‘Bag Men’ Sue NY Post Over Boston Marathon Coverage

     (CN) – The New York Post defamed two runners by plastering full-length photographs of them on the front page with the headline “Bag Men,” implying they were the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, they claim in court.
     Salaheddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaimi are avid runners who say they were at the finish line on April 15 to watch the elite runners about two hours before two pressure cooker bombs exploded.
     “They had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the bombing” that killed three people and injured more than 260 spectators, including 14 who lost limbs, the young men claim in Suffolk County Superior Court.
     They sued the New York Post and reporters Larry Celona, Brad Hamilton, Jamie Schram, Lorena Mongelli and Kate Kowsh for defamation/libel per se, invasion of privacy, and negligent, intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress.
     They say the paper published “full length, full page, photographic images of plaintiffs” with the blaring headline “Bag Men.” A subhead stated, “Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon.”
     “The term ‘Bag Men’ with the images of plaintiffs Zaimi and Barhoum clearly implies that they are the ‘men’ who had bombs in their bags,” the lawsuit states.
     The bags they wore carried their own running gear, Zaimi and Barhoum say.
     “In various headlines, articles and images, the newspaper stated or implied that the plaintiffs were the perpetrators of the bombing; that they were suspects in the bombing; that they were being sought by law enforcement; and that photographs of them were being circulated by law enforcement officials,” they say. “None of these statements were true.”
     Barhoum is a 16-year-old high school sophomore who lives in Revere, Mass. Zaimi, 24, is a Moroccan immigrant who lives in Malden, works full time and attends night school, according to the lawsuit.
     They say the Post relied on the speculation of internet users, particularly members of the crowd-sourcing websites Reddit and 4Chan who had launched discussion groups aimed at finding the bombers.
     Photographs of Barhoum and Zaimi began circulating on one or more of these sites within two days of the bombing, according to the lawsuit.
     The plaintiffs say that when they learned their photos were appearing in connection with the bombing, they immediately went to police stations in the Boston area to answer any questions and were told they were not suspects.
     By that time, authorities had photographs of the actual suspects, later identified as brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, amid an online frenzy to finger possible suspects.
     Barhoum and Zaimi say the FBI specifically warned journalists against such speculation:
     “Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate,” the FBI said in an April 17 news release. “Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”
     Despite this warning, the Post published its “Bag Men” story in print and online, the lawsuit states.
     Barhoum says he didn’t know about the story until he came home from a track meet to find his house swarmed by reporters. When they showed him a copy of the Post, he “became terrified, began to shake and sweat, and felt dizzy and nauseous,” the lawsuit states.
     Zaimi claims that when his office manager first showed him the article, he “immediately started shaking, his mouth went dry, and he felt as though he was having a panic attack.”
     The runners say the defamatory articles put them in “fear for their lives,” damaged their reputations and caused “severe emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation.” The Post’s decision to publish the story in print and online “was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency,” Barhoum and Zaimi claim.
     They seek actual damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.
     Barhoum is represented by Max Stern with Stern, Shapiro, Weissberg & Garin.
     Zaimi’s attorney is C. William Barrett with Esdaile, Barrett, Jacobs & Mone.

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