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J.J. McCullough

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On Boston, the Press Is No Less Ignorant Than Trudeau

Posted: 04/17/2013 5:57 pm

Tragedies present a unique challenge for the opinion columnist.

On the one hand, there's little in life that isn't political and contentious, no matter how tragic or gruesome. September 11, 2001, was an act of psychotic mass-murder by members of a fundamentalist death cult, but it was also a deeply political act, and various contentious interpretations of it have been animating discussions of American foreign policy ever since. The slaughter of students at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and elsewhere was the result of insane sociopathic fantasies, but also served as case studies in ongoing policy debates over gun control, school security, and mental illness.

Even the Holocaust is controversial -- not in the loony "did it happen or not" sense, but in terms of what lessons contemporary humanity is supposed to draw from the mass-slaughter of European Jewry seven decades ago. A prominent ex-Israeli politician recently released a book of reflections entitled Defeating Hitler; his thesis was we're still debating how to appropriately respond to the Nazi genocide.

On the other hand, such intellectual reflections on senseless death are discussions born from retrospect and time. In our fanatically frantic modern media climate, today's columnist rarely possesses much of either. The bombs explode on Monday and something has to be said on Tuesday, regardless of the number of facts available to provide context or narrative.

What we get in the meantime is what the Canadian press has mostly generated in response to this week's Boston bombing, an attack, which, despite CNN's best efforts, still lacks a suspect, let alone any discernible motive, purpose, symbolism, or politics. Meta-columns by former politicians about the frailty of life and cruel randomness of fate. Positive-spin editorials about the triumph of American endurance in the face of disaster. Belaboured attempts to find historical trivia. And, of course, lots and lots of chatter about how social media has changed everything -- for good or ill.

Less patient pundits rush down the road of "what-if?" and wind up nowhere.

At a time when so much misinformation is already circulating, it's probably bad form to float culprits even as a thought exercise, but that's exactly what Ronald Crelinsten did in this morning's Toronto Star, where ominous signifiers of far-right provocateurs are seen in the Marathon attack's timing, technique, and tactics. The far-right is a fashionable whipping boy at the moment, but real life doesn't always conform to fashion -- as the many red-faced liberals who initially saw whiffs of a Tea Party conspiracy in the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords were quick to learn.

The Globe published a similarly problematic piece by Kevin Patterson on its website earlier today (the link no longer works -- apparently it's been taken down) in which it's hard avoid the impression he too would prefer this crime indict certain suspects over others. If it was an "infiltrator from a faraway madrasah," he snarks sarcastically, then "the long, improbably delayed, coda to 9/11 would have arrived." And wouldn't the warmongers just love that. It's curious to get so pre-emptively defensive about a theoretical response to a theoretical victim, but I suppose the man has a column to fill. Most people only have one thing to say, anyway.

When in doubt, there's always Justin Trudeau. On Monday, the new Liberal boss gave one of those unfortunate interviews he seems chronically prone to, and opined that whatever the monstrous nature of the Boston attacks, "over the coming days we have to look at the root causes" that inspired it.

"There's no question that this happened because there's someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents, at war with a society," he said. "And our approach has to be, where do those tensions come from?" It was a spectacularly tone-deaf statement born from an embarrassingly forced attempt to sound relevant on a topic about which he knew nothing.

The Sun News people, as you might imagine, have had a lot of fun with this, though their motive is as cynically professional as it is opportunistically partisan. Unlike the Boston mystery, Justin's tendency to say dopey things is an established narrative with solid foundations and facts that aren't in dispute. So his latest bit of ill-timed apologism provides reporters with a comfortable retreat into the familiar at a time when uncertainly dominates the rest of the headlines. Drama will always be easier than detective work.

Like most gaffes, one imagines the prominence of this latest Justin-flub will probably be fleeting, but in many ways it's a fitting metaphor for the grasping culture of space-filling commentary that defines this desperately uncomfortable historic moment.

When it comes to offering useful insight about Boston, the press is no less ignorant than Trudeau. They just hide it better.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Police officers with their guns drawn hear the second explosion down the street. The first explosion knocked down a runner at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Newspapers are on sale at a stand on Newbury Street on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Security is especially tight in the city of Boston after two explosions went off near the finish of the Marathon, killing three people and injuring at least 141 others. Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

  • WARNING

    Some photos in this slideshow are graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (Kenshin Okubo / The Daily Free Press / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A woman kneels and prays at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Victims are in shock and being treated at the scene of the first explosion that went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    People tend to an injured woman on the corner of Exeter and Newbury Streets after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Bill Greene / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Bystanders help an injured woman at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical workers runs an injured man past the finish line the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (Charles Krupa / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Police and federal officials exit an apartment complex at 364 Ocean Avenue with a possible connection to the earlier expolsions during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Revere, Massachusetts. Three people are confirmed dead and at least 141 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A victim of the first explosion is helped on the sidewalk of Boylston Street, after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Unclaimed finish line bags are viewed near the scene of a twin bombing at the Boston Marathon, on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Three people are confirmed dead and at least 141 injured after the explosions went off near the finish line of the marathon yesterday. The bombings at the 116-year-old Boston race, resulted in heightened security across the nation with cancellations of many professional sporting events as authorities search for a motive to the violence. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A heavily armed Boston police officer (R) and a National Guard soldier (L) stands guard in front of the Taj Hotel April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts, in the aftermath of two explosions that struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15. A massive probe was underway Tuesday after two bombs struck the Boston Marathon, killing at least three and wounding more than 100. Monday's blasts near the finishing line raised fears of a terrorist attack more than a decade after nearly 3,000 people were killed in suicide airliner strikes on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. US President Barack Obama went on national television to warn against "jumping to conclusions" but a senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such an attack was "clearly an act of terror." (Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A man comforts a victim on the sidewalk at the scene of the first explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Emergency personnel respond to the scene after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Boston Police look at blown out windows at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Police officers with their guns drawn hear the second explosion down the street. The first explosion knocked down a runner at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Injured people lie on the sidewalk near a barrier at the scene of the first explosion that went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Emergency personnel respond to the scene after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Passersby put pressure on a victim's leg to try to stop the bleeding at the scene of the first explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    The marathon finish line bridge is seen on Boylston Street on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Security is especially tight in the city of Boston after two explosions went off near the finish of the Marathon, killing three people and injuring at least 141 others. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Blood from victims covers the sidewalk on Boylston Street, at the site of an explosion during the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. At the right foreground is a folding chair with the design of an American flag on the cover. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (Charles Krupa / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A runner reacts near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: (EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IMAGE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT) A person who was injured in an explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon is taken away from the scene in a wheelchair. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A runner passes a police officer dressed in tactical gear, who blocks a road leading to the Boston Marathon route, the morning after explosions killed three and injured more than 140 in Boston, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. The bombs that blew up seconds apart at the finish line of one of the world's most storied races left the streets spattered with blood and glass, and gaping questions of who chose to attack at the Boston Marathon and why. (Charles Krupa / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A person who was injured in an explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon is taken away from the scene in a wheelchair. (David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Carlos Arredondo, who was at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon when two explosives detonated, leaves the scene on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 28 injured after at least two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: (EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IMAGE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT) A person who was injured in an explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon is taken away from the scene on a stretcher. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Officials react as the first explosion goes off on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    First responders tend to the wounded after two explosions occurred along the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 15, 2013. (Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Two officials run away from the first explosion, right, on Boylston Street at the 177th Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A person who was injured in the first explosion is wheeled across the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Explosions At 117th Boston Marathon

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: (EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IMAGE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT) A person who was injured in an explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon is taken away from the scene on a stretcher. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Neighbors hug outside the home of the Richard family in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Martin Richard, 8, was killed in Mondays bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (Michael Dwyer / AP)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    First responders rush to help injured people after two explosions occurred along the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, April 15, 2013. Two powerful explosions rocked the finish line area of the Boston Marathon near Copley Square and police said many people were injured. (Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Emergency workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    There was smoke and panic in the street as emergency personnel responded to the scene after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe / Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: (EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IMAGE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT) A person who was injured in an explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon is taken away from the scene on a stretcher. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A Boston police officer wheels in injured boy down Boylston Street as medical workers carry an injured runner following an explosion during the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria at the marathon's finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Emergency personnel respond to the scene after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: A man lays on the ground after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    BOSTON - APRIL 15: Two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical workers wheel the injured across the finish line during the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • An unidentified Boston Marathon runner, center, is reunited with loved ones near Copley Square following an explosion in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical responders run an injured man past the finish line the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Marathon Explosion

    A Boston police officer clears Boylston Street following an explosion at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria at the finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

 

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