Boston Marathon Terrorist Attack

Warning: This post contains a few pictures that may show blood, guts, broken bones, extremely injured people, and corpses. The images are essential to the questions presented in this post. Please skip this post if you do not want to see the images.

I spent several days thinking about whether or not to write this post even though there is an obvious connection between the bomb blasts and concussive brain injury. I eventually chose to write the post because it highlights the importance of clear, concise, and accurate communication. I did not write this post to share my beliefs about terrorism — I have no doubt that the governments, military, security agencies, courts, and media of the world will address that issue.

I am much more interested in how results of the attack are communicated once the decision is made to communicate them. For example, is it appropriate to describe the events to a child in the same way you would describe them to an adult? Would you describe the events to someone who lost a loved one in the attack in the same way you describe them to a curious person who was not anywhere near the blasts? How would the people who were injured in the blasts feel if they were told that the damage was less severe than it actually was?

Many news teams, photographers, and people who like to hear themselves talk describe what they know, or pretend to know, about the events. In the United States and in many other countries, information about the bombing is mentioned in every media outlet imaginable — television, radio, newspapers, magazines, journals, social media, blogs, email, etc.  Finding information is not a problem, but deciding whether or not the information is accurate is a huge problem. We depend on reporters and photographers to share the truth about what they see. However, we do not always receive the unaltered truth. A post written by Charles Apple reveals that a picture of the Boston Marathon tragedy was, in fact, altered.

The following picture was used by several organizations to illustrate the scene at the Boston Marathon finish line:

Boston Globe Original

The Daily News used the same picture but altered it prior to publication. Can you spot the difference between the two pictures? There is a definite difference aside from the words that Daily News used in its version of the picture.

Daily News

If you do not see the difference between the pictures, or you want to read the original post written by Charles Apple, click here.


Is it ethical to alter a picture of the scene to “protect” readers from the tragedy, or is it unethical to hide the truth? Would a rating (similar to G, PG, PG13, R, etc.) be more appropriate than altering a photo? Would a simple warning (extremely disgusting pictures . . . ) be more appropriate than altering a picture? What would justify altering a picture? Is altering a story less ethical than altering a picture used in a story? Is a small change to a photo unethical when the overall scene remains unchanged?

Thanks to Charles Apple for sharing the story with me and allowing me to refer to his post in my blog.

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