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What Twain Said…But Worse

Posted on: | by Christine Anne George |

Bag Men

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that giving a kid a name is kind of a big deal (somewhat more so in certain countries, but I digress…). Now it’s time to turn to what happens when you invoke someone’s name. Using someone’s name can be a powerful thing. In some cases, if you say a name three times, insanity ensues. Other times you may use the name in a novel and find yourself slapped with a lawsuit. (Though the apparent moral of this story is that some appear to care more than others on this front.) But unsuspecting people don’t just care when their name turns up in fictional works. Oh no. They also care when their name appears in news stories, particularly news stories linking them to a crime they did not commit.

On April 18, the front page of the New York Post had a picture of two men with the headline “Bag Men.”  Salaheddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaimi were identified and said to be wanted for questioning. The two had nothing to do with the bombing, as was proven later that day when the FBI released photos of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the actual suspects.  Last week Barhoum and Zaimi launched a lawsuit against the New York Post. The newspaper is accused of invasion of privacy, defamation, and infliction emotional distress.

This is not the first time that innocent individuals have been mistakenly linked to horrendous acts, and it seems to be becoming a trend. Mark Twain noted, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on.” That was an observation in the 19th century. Imagine how that quote would change if he had any notion of social media. This lawsuit may prove interesting to see if it leads to greater care in identifying individuals in the future. After all, thanks to a certain movie, we are all aware the internet (and all those news sources that appear on it) “is written in ink.”

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