Soon, the front page of Saturday's Sun
was rolling off the presses. "Al-Qaeda" Massacre: NORWAY'S 9/11 – the weasel quotes around the phrase "Al Qaeda" deemed sufficient to protect the paper from charges of jumping to conclusions.
By the time I went to bed, it had become clear to anyone within glancing distance of the internet that this had more in common with the 1995 Oklahoma bombing or the 1999 London nail-bombing campaign than the more recent horrors of al-Qaida.
While I slept, the bodycount continued to rise, reaching catastrophic proportions by the morning. The next morning I switched on the news and the al-Qaida talk had been largely dispensed with, and the pundits were now experts on far-right extremism, as though they'd been on a course and qualified for a diploma overnight.
Some remained scarily defiant in the face of the new unfolding reality. On Saturday morning I saw a Fox News anchor tell former US diplomat John Bolton that Norwegian police were saying this appeared to be an Oklahoma-style attack, then ask him how that squared with his earlier assessment that al-Qaida were involved. He was sceptical. It was still too early to leap to conclusions, he said. We should wait for all the facts before rushing to judgment. In other words: assume it's the Muslims until it starts to look like it isn't – at which point, continue to assume it's them anyway.
If anyone reading this runs a news channel, please, don't clog the airwaves with fact-free conjecture unless you're going to replace the word "expert" with "guesser" and the word "speculate" with "guess", so it'll be absolutely clear that when the anchor asks the expert to speculate, they're actually just asking a guesser to guess. Also, choose better guessers. Your guessers were terrible, like toddlers hypothesising how a helicopter works. I don't know anything about international terrorism, but even I outguessed them.
As more information regarding the identity of the terrorist responsible for the massacre comes to light, articles attempting to explain his motives are starting to appear online. And beneath them are comments from readers, largely expressing outrage and horror. But there are a disturbing number that start, "What this lunatic did was awful, but . . ."
These "but" commenters then go on to discuss immigration, often with reference to a shaky Muslim-baiting story they've half-remembered from the press. So despite this being a story about an anti-Muslim extremist killing Norwegians who weren't Muslim, they've managed to find a way to keep the finger of blame pointing at the Muslims, thereby following a narrative lead they've been fed for years, from the overall depiction of terrorism as an almost exclusively Islamic pursuit, outlined by "security experts" quick to see al-Qaida tentacles everywhere, to the fabricated tabloid fairytales about "Muslim-only loos" or local councils "banning Christmas".
We're in a frightening place. Guesswork won't lead us to safety.