Really? NYT Front Page: Terrorist's Tweets Suggest 'Holden Caulfield-like Adolescent Alienation...Downright Sentimental'

April 24th, 2013 3:25 PM

In a puzzling choice, New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani filed a front-page "news analysis" knitting together the social media patterns of the terrorist brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon: "Unraveling Brothers' Online Lives, Link by Link -- Connecting Dots, From Banal and Funny to Darkly Ominous."

Besides the paper's usual off-putting tone suggesting the terrorist brothers were just normal kids (..."Holden Caulfield-like adolescent alienation....Sometimes, Dzhokhar sounds downright sentimental"), Kakutani, whose liberal views are clear from her book reviews, managed to discuss Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Twitter postings without mentioning his pro-Obama and 9-11 Truther tweets.

It is America’s first fully interactive national tragedy of the social media age.

The Boston Marathon bombings quickly turned into an Internet mystery that sent a horde of amateur sleuths surging onto the Web in a search for clues to the suspects’ identity. And once the search focused on Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the brothers’ social media postings provided a rich vein of material to mine and sift.


The younger brother, Dzhokhar, in particular, seemed utterly immersed in American pop culture, and concerned with the sorts of things that preoccupy many young men -- girls (“miss u.s.a. is so sexy”) and good times (“I am the best beer pong player in Cambridge. I am the #truth”). In fact, much of his Twitter feed is distinctive only in its ordinariness -- ordinariness that stands in such startling contrast to the horror of what happened last week in Boston.

There are lots of references to musicians like Chris Brown, Jay-Z and Michael Jackson; television shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones,” and movies like “Spider-Man” and “Finding Nemo.” He prattles away about Nutella and Frosted Flakes, complains about typos and losing his remote. “Pop-up adds are the worst, on par with mosquitoes,” he tweets on June 17, 2012.

Given the layers of irony, sarcasm and joking often employed on Twitter, it can be difficult to parse the messages of a stranger. Yet some of them can seem menacing or portentous, given what we now suspect: “a decade in america already, I want out,” “Never underestimate the rebel with a cause” or “No one is really violent until they’re with the homies.” But others suggest a more Holden Caulfield-like adolescent alienation: “some people are just misunderstood by the world thus the increase of suicide rates.” Sometimes, Dzhokhar sounds downright sentimental (unless, of course, he is being ironic): “There are enough worms for all the birds stop killing each other for ‘em.”

Parts of Dzhokhar’s VKontakte page are harsher and more serious. Under personal priority, it says “Career and money.” Under worldview, it says “Islam.” There is a link to a video indicating outrage at the violence in Syria, and a link to an Islamic Web site that says “And do good, for Allah loves those who do good.” Another video features a blind boy talking to an older man, saying he believes his blindness will be absolved on Judgment Day; the man starts to cry, and wonders how many people who have their sight are as committed to the study of the Koran as the boy.