I don’t personally watch very much television, and essentially zero television news. Like many others these days, I suppose, I largely read about the news that interests me on the internet. Yesterday was an exception, albeit that the television news broadcasts I was watching came via the internet, consisting of local Boston coverage of the pursuit of the marathon bomber(s). The tone of what I was watching fairly shocked me, the more so as the day went on. I know that political correctness is a very powerful force, but I would have thought that given the gravity and drama of what was going down, it would be superseded by a more fundamental journalistic drive to get at the truth. In this I was naïve.
The syndrome at work was epitomized by an interview I saw take place with some casual friends of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at UMass Dartmouth. They regularly played soccer with him, and, as with seemingly the great majority of his acquaintances, they had only benign things to say about him. The reporter interviewing them (I think it was WBZ but I couldn’t swear) was naturally enough trying to dig up anything that might have indicated that the younger Tsarnaev was capable of setting bombs to kill random innocent people. She was coming up empty in terms of his general demeanor. People seemed to find him likeable, if quiet. So, she asked: “Did he ever talk about politics?” She got a negative response. The interview went on a little bit, and then she asked the same question: “Did he ever talk about politics to you?” The same answer came back: no, he did not seem very concerned about political issues. The interview continued, with more on his general behavior and school-related activities. Then (as I recall it) she asked yet another time: “Did he ever talk about politics?” It got the same answer from his soccer-playing acquaintances as before: no, he did not. Asking the same question three times seemed kind of silly, but the really crowningly-silly thing was the avoidance of asking a fairly similar question that surely was crying out to be asked, given the circumstances. That would have been: “Did he ever talk about religion, about Islam?” Despite the knowledge at this point that he was a Muslim from Chechnya, where an Islamist insurgency has been active for years, and despite the knowledge already being disseminated elsewhere regarding various internet postings by him and his older brother indicating their favor for extreme Islamic ideas, a simple question to his friends about whether he discussed religion with them was seemingly off-limits. I have no idea what their answer would have been—whether he kept that aspect of himself private or not—but surely the question begged to be asked. Asking about “politics” over and over again was, I think, the reporter’s attempt to ask it without actually using the relevant word, as if some kind of crime would be committed by the mere suggestion from her that religious ideas might possibly have played a role in the violent terroristic actions of two young Muslim men. Continue reading Questions Avoided and Answers Evaded