Why We Fight With the Pen - WhoWhatWhy

Why We Fight With the Pen

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Why were the Tsarnaev brothers in this surveillance video?

Why were the Tsarnaev brothers in this surveillance video?

If you are new to our site, you may well be curious about our fascination with the Boston Marathon Bombing case. After all, the government said that the defendant did it, and his own defense team said he did it. So what more is there to add?

A lot, actually.

For one thing, just because the government or any institution tells us something doesn’t make it true. Or fully true. There may be much more to the story… and it certainly looks that way here.

For another, just because the people representing a defendant decide to admit guilt does not in itself necessarily mean that the defendant is guilty. Even if a defendant personally declares his or her guilt—which has not yet happened in this case—it does not necessarily prove culpability.

Why? Because defendants confess to all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. Historically, we’ve seen loads of cases involving coerced confessions, false confessions based on pressure to protect a family or others, or on a calculated defense team strategy. One kind of confusion or another has revealed thousands of open-and-shut cases to be nothing of the sort. And many “confessed” criminals have later been cleared.

So good journalism and good justice demand some distance from the group-think that guides the majority in any of these emotionally-charged situations.

But that’s not all. Regardless of the guilt of the defendant, there may be much more to be learned. What if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was involved in something that neither he nor his brother actually instigated? What if they had gotten caught up in something even more insidious? Wouldn’t we want to know, need to know?

Strangely, this is where “respect for the victims” is usually cited as the reason why we shouldn’t question law enforcement’s claims, or why we shouldn’t be trying to dig deeper into things. But don’t the victims deserve something beyond a binary guilt-versus-innocence answer—to find out exactly how things led to their loved ones dying or having their limbs blown off? And, not incidentally, to possibly prevent another tragedy down the line?

The emotional appeal to “respect the victims” not only shuts down deeper inquiry; it gives the government a free pass to write the script any way it sees fit—no matter how self-serving.


It is doubly dangerous for a society when the state suppresses a deeper inquiry and the media happily complies.

The Boston Globe editorial board recently informed us that the trial of Tsarnaev has been a “success” that “helped restore some global respect for American justice.” The trial filled us in with “important new details of the bombing,” such as “where they got the gun used to kill MIT police officer Sean Collier.”

Putting aside the fact that there were, in fact, very few truly new revelations in the trial, including “where they got the gun” (that had already been leaked by law enforcement and widely disseminated by the media), should we really be calling a one-sided trial with almost no cross-examination of the prosecution’s case, a success? Successful prosecution, maybe, but woefully inadequate for getting at the whole truth. In one of many such examples, the judge disallowed a question as to whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was even armed when officers pumped more than 100 bullets into the boat where he was hiding.

In this particular case, we’ve found dozens, scores, maybe even hundreds of things that don’t line up, don’t add up. Taken together, they suggest that the full or correct story is not coming out. Especially given the fact that the defendant has yet to speak publicly, even indirectly, to tell his own story of what happened and how he came to be involved in such a monstrous plot. Also telling is that he has essentially been muzzled. Though the government was quick to label this case yet another matter of “lone wolf” terrorism with no connections to global terror, it contradicted itself by applying a Special Administrative Measure that kept Tsarnaev in solitary confinement and prevented any kind of media contact with him. Those are not the things you do when someone is a lone wolf. They are the kinds of things you do when you do not want him to speak—or to be heard—on subjects that might be embarrassing to the government.

In the end, he was given court-appointed counsel that at least one relative claims he didn’t want. His defense team admitted guilt for him; in the so-called “guilt phase” of the trial (as opposed to the sentencing phase) they put up almost no defense of any kind. Indeed, they failed to raise questions about the glaring holes in the case we’ve noted over the past couple years—though they are well aware of them. They never even tried to explain why he did what he is alleged to have done. They never dug, they never exposed and they almost never cross-examined, despite ample opportunities to do so. All this passivity was attributed to their laser focus on getting him off the death penalty. And instead of questioning this “strategy” the media horde covering the trial served as little more than stenographers and sensation-mongers.


Almost nothing we have been told about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev makes sense. Not his failing to act like a Jihadist before or after exploding the bombings, making no public statement for his cause, or seeking to be a martyr. Not his supposedly going to buy milk directly from the site of the bombings. Nor his returning moments later to the store, again ensuring he would be caught on the store’s camera, to return the milk. Nor his going back to his college dorm, working out with his friends, attending class and partying with classmates. Then just staying on in town until he and his brother were marked men. None of this is typical terrorist behavior.

Before the bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wasn’t particularly political, he rarely spoke of religion, and rarely attended mosque. He spent most of his time online frequenting Facebook, and visiting movie and porn sites. He was almost universally known as a popular, polite, and laid-back kid—not a hotheaded reactionary who would kill innocent people in the name of some confused political agenda.

Is it likely that these were the contents of a backpack belonging to a pot-smoking, popular party boy?

Is it likely that these were the contents of a backpack belonging to a pot-smoking, popular party boy?

In a similar vein, it doesn’t make sense that the FBI ignored all of the signs of his elder brother Tamerlan’s growing radicalism, and then after receiving warnings from Russian intelligence and visiting with Tamerlan apparently failed to keep an eye on him when he traveled back to Russia, and when he returned. This is especially peculiar since some of Tamerlan’s behavior seemed actually designed to attract attention, as if he were playing a role. Please see our earlier story exploring this credible possibility.

This is either grounds for indicting the Bureau for incompetence, or it is an indication that these brothers were, like thousands of others, caught up in some web of provocation, either as plot infiltrators or informants. Whatever it is, thanks to the defense team’s strategy, we may never know. Complicit in this missed opportunity is the disgraceful performance of the media. And that means virtually all of the media, from “right” to “left,” from “traditional” to the edgiest new brands.

The marathon bombing case has given the super-profitable homeland security complex another blank check, justified the government’s ever-increasing surveillance and control of the populace, and in myriad ways further eroded our diminishing freedom. There will be more eavesdropping, more cameras, more putting people in solitary confinement without cause; more justification for almost any action the state wishes to take. We may have just gotten a whiff of where things are headed when during the Boston manhunt the government took the extraordinary step of shutting down a major American city, ordering everyone to stay in their homes—without a peep of protest.

Good journalism is a necessary bulwark of good justice. A free citizenry will demand both—because, as the Constitution reminds us, there is no better defense against tyranny.

We asked each member of our Boston Marathon Bombing reporting team to share their personal experience or perspective on one aspect of the bombing or the trial. Stay tuned for more personal perspectives like this as the trial concludes.


Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

Please help us do more. Make a tax-deductible contribution now.

Our Comment Policy

Keep it civilized, keep it relevant, keep it clear, keep it short. Please do not post links or promotional material. We reserve the right to edit and to delete comments where necessary.


25 responses to “Why We Fight With the Pen”

  1. Avatar Blue Mann says:

    Does the following photo look like a “polite, laid-back kid?”
    The picture shows that, even three months after committing such an atrocity, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lacked any remorse or other redemptive human emotions.

    • Avatar Matthew says:

      Your argument is highly problematic. First off, It’s hard to
      imagine anyone remaining a “polite, laid-back kid” once he/she
      realizes they’ve been setup to take the fall for a monstrous crime, will be
      forced to spend the rest of their short life in prison and ultimately go down
      in history as a mass murdering Islamic extremist. I’m assuming the description was given by someone who knew him prior to his incarceration. Additionally, a defiant
      gesture directed at a surveillance camera does not, in any conceivable way,
      imply a lack of remorse or humanity.

    • Avatar Blue Mann says:

      …..and you’re simply another typical skull-fracked enabler and apologist for the primitive 7th-century Islamofascist savages.

    • Avatar Matthew says:

      His favorite song was by shagy and he regularly attended college parties, got drunk, smoked grass and banged chicks. If you think someone like that is an islamofascist, you’re retarded (I honestly don’t know how else to put it).

  2. Avatar cstahnke says:

    This trial reminded me of the Sirhan trial–no real defense and a guilty plea. In fact, the autopsy report showed that Sirhan could not have killed Robert Kennedy a fact I found out only about five years ago! All politically-oriented trials cannot be trusted. I don’t know what happened in Boston but whatever it was that attack as well as the fears and prejudices of a militantly ignorant public has caused millions of Americans to believe that Muslims are bent on taking over America and I head someone tell me that they are afraid ISIS will start taking over major American cities and already has in Detroit! Think of it! And this is the South where people are armed to the teeth!

  3. Avatar Ehsan Butt says:

    Guilty Verdict Exposed as a Gross Miscarriage of Justice

  4. Avatar PatGinSD says:

    Spread this everywhere: This was an FBI Terror Drill: http://twitter.com/BostonGlobe/status/323886829596205056
    But not a word about this to the Jurors!

  5. Avatar PatGinSD says:

    This trial is a travesty! Can we somehow get the ear of some high-value honest legal defense? His “Defense Team” has been anything but! I am desperate to see this young person get a REAL legal defender! This show trial is moving at lightning speed, as there is no real Defense to gum up the works.
    Thank you for doing such a good job at investigation here.
    I am also desperate for someone to actually get a close-up picture and video of the person posing as Defendant, as it is clear it is not Jahar! The “Defendant” has a strong Russian accent according to the media at the trial, and one of his teammates stated upon leaving the trial that the “defendant” at the trial is NOT Jahar. Jahar HAS NO ACCENT! Funny how no pictures are allowed. We got to see all the videos/pictures we wanted at the OJ Simpson trial, and now at the Durst trial, so everyone can SEE that these men were/are at their trials.

  6. Avatar Itookyouradvice says:

    If someone was to have set a bomb off and make a statement/impact. Why would they do it where stragglers are slowly coming across the finish line, when there were literally thousands at the start of the race..how could someone on the run find the time to write a confession and do it in complete darkness? The lemmings are eating this up like a homeless person at a buffet.

  7. Avatar JayGoldenBeach says:

    J. Edna Hoover would be proud.

  8. Avatar colleen says:

    Let’s call it the “Rodney King School of Evidence.” We see something with our plain eyes or know something from plain common sense but people get cowed into believing the reverse.

  9. Avatar colleen says:

    Thank you Russ Baker. You are a hero. They keep using the same playbook. They coached Jack Ruby to say he killed Oswald to spare Jackie Kennedy a trial. How different is that from the “respect the victims” smokescreen to ward off scrutiny?

  10. Avatar Kevin says:

    Russ – any idea if Dzhokar understands what’s going on in his trial? (e.g. that his lawyer said he was guilty) Does he speak English?

    • Avatar JayGoldenBeach says:

      Dzhokar is fluent in English; all his Twitter and Facebook posts released were in English, as was his so-called “confession” written on the inside of the boat.

    • Avatar PatGinSD says:

      Yet the “Defendant” present in court has a HEAVY RUSSIAN ACCENT- per the press. Go figure. One of his teammates upon exiting the courthouse said “that is not Jahar.” So easy to prosecute when there is no Defense present in court.

  11. Avatar oh_look says:

    I can’t help but think the Defense played the wrong card here, and what will their “closing arguments” be? Do they really have any arguments to make except “his brother made him do it”??

  12. Avatar John Cathy says:

    Russ, No question the Media is a joke, but the entire episode is a psyop. Look into that. Show trial all the way including the defense ream. What do you think, they just dropped the ball on cross examination. Admit guilt then do virtually nothing. Crazy

  13. Avatar onetree says:

    Thank you for this very well written, clear headed, rational, and factual piece. After listening to the trial for all of these days and all of the propaganda that’s gone along with it, this is sorely needed!

  14. Avatar SusanB says:

    Thank you for this! I needed to read it.

    I have been one of those following this case for two years and seeing all the hundreds of gaping holes and inconsistencies that you speak of. And now the defense counsel has made me doubt everything I thought I knew. It’s like being in the movie “Gaslight” and having someone doing things to make us think we are crazy.

    Just like in the JFK assassination, in the Tsarnaev trial we are being asked to ignore the evidence of our eyes and our common sense.

  15. Avatar Cirze at Welcome to Pottersvi2 says:

    At least you’ve gotten a whiff.

    Many of us have been reporting on this glide to fascism for years.

    The stealing of the 2000 election, gaining our astonished attention initially, and the Boston “bombing,” at the hands of raging incompetents (nephews of a CIA/NSA honcho), who traveled freely to Russia and back, with the media finding nothing worth reporting, putting the final nail in the casket

    Welcome to the Anti-Fascist side who have no problem seeing the drift.

    • Avatar John Cathy says:

      stealing of 2000 election gas nothing to do with it. They own both sides. It doesn’t matter.

  16. Avatar sfulmer says:

    Don’t worry. Mark Wahlberg is a man of the people.

  17. Avatar jane24 says:

    And thanks from me also! We should all know from both history and experience that when “they” tell us something is true this is frequently an indication of the opposite. The mention that some consider any questions in regard to the victims in some way “disrespectful” particularly struck a chord with me. Since when has demanding the truth been “disrespectful” to anyone? Regardless of one’s personal opinions in this case, or indeed Tsarnaev’s guilt or otherwise, there is much to protest in the way this case has been handled. If such tactics are not being used to convict an innocent man in this case, they could be and likely will be in the future. (And probably have been already.)

  18. Avatar jcbrook says:

    Thank you so much for this piece. I look forward to the additional perspectives. This whole thing smacks of carefully scripted theater, from beginning to end. I hope you’ll consider asking Sen. Mary Landrieu why a meeting on the bombings in Washington (at which she was present), on the day after the marathon, had to be classified, as NPR reported. What needed to be hidden from the public, right off the bat?

    • Avatar edwardrynearson says:

      “This whole thing smacks of carefully scripted theater, from beginning to end.”