The NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists each reprimanded the mainstream media for its characterization of a supposed suspect in the April 15 bombing at the Boston marathon.
CNN’s John King was the first to break the news that police had identified a suspect in the bombings which killed three people and injured more than 180. His description called the individual a “dark-skinned man,” with little additional information—and turned out to be untrue.
In fact, when FBI officials finally released video April 18 of the two men sought in connection with the bombings, both appeared to be White.
“The fact that this information was false is only part of the problem” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “Our concern is that CNN used an overly-broad, unhelpful and potentially racially inflammatory categorization to describe the potential suspect. History teaches us that too often people of color are unfairly targeted in the aftermath of acts of terrorism.”
The National Association of Black Journalists urged news outlets to use “extreme caution” when reporting on such tragedies and on race as careless journalism could perpetuate racial stereotypes in the media.
“There have been various reports identifying a potential suspect as a ‘dark-skinned individual,’” the association said in an April 17 release. “This terminology is not only offensive, but also offers an incomplete picture of relevant facts about the potential person of interest's identity.”
“NABJ in no way encourages censorship but does encourage news organizations to be responsible when reporting about race [and] to report on race only when relevant and a vital part of a story,” the statement continued. “Ultimately this helps to avoid mischaracterizations which might encourage potential bias or discrimination against a person or a group of people based on race or ethnicity.”
At the time of King’s perceived “scoop” earlier on April 17, he said he had been given additional descriptions of the alleged suspect but was holding back those details because he didn’t want to “inflame tensions” and because sometimes information turns out to be false.
“I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things," he said, according to The Huffington Post. “I was told by one of these sources who is a law enforcement official that this is a dark-skinned male.
“There are some people who will take offense for even saying that,” he added. “I understand that.”
Some of King’s peers were among those who took offense at his choice.
“Disturbing that it’s OK for TV to ID a Boston bombing suspect only as ‘a dark-skinned individual,’” PBS anchor Gwen Iffill wrote on Twitter.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick DesLauriers said the two men, both wearing baseball caps and dark jackets, should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Video of the two is available at fbi.gov.