NY Post Publishes Front-Page Photo Falsely Linking High School Track Athlete to Boston Bombing

The New York Post published a front-page photo of a high school track athlete named Salah Barhoun, 17, sprayed with the headline “Bag Men,” linking two almost assuredly innocent people to the Boston marathon bombing. Seeing his face all over social media, Barhoun immediately went to the police.

Members of the Reddit Internet community originally identified the men in the photo as potential suspects, but quickly found one of their Facebook profiles, which seem to exonerate the two. As Gawker reported, Barhoun, wearing a blue tracksuit in the Post’s cover photo, turns out to be a Moroccan-American middle-distance runner who likes Subway restaurants and The Hunger Games. At one point, he was planning to run in the marathon, but when he couldn't, went to watch instead.

Realizing that he was now being labeled a terrorist, Barhoun changed his Facebook name and posted some clarification his page.

Going to the court rightnow !! Shit is real . But u will see guys I’m did not do any thing

Back home ! Everything is fake but god is with me . (sic)

Even without Reddit’s amateur investigations, the men in the photo would still most likely have been cleared. CBS’ John Miller noted today that the Post’s cover photo is not the same one he’s seen and that authorities plan to release later today.

"Those are not the pictures that are going to be released today by the authorities," the former FBI assistant director told said, “And in fact, here’s what happens. Those pictures were on the Internet yesterday morning and then they started going viral on different sites, and then different intelligence fusion centers around the country picked those up and they post them into bulletins and say any law enforcement agencies who can identify these people, we’ll take that information.”

Even the Post’s report corroborates Miller’s interpretation of events. An email allegedly obtained by the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid says, “The attached photos are being circulated in an attempt to identify the individuals highlighted therein … Feel free to pass this around to any of your fellow agents elsewhere.”

This will be the second time in less than a week that The Post falsely identified “dark-skinned males” as suspects in the Boston bombings. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Murdoch’s rag accused a male “Saudi national” of being a suspect, only to be discredited by the Boston Police Department.

Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky sums up what appears to be a case of confirmation bias from a major publication touting more 2 million daily readers.

The pair show up in multiple photos of the finish line. They carry large bags. They are dark-skinned. This was enough for Internet sleuths to peg them as suspicious. (They show up here, in Gawker's rundown of "suspects" identified by crowdsourcing on Reddit and 4chan.) And that was apparently enough for the Post to run with its front-page story today, claiming investigators are circulating photos of the two.

Considering the well-documented xenophobia towards people of “darker-skin” in post-9/11 America, the Post’s carelessness seems especially egregious. As Gawker observed on the Post’s Web site this morning, the story directly beneath the cover story recounted a case of a Bangladeshi man who suffered random assault in retaliation for the Boston bombing.

At time of publication, the story linking two almost assuredly innocent men to terrorism had not been removed from the New York Post website.


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