led them? And sorry if our publication showers on them more attention than they expected for attending a marathon.The Post ought to have begged its lawyers months ago to settle this case out of court for an ample but "undisclosed sum." But no matter how mealy-mouthed any settlement were worded, going down without a fight would be as likely as the reptilian Rupert Murdoch commanding editors to run a half-page headline apology for encouraging mob action: "We f'd up!"