The New York Post's cover Thursday morning read "BAG MEN" and showed a photo of two dark-skinned young men in a crowd.
The inside story reported an email being circulated internally by law enforcement officials "of two men chatting near the packed finish line." Recipients were advised to pass it around to their "fellow agents elsewhere."
According to the Post's sources, authorities were also interested in two men seen on surveillance video. These authorities reportedly knew the names of the two men in the surveillance video, "but do not have enough evidence to make an arrest."
"It was not immediately clear if the men in the law-enforcement photos are the same men in the surveillance videos," the Post allowed.
In the hours after the paper hit newsstands everywhere Thursday morning, the two young men on the cover had been identified — through the work of internet sleuths on message board websites like Reddit — as local high-school students. The one whose face is most visible is a soccer player and track athlete named Salah Barhoun.
The Department of Justice had already released a statement: "Any images not released via FBI official channels should not be considered credible."
Post editor Col Allan did not apologize.
"We stand by our story," he said. "The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects."
Indeed, what the Post had said was that "cops are seeking these two men who were spotted near the site of the Boston blasts."
Barhoun told the Daily News that he and his friend are "just athletes."
"We love running and we love to watch running," he said.
Gawker noted that he had posted a couple of enthusiastic photos to his Facebook page of himself at the marathon.
In reference to the Post headline, Barhoun pointed out, "A lot of people have bags, not just me. I thought, 'why me?'"
His bag contained gym clothes and sneakers, he said. He and his friend had left the race two hours before the explosion.
"Last night I couldn't sleep," Barhoun said. "Just thinking about the consequences. What are people going to say, and what the result is going to be."
Police reportedly advised the 17-year-old to delete his Facebook account.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat