Images via The Thread
So much for any of the bigshot Boston outlets piecing together all the moments and events surrounding the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon. You know, the specifics, like how the Brothers Tsarnaev spent the days and hours before committing the crime, how authorities let Tamerlan slither through so many cracks, critical things of that sort.
Yeah, yeah … the Pulitzer-heavy Boston Globe and a couple of others have been whole-hog on the job, in many cases even generating helpful timelines and detailed infographics. Bruce Gellerman of WBUR has been especially dutiful in identifying holes in the prevailing narrative, while much of the play-by-play and trial reporting has been masterful, with the likes of Phillip Martin from WGBH bringing listeners terrifyingly close to the courtroom.
Niceties aside though, in the interest of being the ombudsman that nobody asked for, I’m comfortable saying that reportage has been shallow overall. The feds nailed the remaining bad guy to the wall, we get it, but the closure essentially ends there. This far along, countless questions still remain in multiple realms ranging from the reason the Tsarnaevs were attached to Watertown, to the killing of Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan’s, in Florida by a filthy FBI agent, to details about cops from out of town who dispatched themselves to the manhunt.
In contemplating the loose ends, as well as my own failure to help knot them, I can’t help but think about The Thread, a short documentary that set out to expose “how the internet manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers changed the face of journalism forever.” Probably due to the hyperbolic description, or perhaps since I’m a pompous prick like everyone else in the press, I initially brushed the film off as another cheap attempt to either glorify or bludgeon new media sleuths. But after sitting on it for a few weeks, I feel there’s an important lesson in the doc, which was shot and cut by some of the filmmakers behind such stellar works as Man on Wire and the Osama bin Laden CIA caper Manhunt.
As could have been predicted, The Thread caught heaps of holy hell from a couple of critics, all of whom seemed to resent any judgment of their industry. A writer at the New Republic opined that the documentary “is baggy and unfocused throughout, unsure of the conflict it sets out to explore.” Well, duh. That’s the fucking point. The Thread literally opens with a micro-blogging college student, as arrogant as he is awkward, saying that he just wanted to put together all the pieces of the bombing story. As the film goes to show, few media behemoths were of much help in the wake of events; as recent weeks have further evidenced, trial coverage is comparably lacking. Why should a visual amalgamation of this state of utter ignorance be any more focused?
To its credit, The Thread subtly balances its sympathetic appreciation for Twitter and Reddit investigators with insufferable commentary from snobbier establishment subjects like an editor from Slate who, despite boasting his site’s OG status among web giants, apparently doesn’t understand how the internet works. All failures considered, it’s absurd for paid reporters of any stripe—whether their credentials are from CBS, DigBoston, or BuzzFeed—to blanketly deride amateurs. Like an editor from the New York Times says in the movie, news is often just well-vetted gossip, and “some people are really good at it who are not journalists.” While Twitter rumor-mongers are often wrong about important matters, as shown in The Thread, so are well-funded news organizations. And often. Though their conversations often ran amok, it wasn’t a Redditor who temporarily misinformed Americans that a dozen people had been killed by the finish line. Whether you consider it mainstream or just a deplorable rag, the New York Post fucked up enough over the course of a week to at least spoil the credibility of tabloids around bombing matters.
Finally, I’m not even sure that it’s worth the time to dive a million miles deep into this case, or to further impugn the investigation—Tsarnaev is rat meat dead or alive, and no armchair expedition is likely to spur authorities to budge an inch on their story. It would have been refreshing to have many more answers, but as the feds try their best to silence the defendant once and for all, that window seems to close a little more each day.
The Thread (Lightbox Entertainment and Xbox Entertainment Studios) is available for download or view-on-demand on various digital platforms).
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.