April 30, 2013

El Houssein Barhoum is the father of one of the young men depicted on the April 18 cover of the New York Post. “Bag Men,” read the headline, with this explanation: “Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon.”

“These two” had nothing to do with the Boston Marathon bombings, but they made the Post cover in any case. As a result, Barhoum is talking to lawyers about his options. “A lot of people, they tell me that’s your right to sue them,” says Barhoum, who says he is working toward a contract with a lawyer. “I will give him my case and he will study it.” The Erik Wemple Blog is already on record as favoring this approach.

Should the family file a civil complaint, it’ll surely address the upheaval that the New York Post has helped bring to the Barhoum household. The son in the photo, Salah Barhoum, a 16-year-old track athlete (other accounts say he’s 17), sleeps one or two hours per night these days, says El Houssein Barhoum, and sometimes “refuses to go to school.” “He says, ‘I don’t want people to ask me a lot of questions,’ ” the father reports.

Before the photo hit the New York Post, it circulated on the Internet, a scary development that prompted Salah Barhoum to meet with authorities to clear his name. That was on Wednesday, two days after the bombings. On Thursday, the Post chose to showcase Salah Barhoum and a friend.

Following all the attention, “We were just scared to go outside,” says El Houssein Barhoum, who says he works at a Cosi restaurant in Boston. On account of the sleepless nights he spends thinking about his kid, Barhoum says he’s been arriving late to work. “Recently, because usually I keep thinking about my son and about my family and in the morning, it’s hard for me to wake up early and I become lazy again,” says El Houssein Barhoum, who immigrated from Morocco with his family about eight years ago. “My future is based on my kids, so when you see your future is like really like the destruction of your kids’ future, so how can you feel? My capital is my kids. If something happens to them, it happens to me, too.”

Staffers from the New York Post, says El Houssein Barhoum, visited his home In Revere, Mass., on the same day that “Bag Men” appeared on the paper’s cover. “They come here at my home, check his real name and took some pictures,” he recalls. When asked if they’d apologized for the high-profile photograph, El Houssein Barhoum said they hadn’t. “If they won’t apologize, it’s not between me and the New York Post,” he says. “They should apologize on the newspaper. They should write something on the newspaper, not between us. If they make a bad image of your son, they should make a good image just to correct.”

The New York Post did publish a story saying that the kids had been “cleared.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.