Days after the 1996 Olympic Park bombing, media and federal investigators focused on their top suspect: Richard Jewell, the security guard who had first discovered the bomb which killed one and injured 111. It took more than a year for Jewell to clear his name; he would successfully sue several outlets for their coverage but remained haunted by the memory of the reporters who went after him “like piranha on a bleeding cow” for years.
In the 24 hours following yesterday's tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, several right-wing media figures have attempted to create their own Jewell. Echoing the same piranha-like voraciousness seen in that case, they have published the name, home address, and what they claim are Facebook pictures of a 20-year-old Saudi national that police have since identified as a witness -- not a suspect -- to the Boston bombings.
Less than two hours after the bombing took place, The New York Post -- citing unnamed “law enforcement sources” -- claimed that a “Saudi Arabian national” was a “suspect” in the case and that he was “under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital.” Several right-wing outlets quickly trumpeted that report. But the claim quickly unraveled (as did the paper's similarly sourced claim that 12 had been killed in the explosions), with law enforcement telling reporters that no one had been arrested in the case and that the Saudi was a witness who was cooperating with authorities.
By the next afternoon, Fox News was reporting that “a federal law enforcement official is confirming... that Saudi man, the college student who was described as a person of interest in the Boston bombings, has now been ruled out as a suspect in this bombing.”
But in the interim, the right-wing media -- led by popular conservative blogger Jim Hoft -- swallowed the initial Post report and began posting as much personal information about the man as they could discover.
On the night of the bombings, Hoft posted the report of the “Internet activist Jester” that a federal search warrant was being executed at an apartment building in Revere, Massachusetts, later revealed to be the Saudi national's apartment. Reporting on the same search later that night, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren said, “I'm not going to give you the address in case for some reason it's a bad search.” But Hoft had no such compunction, publishing the address, the name of the building, and a link to a full list of the building's residents via addresses.com. Hoft also linked to a Free Republic reader's comment that the building was identified in reviews as what the reader termed a “Section 8 hellhole.”
By the following morning, Hoft dialed down slightly, calling the Saudi national a “person of interest” in the case, rather than a suspect. But he still published the person's name and a series of photos that he said came from the Facebook page of someone with the same name (including one picture of a young man jumping in front of Cinderella's Castle in Disney World's Magic Kingdom theme park). Hoft cited Free Republic and Townhall as the source for the man's name. According to Wonkette, “the Freeper page is actually just a link to the Townhall article... which doesn't actually include the guy's name (We'll assume it's been scrubbed? Google cache didn't appear to have an older version).” Hoft later updated the post to acknowledge that Fox has reported the man was not a suspect.
The right-wing site FrontPageMag also went through the man's Facebook page, highlighting a picture of what it said was the “Saudi bombing suspect,” turning up the fact that the man had allegedly “reposted” the message, “If today really was the last day, how would you spend it?” Conservative blogger Pamela Geller reposted their report.
Neither Geller nor FrontPageMag noted one crucial fact: The Facebook entry about envisioning the “last day” was posted December 20, 2012 -- the day before many claimed the Mayan calendar had predicted the world would end.