In Heat of Boston Marathon Suspects Story, Boston Globe Fails with “Normal Immigrants” Headline

Apr 19, 2013
6:59 PM

One of the most unfortunate headlines from today’s chaotic news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects comes from the Boston Globe. Overall the Globe’s local news coverage has been very solid, and it is perhaps one of the reasons why its Twitter profile has more than doubled since the explosions occurred during the Boston Marathon on April 15, from about 90,000 followers to more than 220,000.

However, this afternoon, a story about the suspects’ background included a Facebook thumbnail headline that said, “Boston suspects were local, ‘normal’ US immigrants.”


The headline also appears on the live blog page of, the Globe’s digital property.


After clicking on the story, a new headline appears: “Relatives of Marathon bombing suspects worried that older brother was corrupting ‘sweet’ younger sibling.”

Furthermore, the story’s text doesn’t even match the original Facebook headline nor the actual new headline of the story. Here is the beginning of the story:

A relative of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects said he repeatedly warned the 19-year-old fugitive Dzhokhar Tsarnaev about the bad influence of his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed overnight in a shootout with police.

A picture has begun to emerge of 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev as an aggressive, possibly radicalized immigrant who may have ensnared his younger brother Dzhokhar — described almost universally as a smart and sweet kid — into an act of terror that killed three people and injured more than at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

“I used to warn Dzhokhar that Tamerlan was up to no good,” Zaur Tsarnaev, who identified himself as a 26-year-old cousin, said in a phone interview on Friday from Makhachkala. “[Tamerlan] was always getting into trouble. He was never happy, never cheering, never smiling. He used to strike his girlfriend. He hurt her a few times. He was not a nice man. I don’t like to speak about him. He caused problems for my family.”

Zaur Tsarnaev said he most recently expressed his concerns about Tamerlan — the alleged bomber pictured in a dark hat in FBI videos released Thursday — to Dzhokhar when Dzhokar visited last summer. He added that Dzhokhar went to mosque sometimes but he was “never an extremist.”

“Dzhokhar is a sweet boy, innocent. He was always smiling, friendly and happy,” Zaur Tsarnaev said. “I don’t know how he is involved in this.”

Not only is the original headline troubling (who is a “normal” immigrant?), but it begins to create a narrative that plays to the fears of those who believe that immigrants are inherently evil. Such editorial decisions do create impressions on readers, and in this case, an impression that will only play to those who believe that most “foreigners” are not “American.”

Stories like these are what lead to politicians to exploit those fears, just like what Sen. Chuck Grassley did today at a public immigration hearing in Washington, D.C.

Let’s take a moment to focus on the real core facts of this story—how so many law enforcement officials still can’t find a fugitive on the run—before media outlets start offering disturbing headlines that add nothing to the dialogue.