The New York Post once again found itself in trouble after it published front-page photos of two men on Thursday who it said were being searched for in connection with the Boston bombings. The problem? They were completely innocent.
The Post had already been intensely criticized for both saying that many more people had died in the attacks than turned out to be true, and for pointing the finger at a Saudi man who turned out to have nothing to do with them.
"BAG MEN: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon," the Post's front page headline blared. A clear photo of two men could be seen underneath. The Post's story said that the pictures are being circulated by investigators "in an attempt to identify the individuals highlighted therein."
The article continued, "Meanwhile, officials have identified two potential suspects who were captured on surveillance videos taken shortly before the deadly blasts, law-enforcement sources told The Post yesterday ... It was not immediately clear if the men in the law-enforcement photos are the same men in the surveillance videos."
Such uncertainties do not often lend themselves to front-page images, or of pictures that have red circles drawn around people's faces, as the Post did.
Eventually, authorities cleared the two men shown on the front page of any connection to the Boston Marathon explosions.
"Authorities determined neither had any information or role in Monday’s attacks at the Boston Marathon," the Post reported on Thursday. The article did not contain additional commentary about the newspaper's decision to highlight the two men on the cover.
Salah Barhoun, one of the men identified on the front page of the New York Post, told ABC News that he went to the police to clear his name on Wednesday.
The 17-year old teenager said that he had been watching the marathon, and was shocked after people began to circulate his photo online as a possible suspect in the bombings. ABC News producers reached out to Barhoun and his family for their response to the photos.
Before he and the other man had been cleared, though, other reporters and outlets had already cast severe doubt on the Post's reporting.
CBS News correspondent John Miller said Thursday morning that the men identified by the Post were not the two suspects. He said that people on the Internet started looking around and posting photos and in turn, investigators picked them up and started asking each other about them.
"I'm suggesting it's not certain at all that that is the same individual the FBI is looking at," he said. In another segment, Miller was even more emphatic.
"Those are not the pictures that are going to be released by authorities," he said.
Gawker reported that Reddit users had identified one of the men pictured as "a Moroccan-American kid, a local high-school soccer player and track runner... who works at Subway and likes How High and The Hunger Games."
Reddit users also found his Facebook page, which has since been made private. According to Deadspin, in one post that has since been deleted, he wrote, "Going to the court rightnow!! Shit is real. But u will see guys I'm did not do anything."
The Post immediately came under fire for, at the very least, being ethically irresponsible with its use of the pictures.
"Appalling," Time's television critic, James Poniewozik, tweeted.
"NY Post sinks to a new low," Salon added.
"We can cause great harm to individuals and to the investigation when we suggest people are suspects and when we show images with red circles around the people, making them appear to be targets," Poynter wrote. "In addition to the harm that comes to an individual, there is harm to the investigation in that the public begins to believe authorities know who they are looking for, and there is no need to help further."
Post editor Col Allan defended the newspaper's decision to run its cover and the story, telling The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone: "We stand by our story. The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon "seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects."
The Post's Front Page:
Note: this post has been updated.