The New York Post's notorious front page from the Boston Marathon, in which it described two completely innocent teenagers in a photo as "Bag Men," has landed the paper in court, where the young men have sued it for libel.
American laws make it relatively difficult for media outlets to be successfully found guilty of libel, but the teenagers have several things going for them, including their lack of a public profile and the highly accusatory nature of the "Bag Men" headline. The men are also suing for negligent infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy, both of which seem capable of being proven.
So, what's the Post's excuse for its actions? The Washington Post's Erik Wemple, who has been following the story closely, took a look at court filings the paper submitted in the lawsuit, which is being adjudicated in Massachusetts.
First, the Post's lawyers said that, because it was working off of an FBI email requesting that the men in the picture be identified, and because it never definitively labeled the men as suspects, its story was completely accurate.
Secondly, the paper contends that the "Bag Men" headline, rather than being defamatory, was merely an "attention-getter" that should not be read as a true reflection of the story within.
"All that plaintiffs ultimately have to say by way of complaint is that the Post printed a large headline that brought more attention to them than they believe was warranted, and that readers who jump to conclusions might have jumped to a wrong one -- at least until they realized a day later that they were wrong," the lawyers wrote.
Clearly, the Post feels that, even though it slapped the picture of two innocent, unknown men on its front page, said the FBI was looking for them and dubbed them "Bag Men," it played no part in helping those readers jump to those conclusions.