NYT Headline Over Story on Bombing Suspects: 'Far From War-Torn Homeland, Trying to Fit In'

The New York Times has been mostly steady and factual in its coverage of the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. But the paper is taking criticism Friday for its benign headline over its online story on two terrorist suspects from Chechnya, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, killed in a shootout early Friday morning, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, still on the loose Friday afternoon.

A headline writer went the extra mile to make the pair sound sympathetic: "Far From War-Torn Homeland, Trying to Fit In." After criticism, the headline evolved into...."Brothers Seen as Good Students and Avid Athletes." Much better?

Reporter Erica Goode made the two terrorist suspects sound rather normal:

One was a boxer who liked Russian rap videos and once said, “I don’t have a single American friend.”

The other, an all-star high school wrestler, listed “Islam” as his worldview on a Russian social-media page and was described by a neighbor as a “very photogenic kid” who had “a heart of gold.”

As a picture has begun to emerge of the two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who are suspected of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon, it was difficult to distinguish them from millions of other young people who come to the United States to forge a future. The authorities are scrambling to determine how they might have evolved into terrorists who would plant powerful bombs in a crowd of innocent people.

The blunt fact that an MIT police officer was killed in a firefight with the blast suspects suggests the Times should have passed on any attempts to portray them as lonely and alienated.

The Boston Globe's headlines over the paper's online profiles of the two men are less emotive: "Wrestling coach recalls Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as 'dedicated kid'" and "Older bombing suspect 'was up to no good,' cousin says."

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.