Did you notice how little supposition infected reporting from Norway after the downtown bomb explosion and island massacre?
From what I could divine from the Norwegian press or translations in English-language news media:
•There was no rush to blame Arabs or Muslims nor pogroms against immigrants.
•There were questions but little blame-casting about police response times to the island.
The man responsible for the bomb and the murders was Norway’s version of Timothy McVeigh, not some dark-skinned foreigner or mixed-race child of an immigrant and Norwegian.
In terms of reporting, it helped that Anders Breivik was captured alive and it didn’t take long for the news media to find him on social media. Breivik is a thoroughly modern man, eager to express himself in ways he expected to be read after the atrocities.
We quickly appreciated his paranoia, his right-wing nationalism and his unflinching belief that only violence could create the revolution that would purify increasingly diverse Norwegian society.
There could have been suspicions about his motives after his initial court appearance was closed to the public, including the news media. The news media might have asked what authorities were hiding. As police and others said when they opted for a closed hearing, there was no need to grant him a new opportunity to express himself.
Apparently, he hasn’t shut up. Police continue to tell us what he says. No Miranda anxieties here. He wants to be heard.
Unlike America’s Unabomber, Breivik didn’t have to threaten more deaths to get the news media to publish his manifesto. The Internet provided that. Reporters dug into it as fast as they could. His broken-home family life was hardly secret; his father is a retired diplomat.
Awful as it was as a news story, the murders wrapped up quickly: The perpetrator admitted the crimes. Attention is turning to real or imagined links between right-wing, anti-immigrant malcontents at home and abroad.
That may be the big story beyond the family tragedies in Norway. As NPR’s Silvia Poggioli reported, British, German and French leaders decry the failure of multiculturalism and anti-immigrant right-wing parties and individuals are moving into European and American mainstreams and getting elected to various legislatures.
• I’ve read various explanations of why it took Oslo police more than an hour to reach the island where Breivik was murdering youngsters by the score. The general theme is simple: The SWAT team could get to the coast faster by car because no police choppers are based in Oslo. Once at the coast, police had to commandeer boats; no police boats are based there. OK. How was it, however, that a news videographer could get a chopper and arrive above the island in time to capture images of Breivik shooting youngsters? If the news media could get there that quickly, why couldn’t a police sharpshooter?
• Bill O’Reilly needs an intervention. He used his cable show to damn news media that called Oslo killer Breivik a Christian. That’s “impossible,” O’Reilly said. HuffingtonPost.com said he singled out the New York Times for calling Breivik a "Christian extremist." Breivik referred to himself as a Christian, as did the Norwegian police, and his 1,500 page manifesto has been described as coming from a Christian perspective. In it, Breivik writes that he does not have a "personal," religious relationship with Christ but he believes in Christianity "as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform," which he says "makes (me) Christian."
That’s not good enough for O’Reilly.
"No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder," he said. "The man might have called himself a Christian on the Net, but he is certainly not of that faith . . . we can find no evidence, none, that this killer practiced Christianity in any way." O’Reilly said the news media call Breivik a Christian was because "the left wants you to believe that fundamentalist Christians are a threat just like crazy jihadists are." O'Reilly called this notion "dishonest and insane" because no government backed Breivik's ideology. O'Reilly also said that the media are "pushing the Christian angle (because) they don't like Christians very much because we are too judgmental," and that the press want to "diminish" social and religious conservatives.
* O’Reilly isn’t alone among the wingnuts led over the edge by Breivik. HuffPost said Glenn Beck told listeners that the summer camp where scores of youngsters were murdered "sounds a little like the Hitler Youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing." The camp is run by Norway's leading center-left party, the Labor Party, and is an historic networking opportunity for young people looking to break into the political scene.
• Is it possible, with all of the hostile attention being paid to Rupert Murdoch’s use of his media empire to promote his business interests, that Fox 19 here will cut back on promotions of Fox TV shows and films as news? Or will Fox 19 balance this shameless corporate pandering with real news about others’ TV shows and films? Not likely, as Patricia J. Williams suggests in The Nation: “Fox News Channel is a subsidiary of the Fox Entertainment Group, which in turn is a subsidiary of Murdoch’s conglomerate News Corp. It’s a perfect circle, a consciously structured looping between news and entertainment . . . “
• In all of the partisan misdirection about Medicare, a major news story has been missing: Obama efforts to curtail theft by providers. Medicare historically has been a soft target, paying bills without much curiosity about whether the services or supplies were provided. A few months ago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, a former Cincinnatian, announced new efforts to curtail fraud. I’ve read and heard nothing since. At one time, HHS investigators and federal prosecutors told me that everyone in America could be covered without additional cost if fraud were eliminated. When I tried to get more recent data in the wake of Sibelius’ announcement, HHS wasn’t responsive.
• If investigations into suspicions of embezzlement by a union president at a Cincinnati City Hall took weeks or months, why did it take The Enquirer so long to report it? Since its initial stories, however, The Enquirer has revealed a classic, cozy mess in the city’s administration and what appears to be willful blindness or profound ignorance among council members and in the city manager’s staff. Abdication by the city manager, the mayor and council, state and federal agencies is dissected Sunday by The Enquirer’s Barry Horstman. Meanwhile, local TV news apparently can’t get beyond the simple court story involving the reported embezzlement.
• If MSNBC is really considering giving Al Sharpton a daytime show, they’ve embraced his race pandering and lost any sense of decency. It would be hard for find anyone more repugnant over the years from his inflammatory, anti-semitic and race-baiting pronouncements. Reread his statements in the 1987-88 Tawana Brawley fraud. In 1995, Sharpton referred to a Jewish store owner in Harlem as a “white interloper” and at seven victims died in the ensuing arson. The arsonist was one of the demonstrators led by Sharpton before the fire. More recent comments are as nasty. How bad can it get? Fox News tosses Glenn Beck as too extreme and MSNBC, the so-called liberal antidote to Fox, wants Sharpton. To call Sharpton a “civil rights activist” is to dishonor men and women who, for generations, have given force to that title.
• Poynter Institute’s Julie Moos reports that ABC will no longer pay “licensing” fees to sources involved in stories. That was TV’s cover for buying exclusive interviews. “It was starting to distract from important work,” said Jeffrey Schneider, ABC News senior vice president for communications. ABC has been answering questions since the network paid Casey Anthony $200,000 in 2008 and Meagan Broussard for a photo she exchanged with former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.
ABC says it didn’t pay kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard or hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo. “Interviews are achievable through good journalism,” Schneider said.
“These licensing deals had become a crutch, and an unnecessary one,” Schneider told Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz. Kurtz said “such payments could be approved at a relatively low level with little oversight, saddling the network with the fallout.” According to Kurtz, Ben Sherwood, the new president of ABC News, “concluded that the cash-register approach to journalism was starting to tarnish the network’s credibility, even though the practice was relatively infrequent.”
We’re waiting to hear from other networks.
• I’m puzzled by journalists who say it’s OK to Tweet unconfirmed rumors. They might not put the rumor in a news story without checking but Twitter is different. How? It’s done by journalists and it’s publishing. Law is evolving but the ethics is clear: Check it out or keep it to yourself. I hope we haven’t abandoned the old wire service mantra, “get it first but first get it right.” I understand the goal is to lure and hold eyeballs but what happens when even the dimmest “reader” realizes that rumor-mongering Tweets are not trustworthy?
• London’s Daily Telegraph reminds me of the traditional restraint of British police when talking to the press. It recently reported that retired florist Cecil Coley, 72, was playing dominoes with a friend when two men invaded his closed shop around 9:40 p.m. In the struggle, one raider, 30, was fatally stabbed in his chest. The second robber was treated in hospital for stab wounds. A police source said: “Early indications are that this is a robbery that has gone wrong.”