At the end of the year, New York Police Department announced an unusual and dangerous weapons bust: A young couple in Greenwich Village apparently had an array of weapons and an explosive in their apartment.
Bad enough, assuming the details are as they seem. (The explosive was reportedly seven grams, about a quarter of an ounce, of a substance called HTMD, which is slightly less explosive than TNT; this amount seems more suitable for blowing off your fingers than for blowing up a building.)
But the Murdoch-owned New York Post gave the story a political angle (12/31/12):
The pregnant daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend–a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist–were busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a powerful bomb-making explosive in their apartment in a Greenwich Village brownstone.
That’s right–Occupy Wall Street. This isn’t the first time the paper has reported a link between a criminal case and the activist movement. Back in July, the paper reported that DNA from an Occupy protest was linked to an unsolved 2004 murder. The DNA “match” turned out to be contamination by an employee of the police department lab.
And this time around, the OWS link would seem to be nonexistent. No one associated with Occupy seems to know who this Aaron Greene person might be. The paper notes in the final paragraph that Greene “has five prior run-ins with the police,” which might be more relevant than a seemingly phantom connection to an activist group.
The Post‘s report was cited in other news accounts; the Associated Press (12/31/12), for instance, put it this way:
The New York Post reported in its Monday editions that Gliedman is the daughter of a prominent Manhattan doctor. It described her boyfriend as a Harvard graduate and an Occupy Wall Street activist.
And on CBS This Morning (1/2/13), Seth Doane reported:
CBS News has learned that police seized two shotguns, a flare launcher, nine high-capacity rifle magazines, various handwritten notebooks containing formulas, literature on how to make booby traps and homemade weapons, and pages from a do-it-yourself manual called The Terrorist Encyclopedia. The New York Post reported Greene was a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement but the group has denied this.
But CBS doesn’t leave it there. They followed that with a soundbite from Mitchell Silbe of K2 Intelligence, who spun out this scenario:
The assumption is that the vast majority of the people there were peaceful protestors, but there was a more radical fringe element to the group, and there was a concern that at some point they might turn to violence if they weren’t accomplishing their political aims.
It’s bad enough to treat a unsubstantiated claim by a partisan news outlet, with a record of sensational misinformation on the same subject, as a relevant fact in a story. But how do you justify using this junk journalism as a chance to let a source give free rein to his fantasies of how Occupy might take a turn towards violence?