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Chris Faraone talks about media and the Boston bombings

When the bombs went off on April 15th, formerBoston Phoenix staff writer Chris Faraone was a few blocks away from the explosion. In the minutes, hours, and days that followed, Faraone tirelessly documented on the tragedy, and the impact it had on Bostonians. He quickly but thoughtfully penned pieces for the American Prospect, Racialicious, and Dig Boston, but still had plenty of reflections to share. Within twelve days of the bombing, Faraone published an e-book collecting his coverage, Heartbreak Hell: Searching for sanity in Boston through a week of tragedy & terror. “Having covered mayhem elsewhere, I'm aware of how rare it is to utilize every note, to exhaust every last breath of interview,” he writes in the introduction. “But even after filing thousands of words to blogs and newspapers all week, I still have countless tales to share about everything I've seen since winding up within earshot of the bombing.” The entire book can be read for free online; here is the epilogue followed by an interview with Faraone discussing the book and the media’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

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Monday, April 22, 2013 –
Late Evening

It rained the morning after Boston's good guys nabbed the boy bomber. That the misty drizzle felt like a baptismal cleansing didn't go unnoticed in the Twittersphere. Strangely, the afternoon before – during the suspenseful cat-and-mouse spectacle – was one of the most spectacularly sunny days of the year. Though I'm not amenable to having soldiers on the Common gripping rifles, I did feel somewhat badly for anyone in black bulletproof gear who was baking in the spring heat. When the U.S. becomes a full-blown police state, they might want to re-think the storm trooper get-ups. I recommend mesh.

I'm not yet sure if this week of writing and over-sharing has helped me emotionally. I don't see closure anywhere on the horizon – at least not for those of us who need something more substantive than a moment of silence, or a bus with an LED claiming 'BOSTON STRONG.' I'm trying to act normal – go about my business – but I'm a basket case. I had way too much to drink a few nights ago, and unraveled into a despicable mess, simultaneously crying and screaming like Cuba Gooding Jr. in Boyz n the Hood, punching at the air as uninvited ghetto birds hovered in the sky above me.

The truth is that I hate being the Boston equivalent to New Yorkers who swear they were never late to work in 20 years at the World Trade Center, but got a flat tire during rush hour on 9-11. But in this case I guess I really am that guy who was en route to a party at Forum, where the second bomb detonated. I won't be alone in reflecting back on all of this later on, but at that point it will probably be hard to remember how cracked I was in the moment. How cracked we all were in some way or another.

Years from now, when some gutless sports writer pens an epic tome about how the Sox channeled post-marathon momentum to win the 2013 World Series, I'd like the record to show that Boston stood tall in ways other than barbaric street fiestas and Fenway tributes. Those are all important, to varying degrees. But whereas much of society now lives online, experiencing life through plasma, the nightmare of the minutes, hours, and days after the bombing were far more complex than any sentimental montage or still photo could show. In that regard, while I can't speak for anybody but myself, I hope this helps.

With that said, it looks like Tsarnaev is communicating with authorities, which sounds good to me. After a week of wandering the streets, trying to decipher things on my own, I think that I'm finally ready to listen. Maybe he has a better idea of what the fuck just went on here, though I seriously doubt it.

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Q & A with Chris Faraone

Why write a book rather than publishing more one-off articles? It seems like a lot of work, and that it must have been emotionally exhausting to get such a big project together after such an intense week of reporting. Or was it was the opposite?

Parts of two chapters appeared in Dig Boston, one chapter was published by the American Prospect, and pieces of another ran on Racialicious. That stuff accounts for about 30 to 40 percent of it. As for the rest – some of it was intended for other outlets, which I won't name here.

But they sucked; even though this is my city, and I know it better than editors from outside of Boston, they were calling me from New York, telling me that my ideas weren't what they were looking for. They wanted the same stories that everybody else was telling – about the victims, and the bombers, and everything else you're still seeing across the mainstream. That stuff is important, but it's also not the whole story.

So when editors told me that the stuff I was writing about wasn't what they wanted – say, for example, the story of the tourists who came to Boston on the day after the bombing, and were rushing to get the fuck out by Friday, before they captured the second suspect – I said, 'Fine – but I'm not going to cater anything for you.' Instead, I hoarded by own stuff, and presented it the way that I thought that it should be presented. Of course, I had two editors go through everything first, but otherwise I played editor, in that I decided what was important.

What were some of the most underreported and overlooked perspectives on this story in the mainstream media? What pieces of the story do you think are left to be investigated?

A lot of the real investigative reporting hasn't happened yet, though there has been some good writing, particularly by the AP and the NY Review of Books on the “Misha” angle.

I do plan on doing some real digging and document hunting, but in the week immediately after the bombing, I was just doing what I could do as a one-man news squad.

I'm not the Globe – I have no resources but my sneakers, my computer, a pen, a pad, and a knowledge of Boston. So I used those to cover what I felt was underreported, which was the stuff away from the media scrum – the lives of those who were not directly affected by the bombings, per se, but who were absolutely impacted in major real and emotional ways as residents and visitors to this city in a time of such distress. And I'm not just talking about those who were in town for the marathon.

Your book is available for free to anyone online, which rules. In your interview with the Providence Phoenix you said: "There's no way there won't be a gigantic money grab by the military industrial complex — they specialize in post-traumatic manipulation." That is a good point. My immediate reaction was that in some ways it also seems like mainstream media specializes in post-traumatic manipulation also -- especially with all of the out-of-town reporters who traveled to Boston for this. I thought a really apt description of it was how you described mainstream reporters as dashing around "like consumers on Black Friday" chasing the story. Can you comment on this more?

There are a few reasons that I'm giving the book away for free.

The first is that I truly want people to read it; these are a few of the many stories that haven't been told endlessly, and I can single-handedly change that. That feels good. I also didn't want to deal with people saying that I'm trying to profit off of a tragedy – even though everyone and everything from hospitals, to t-shirt scumbags, to the Red Sox are doing just that, and everyone is too fucking stupid to even realize it. Perhaps they're too busy screaming “Boston Strong” from the rooftops to notice the striking hypocrisy bubbling right under their noses.

Finally, and I won't deny this – it's a good way to get my name out there, and to let people outside of Boston know that there are alternative voices in this city – that we're not all just meathead sports fans with stupid provincial tattoos.

Those out of town reporters who you mentioned – fuck most of them. If anyone is capitalizing on this tragedy, it's the CNNs of the world, and their lowly beat reporters who could give a fuck about this city. That woman who has been hanging out on Copley Square for the past few weeks leading pro-Boston cheers has especially been getting under my skin. One night she was hanging out with cops at a bar in Dorchester. It's hero worship and ass-kissing like I've never seen it before. Truly sickening.

In your Monday piece you wrote, "The state agents who I've slammed for years – they're suddenly all heroes." How do you deal with folks who you know have done terrible things in the past suddenly being treated like heroes without coming off as totally insensitive in these situations?

When it comes to the Boston police, the last thing I'm worried about is being insensitive. Because if we're going to talk about insensitivity, they should be the first ones we bring up: long-running institutional bigotry, racist hiring practices, the beating and killing of minorities, you name it. There's a case to be made that they're the city's biggest gang – that they're bigger terrorists than the Tsarnaevs ever were. The same goes for District Attorney Dan Conley who, despite having nothing to do with prosecuting these cases, had his mug up on the podium every chance he got during press conferences. By and large, they're not heroes. They're a collective menace to Boston, and to society.

And the feds too. I'm not sure if an informant pushed the shithead brothers into doing this – I'm sure we'll know soon enough – but it's a common practice, as we saw with Brandon Darby at the Republican National Convention, and with the set-up at Occupy Cleveland. Anyone who's not familiar with those situations should read about them. It will get you thinking about who our heroes are and aren't.

My heroes don't wear badges, or carry guns. If there were heroes here, they were the medics and civilians who helped people on the scene, and the people who have donated money so that those who were injured but don't have health insurance won't get assaulted again – the second time by hospital bills. That reminds me – I can't wait and see how much medical crooks will make off of the bombings. Makes me want to puke.

What music did you listen to most while covering and reporting on this story?

On the first day, I didn't listen to music. Just watched the news.

On the second day, I bought the Young Zee and Mr. Green album that came out last year – just fun hip-hop to get my mind off of everything.

The third day, I was completely depressed, and turned to Bob Marley and other trusty reggae staples to brighten me up – corny as it is, I love the Toots version of “Country Roads, Take Me Home.” That helped.

By the fourth and fifth day, I was a drunken mess, screaming and shouting by day and while sleeping. By then I was listening to Slaine, who is the voice of certain parts of Boston that rarely get heard, and particularly the track “Lady Liberty” that he ripped with East Coast Avengers a few years ago. I quote a line of his from that song in the epilogue of my book. It's in reference to what happened immediately after 9-11, and I think it's a good way to end here: “Everybody's illin' when the buildings blow up / But what's gonna happen when our children grow up?”

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