This morning VICE received a request from reader Eric Twardzik to publish an open letter to actor and Sirius Radio talk show host Jay Thomas and his staff. Eric, who is a senior at Emerson College and serves as the managing editor of the Emerson publication Berkeley Beacon and editor-in-chief of an online magazine called Gauge, took the now ubiquitous photo of a man being arrested or detained (it is unclear, and the FBI refuses to comment on the identities of any potential suspects) on Boston Common who many media outlets reported as a possible suspect in the bombings.
A few hours after the bombing on April 15, in the midst of the chaos and media one-upmanship that always accompanies stories of this nature, Jay Thomas and his colleagues announced on the air that Eric—who shot the photo—was allegedly a suspect in the bombing and was wearing something that looked like an “Arab headdress.” In reality, according to Eric, the man who was being arrested or detained was wearing a white hat and hoodie, which from afar was widely mistaken as the aforementioned religious garb.
Eric told me that after learning of Jay’s claims via Twitter, around 6 PM on the 15th he reached out to Jay Thomas’s team to request a retraction. After a day, he had not heard back and so he decided to send his letter to us. In the portion of the broadcast concerning Eric (which you can listen to via a link in the letter below), it sounds as if Jay is reading from an unnamed source that has named Eric as an alleged suspect. Eric said that after exhaustive searches he has been unable to find such a source. “I’ve looked extensively for my name and terms like ‘bombing suspect’ and ‘suspect,’ and it turned up nothing,” he said. “I can’t find any source connecting my name as the bombing suspect or arrestee.”
In due diligence, I left a message and wrote an email to Jay’s PR people this morning seeking comment and, to my surprise, Jay called me back about an hour later. I asked him where he and his producers had sourced their claims. He replied that there definitely was a source and that they had hedged it appropriately on the air, but he could not immediately recall where his team had sourced it.
“While I’m on the air I googled ‘bombing,’ and I read… you can hear me reading off the thing, and then of course I say the same thing I’ve been saying my entire career—that it’s ‘alleged’ and ‘suspect,’” Jay said.
When I pressed him on the subject, suggesting that perhaps his producers would remember where it was sourced from, he said they would be calling or emailing me with that info soon. About five minutes later, Jay called me back: “So, um, we’re looking for the link now. I was in California, they’re in New York, one of the producers went online, found everything that was happening, sent me a link, and the link said, ‘photo of suspect.’ I opened the link, there was the picture, and there was the writing under it.”
After 30 minutes of waiting for the link to arrive, we thought this matter pressing enough to publish. If Jay’s people get back to us with the source and link, we will update accordingly. For now, you can read Eric’s letter below as we all await more information on the potential suspect who may or may not be on his way to a Boston court as you read this.
UPDATE: According to the Boston Police, no arrest has been made in connection with the bombing. Stay tuned for more updates.
An Open Letter to Jay Thomas
My name is Eric Twardzik, and you falsely claimed that I was a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing without any support other than your inability to read a tweet.
The sudden, terrible violence on the finish line has made the last 48 hours in Boston exceedingly surreal. But nothing has felt more unreal than hearing you spell out my name as a bombing “suspect” on your satellite radio show.
On the April 15th broadcast of the Jay Thomas Show on Sirius Radio, you erroneously state that “Eric Twardzik” had been arrested by Boston Police in connection to the bombings.
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I take this as an exception.
Some background: In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings I walked to the Boston Common, which was flooded with law enforcement. I saw a man wearing a white baseball cap and a white hooded sweatshirt under his jacket get handcuffed by Boston Police, who surrounded him and barked at bystanders to move back. I tweeted a photo of him with the caption “Man on Boston Common has been handcuffed. Police shouting at people to clear the area” through my handle @eric_twardzik at 5:27 PM to my 154 followers.
Within two hours, this image was retweeted over 3,000 times, from Buzzfeed to Alex Jones, and I added 800 new followers. In another tweet, I referred to him as a “suspect”—I admit that was bad journalism on my part. I tried to correct that error by tweeting that I could not confirm any relation between this man and the bombing.
It became a viral sensation, and I received hundreds of messages asking for clarifications or updates. Of this moment, I have not heard anything to connect this individual to the bombing.
The man was wearing a white baseball cap and a hood, which, from a distance, some mistook to be a turban. Hundreds of tweets focused on this misreading of the image, and users tweeted everything from Islamaphobic slurs to concerns over racial profiling in Boston. I tweeted multiple times that he was not wearing a turban, and tried to correct users connecting the image to the false New York Post report of a Saudi national being the suspect.
JAY THOMAS: I see an arrest here was made. And by the way, I don’t know if this person was a suspect. They’ve got a kid handcuffed. He does have, what looks kind of like an Arab headdress on.
I just thought you were misinterpreting my photo to your audience. But it got much more personal.
JAY THOMAS: But they’re reporting the name—can we say the name, Garret? I mean, it’s reported, right? And I’m lookin at it, it says “Eric Twardzik.”
Yes, that is you announcing my name to the entire Sirius audience as the man potentially responsible for bombing the Boston Marathon. I’m trying to find a post-grad job, and I don’t want that coming up when would-be employers Google me.
In case you thought your listeners might not be able to spell out my excessively Polish surname to send me death threats or find out where I live, you made sure to spell it out. How thoughtful of you.
JAY THOMAS: T-W-A-R-D-Z-I-K. Not an Arab name, but they say he’s a suspect.
Because, you know, the terrorist can only have an Arab name. But you didn’t let your own backward logic stop you. To your credit, you paused to wonder if the culprit was really “This guy they’re announcing.” I have no idea who this “they” that announced my name is, because the only place I was named as a suspect was on the Jay Thomas Show. Simply put, you seem to be Twitter-illiterate and couldn’t distinguish a photograph subject from its Twitter handle. If you had any doubts, it didn’t stop you from giving out my name on air.
You go on to say “they” are calling me a “Saudi suspect”, but only “because I’ve got that headdress on.” Though it sounds like you may have doubts, you say on air that I “killed at least, what, three people?” and speculate if I could receive the death penalty.
The clip ends as you wonder about my name: “Twardzik sounds more Polish or something than it does Arabic.” Honestly, I’m impressed that you pronounced it correctly. It’s been choking substitute teachers and Starbucks baristas for years.
I called your press representative two days ago and asked for a retraction. I left a voicemail, which was never returned. Perhaps this format will prompt you to respond.
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