New York Post's "Bag Men" Are Suing the Tabloid for Defamation

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 6 2013 11:35 AM

The New York Post's "Bag Men" May Get the Last Laugh

BagMen
The cover of the New York Post at the center of the defamation lawsuit

During the frenzied aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, the New York Post plastered the picture of a Massachusetts teenager and his 24-year-old friend on its front page with the all-too-ominous-sounding headline "Bag Men." (Subhead: "Feds seek this duo pictured at Boston Marathon.") That duo, unsurprisingly, is now suing the New York tabloid for defamation, the Boston Globe reports this morning.

As you may remember, the photo and attention-grabbing headline led many to believe the FBI had IDed the two males—16-year-old high school student Salaheddin Barhoum and 24-year-old part-time college student Yassine Zaimi—as suspects in the bombing. In reality, the pair turned out to just be avid runners who had been already briefly questioned by authorities. Later that day, authorities released the photos and video of the two actual suspects, who we now know as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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Barhoum and Zaimi are suing the Post for libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy, and are seeking unspecified damages. Here's the Globe with the details:

"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," according to the court complaint. The lawsuit asserts the newspaper subjected the friends to "scorn, hatred, ridicule, or contempt in the minds of a considerable and respectable segment of the community."

The New York Post declined to comment Wednesday, but editor Col Allan defended the coverage in April, telling the Associated Press they accurately reported that the image was e-mailed to law enforcement officials seeking information about the men. "We did not identify them as suspects," Allan said.

The short article the Post ran along with the photo included a small CYA disclaimer that there was "no direct evidence linking them to the crime, but authorities want to identify," but the cover clearly told a somewhat different story.

The Post's "Bag Men" decision in specific, and its general Boston coverage in general, was heavily criticized by other outlets. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple, for one, penned a post after the cover proved less-than-accurate titled, "Young men, please sue the New York Post." It looks like he got his wish.

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.

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