Cable News' Shameful Boston Performance

A meaningless debate over whether Boston experienced a terrorist attack doesn't advance the story.

By + More

There is so much to say about the shocking attack that occurred in Boston on Monday. There was the general horror of it all, the idea that someone would commit a murderous act at one of the most joyful events in the city, the Boston Marathon. There are the questions about who would do this and why – and is it a home-grown nutcase, or something organized by a foreign entity?

And what about the incredible valor shown by the first responders at the scene, attending to the victims and searching for more explosive devices? Then there was the impressive, quick reaction by local authorities. And who could not be impressed with the local Bostonians who took runners and race viewers into their homes, or the runners themselves, who went through the finish line and kept on going right to the hospital to give blood?

But for a lot of the media Monday, there was only one self-serving question: WAS THIS A TERRORIST ATTACK?

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Boston Marathon bombings.]

That question was asked again and again – by news anchors, by "analysts," and by a White House reporter who shouted it at President Obama during the four seconds of time it takes him to leave the podium in the briefing room (he didn't respond). Even on TV, the question was in all caps.

It's an idiotic question, and it's not meant to do anything other than to provide a fresh headline on the news crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. Isn't it enough that it was a horrible assault, that people felt, well, most likely, terror? Does the politically-loaded label make police and firefighters work more quickly, make the victims less or more dead or injured, or make the generous actions of local Bostonians less or more kind?

Does anyone doubt that federal authorities will be involved in the investigation and prosecution? Any attack clearly meant to kill a lot of people has the quality of terror. We don't need cable TV badgering elected officials to use the word – especially since the news stations kept running the same painful video of the explosion and its aftermath, again and again and again and again and again.

So why wouldn't Obama use the words "terrorist attack" in his spoken comments? There are a lot of good reasons for that, not the least of which that it elevates the power and fame (notoriety, if you will) of the attacker or attackers. And it has a political connotation that can escalate matters as well.

[See Photos: Deadly Explosions Hit Boston Marathon]

There is one central reason the media was salivating over the moniker of "terror." It's good TV. Actually, it's awful TV. And it was made worse by the fact that we saw a news anchor on one side of the screen in near-hysteria over the use (or lack thereof) of the word "terror," while on the other screen, we were subjected to a nonstop loop of the attack – what can only be described as violence porn.

It's hard to fill TV time in a 24/7 cycle, especially when we don't have answers to some of the basic questions about the assault. But turning the whole tragic episode into a meaningless debate over whether it should be called a terrorist attack doesn't advance the story. It just gives a cable network an exciting headline.

  • Read Leslie Marshall: Stop Pointing Fingers in the Boston Marathon Bombing
  • Read Jamie Stiehm: Despite Iraq Protest, Robert Zoellick Should Speak at Swarthmore
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad