Other stories in the news -- such as the explosion Wednesday night at a Texas fertilizer plant, resulting in more fatalities than the Boston bombing -- lack these compelling elements. How many people were glued to their sets or talking constantly about the Texas tragedy, which involved not "ordinary American families" enjoying a beloved pastime, but blue collar workers in a "right to work" state where unsafe working conditions are hardly considered shocking? Even when it seemed possible that the Texas explosion might also involve terror, it didn't capture the same degree of interest. We came to learn that perhaps it was "just" an industrial accident -- at a plant that hadn't been inspected in five years. Such accidents, if that is what it was, are only likely to increase as federal inspection funds are slashed as part of the sequester.
The truth is, some things grab and keep our attention more than others. The people who run the media know this. And because they have to sell ads, they focus on some things more than others.
Was there anything else we could have been focused on? There was, but it was just too "distasteful" to broach, at least in the early hours. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it was the Fox brand (admittedly a local station, not the propagandistic Fox News Channel) that dared to raise questions about events that terrorize the public. In this report, the correspondent dares to remind us that the FBI has in the past had close relationships with people who want to blow things up, and has even facilitated these plots up to the point where law enforcement can intervene to thwart the bad guys. Was a similar sting in place at the Marathon -- a sting that went horribly wrong?
One veteran marathoner, Alistair Stevenson, the cross-country coach at the University of Mobile, says that he noticed an unusually heavy police presence, including bomb-sniffing dogs and spotters on rooftops, before the race, and that runners were told not to worry -- that law enforcement was carrying out "drills."
Stevenson's account was reported in an Alabama blog run by a consortium of respectable local news organizations, but it was virtually ignored by the traditional media. Nothing here worth a second-look? Really?
Is it heresy or madness to take a harder look at the metastatic growth of the national security state? History is replete with examples of cynical efforts to create "strategies of tension" in which the public, fearful of growing chaos, turns to the reassurances of those who promise order.
In fact, it so happens that advocates of increasing surveillance are pressing their game on every front. One involves the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which, if enacted, would authorize your web service provider to pass along your real-time personal data to the Federal spooks. There's been a lot of opposition to this, but something like the Marathon bombing can be a game-changer. Those who monitor public sentiment understand the power of emotion to alter public stances.
That's not to say there is necessarily anything "more" going on here. But from history, we know that the official story will point to one of two things: either an organized radical (Left or Right or Foreign) group that threatens "the American way of life," or it will be a "lone kook."
It could be that by the time you read this, we will "know" the "full story." At press time, the story was breaking in a new direction, with two young immigrant brothers, Chechens, the identified culprits. Why Chechens, who, though Muslim, would principally have a beef with the Russians, with whom they have been at war, not with the US? And why if they were, as apparently they were, treated well here and given opportunities, including a scholarship?
The upshot will be to bring the US and Russia into closer alignment.
Remember, though, that even the most radical of terrorists can be wound up by infiltrators, or can have links to our good friends, as we reported about those identified as the 9/11 hijackers, and their ties, via a house in Florida, to the Saudi royal family.
Oh, and what about the fire that broke out around the same time as the Marathon bombing, at the nearby John F. Kennedy Library and Museum? Interest in that fire largely vanished as soon as we were tentatively assured that it was (perhaps/probably) unrelated. Talk about symbolism: the Boston Marathon on "Patriot's Day" -- and the repository of records related to one of America's greatest mysteries, the death 50 years ago of a President who warned us repeatedly of the dangers of tyranny -- and who sought peace with the non-hardliners in the Kremlin.
So let's not settle so fast for the wrong kind of reassurance. Other societies have learned the hard way to be wary of too-easy answers. We simply must be open to the most inconvenient truths -- not out of paranoid fantasies, but from a cold-eyed look at history and recent experience.