Friday, June 7, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing 'Bag Men' Front Page Photo Sparks Libel Suit Against NY Post

New York Post
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A defamation suit against the News Corp.-owned tabloid New York Post has been filed in Suffolk County (Mass.) Superior Court by two men who appeared in a page one photo at the peak of the police manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

According to articles by Reuters and the National Law Journal, 24-year-old Yassine Zaime and 16-year-old Salheddin Barhoum are suing the Post for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The two Moroccan emigres, avid running enthusiasts, watched participants near the finish line in the Boston Marathon in April, but left two hours before rigged pressure cooker explosive devices detonated, killing three and wounding hundreds of spectators.

According to the plaintiffs' complaint, the two men voluntarily went to their respective local police stations to answer questions about their presence at the race after learning that a photo of them was circulating on various social media sites. The complaint states that on April 18, the same day police purportedly exonerated them, a photo of the two men appeared on page 1 of the Post with the headline: "Bag Men: Feds seek this duo pictured at Boston Marathon."

The lead sentence of the Post story that day began: "Investigators probing the deadly Boston marathon bombings are circulating photos of two men spotted chatting near the packed finish line, the Post has learned."  Inside pages depicted two more photos of the plaintiffs, in one of which, a plaintiff's head was circled in red and captioned: "Cops are seeking these two men (above) who were spotted near the site of the Boston blasts."

Later that same day, the FBI released photos of  two Chechen brothers authorities identified as suspects in the bombing, Tamarlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the former of whom died in a firefight with police and the latter of whom remains in custody.

"The plaintiffs were not suspects and were not being sought by law enforcement," the complaint alleges. "The Post had no basis whatsoever to suggest that they were, especially in light of a warning on Wednesday to news media, by federal authorities, to exercise caution in reporting about this very matter."

The complaint further alleges: "The front page would lead a reasonable reader to believe that plaintiffs had bombs in their bags, that they were involved in causing the Boston Marathon bombing."

For its part, the Post maintains it never identified the two men as "suspects," but rather, as two men whom police wanted to find. Included in the Post story on April 18 was a sentence that read: "It was not immediately clear if the men in the law-enforcement photos are the same men in the surveillance videos."  The Post has not published an apology to Zaime or Barhoum.

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