TV coverage of Boston bombers

Last Friday morning when I heard news that Tamalan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two brothers thought to be responsible for the Boston bombing, had been killed and that his 19-year old younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was being looked for, I thought that the story was pretty much over, bar the predictable ending.

It was obvious that these two brothers were amateurs, not going to any length to disguise their faces, or hide their identities, or even having a getaway plan. If they were professionals, they would have fled the scene and even the country or had some plan of concealment prepared. It was clear that the second suspect would be captured soon, since there was no possible way that a 19-year old could escape from such a massive dragnet. I did not follow events thereafter since the result seemed to me to be foregone and grim, with the most likely outcome being that he would be gunned down. It was a surprise to me that he survived.

But apparently there is a big audience for such things and the last hour of the hunt had a viewership of almost 42 million, which is a huge number by current standards for things other than the Super Bowl.

I am curious as to why so many people would want to watch this. What were they hoping to see? A shootout? I have little stomach for such things. They remind me too much of fox hunting where the fox is cornered by overwhelming numbers of dogs and horses and people and dies a painful death. Even if one intensely dislikes foxes, there is something disturbing in watching a cornered animal die.


  1. frankb says

    My wife calls this the “train wreak”. Whether it is reality TV or a fire or a car chase people will watch avidly.

  2. says

    Well, as someone who lives one town down the road from Watertown, I was watching to see when the police would leave the mall parking lot so I could go buy DVDs again.

    But I also wanted to know if the second suspect would be captured alive. After the first suspect died, he was only one who could have provided some first-hand answers, and what’s emerging shows this to have been such an odd attack, both in terms of the actual events and the suspect, that it was especially important he live.

    I should also state that the media outside the Boston area seem to be painting a somewhat sensationalized picture of the so-called “lockdown.” I was out buying beer and pizza about four hours before the end of the “lockdown,” and who would have stopped me? All the police in my city were over in Watertown. On Friday, the only truly locked-down area, was the (I think) 20-block radius where the police dragnet was set up. This is just anecdotal, but it seems like, among people I’ve talked to, the primary reason people outside Watertown stayed home was that most businesses were closed, just as they were in the snowstorms of early March, when the governor issued similar “shelter-in-place” requests.

  3. slc1 says

    They may have been amateurs but it cannot be ruled out that there were professionals behind them. That’s why it was imperative that at least one of them be captured alive as dead men tell no tales. The older brother appears to be a case of suicide by cop; the younger brother evidently attempted suicide by cop but was in too weak a condition to put up any serious resistance.

  4. says

    slc1: It also can’t be ruled out that there were aliens behind them. Or the Illuminati.

    Please don’t feed the paranoia machine, OK?

  5. slc1 says

    Re Kevin @ #4

    Kevin’s attempt at levity falls flat. What the fuck do you think that the FBI is questioning him about.

  6. Marshall says

    Mano, it’s because people find it exciting.

    When something is exciting, it almost doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. I don’t like that people were bombed, I don’t like that two kids were pushed by whatever forces were at work to make them do something like this, and I don’t like that we had to hunt them down, and that one of them died.

    But it was still exciting, and I still followed it because it was exciting.

  7. Uncle Glenny says

    I think I was mainly looking for some sort of resolution: it was curiosity, like not wanting to put down a book because you want to see how it turns out.

    Although I live out in the ‘burbs outside Boston now, my first residence in the Boston area was a few blocks from where the bombs went off; over the course of a few decades I worked over a dozen years pretty much where the shootout occurred at MIT (probably could have watched from one of my office windows except for all the extreme building that’s gone on in the past couple decades); and I’m familiar with the Inman Square location. (For all I know I was once familiar with the Watertown location from years ago.) So I kind of felt a connection to all this.

    Plus the entire situation had developed over multiple days with many (still) unanswered questions; a TV special couldn’t have asked for a better buildup.

  8. MNb says

    I don’t understand what’s so exciting about this manhunt either. The boy didn’t have any chance to escape. The only question remaining is if he would survive; that was in the papers soon enough.
    A sport event is exciting because we don’t know what the outcome will be. But a manhunt like this is like an NBA team playing a high school team.
    The only question that interests me is: what made the boy do it? Some have their answer ready of course, like Jerry Coyne: Islam. But that doesn’t satisfy me -- there are way too many muslim boys who don’t go on a killing spree. Why don’t they and why does this boy?
    Obviously I’ll have to be patient.

  9. VeganAtheistWeirdo says

    I’d say for me it was a combination of comments 1, 6 & 7, but mostly 7: I wanted to see how it would end. Which I know is silly, since the only part that’s ended is the manhunt.

    Once the reports made it clear that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was cornered, I felt even more invested, because it seemed so unlikely that they would take him in alive. I guess I wanted to see some evidence that law enforcement and the government were pursuing justice rather than vengeance. And as I said in a previous comment, even his capture doesn’t wash away the foul taste of violating his rights or all the calls for enemy combatant status. I probably should have changed the channel.

  10. Frank says

    Curiosity as to how it would end made it hard for me to stop watching, especially since it seemed that it would end soon. Also, since I only turned on the television to watch Jeopardy!, and don’t have cable, there wasn’t much else on.

  11. Uncle Glenny says

    You know, actually I didn’t watch TV per se.

    I was following liveblogging from news outlets, including one tv station.

    Same with everything else like following election results.

  12. kraut says

    “An 87-square-mile metropolitan area was almost totally locked down. At least 9,000 heavily up-armored local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, hundreds of National Guard troops, SWAT teams, armored vehicles, helicopters, and who knows what else hit the streets of greater Boston’s neighborhoods in a search for two dangerous, deluded young men, one of whom ended up bloodied inside a boat in a backyard just outside the zone the police had cordoned off to search in Watertown. It was a spectacle that would have been unimaginable in pre-9/11 America.

    The expense must have been staggering (especially if you add in business losses from the city’s shutdown). In the end, of course, one of the suspects was killed and the other captured -- and celebrations of that short-term success began immediately on the streets of Boston and in the media. But here, too, killing your way to success is unlikely to prove a winning strategy. After all, we’re already in Scahill’s blowback world in which, no matter the number of deaths, there is unlikely to be a crossover point.

    After Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second Boston bombing suspect, was captured, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted a new phrase into the American lexicon. While calling for the 19-year-old to be held as an ”enemy noncombatant” (a la Guantanamo), he wrote, ”The homeland is the battlefield.” That should send chills down the spine of any reader of Dirty Wars.”

  13. hoary puccoon says

    My child lives in Watertown. There was a killer at large in her town. He was captured a few blocks from her house. And I wasn’t supposed to be interested?! Gee, Mano, thanks for your concern.

  14. Mano Singham says

    My daughter lives in Cambridge, close to where the policeman was killed, and was confined to her apartment as part of the shut down. Of course I was concerned about her. But how would watching the manhunt help? The greater danger to her, and to all of us, comes from the random violence that occurs on a routine basis in everyday life in America, not from one isolated hunted individual like this.

  15. dmcclean says

    As an earlier commenter noted, this is a fairly wild exaggeration. Sure, the entire metropolitan area measures 87 square miles. And some area was “almost totally locked down”. The first thing was far from coextensive with the second thing, though. I drove right by (~ 3/4 mile away) for routine business in the middle of this time, and only saw 2 state police cars beyond those I normally would have.

    Your larger point stands, which should obviate the need for the exaggeration.

  16. baal says

    My wife and I skipped the majority of the tv coverage. We did speculate about the likelihood of the 2nd bomber surviving (extremely low, I’m surprised he’s still alive) and the necessity of the cordoning. It seemed like massive overreaction. I have to further speculate if SOP is now to do city wide lock downs for ‘terror’ incidents and the wisdom of regularizing such broad use of the state police power.

  17. hoary puccoon says

    You asked what people were hoping to see. Maybe whether they would catch the guy alive? Maybe no more cops would be shot? Lots of the people watching said they preferred the kid would be taken alive. Some of them, presumably, because they didn’t want more bloodshed, others because they just wanted him to talk to the police. And I suspect a lot of people were seeing it as a real life drama in which it looked like the good guys were going to win. (As, in most people’s opinion, they did.)

    Then, there were lots and lots of people besides you and I who had some personal stake in the outcome. Why would you assume that people were just ghoulishly hoping for another shoot out? I was terrified that there might be another one and some innocent bystander would be shot. (My grandson’s best friend’s home was within range of the first shoot out.)

    I can’t understand, with all the problems the world has to deal with, why you’re interested in getting on people’s case for watching breaking news on TV.

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