Lazy (and Dangerous) Journalism Brings Major Italian News Sites to Publish Anders Breivik Manual
This morning, before doing my usual round of Italian news websites, I was feeling a little sleepy, so I took my time sipping my coffee and checking out what was going on on Twitter.
A post by famous Italian journalist and former Sole 24 Ore editor in chief Gianni Riotta caught my attention immediately. Around 8:40 a.m. EST, Riotta posted the following tweet:
What that links to is the integral and unedited version of “2083. A European Declaration of Independence,” an over-1,000 page document allegedly written by Andrew Berwick, which sounds like the Anglicized name of Anders Breivik, the alleged mass-murderer who is suspected of placing a bomb in downtown Oslo and going off on a shooting spree on the island of Utoya, where a youth gathering of Norway’s ruling Labour Party was taking place.
At the moment, the number of victims is up to 93.
I was surprised and shocked at the same time to see this document in its entirety. Being a journalist myself, I quickly downloaded it and started going through its long index.
After a series of chapters and paragraphs that Breivik dedicates to what he perceives as the problem of Muslim culture taking over Europe (he opposes Norway’s multiculturalist approach, for example), there is a series of much more worrisome excerpts.
Towards the end of his tome, Breivik goes over in detail how he planned the attack that shocked Norway and the world on July 22. It is basically a manual for the wannabe-homemade terrorist — or as Breivik sees it, the “4th Generation War”, “characterised by a “stateless” entity fighting a state or regime.”
Included are facts and information on the use of fertilizer and sugar beets in homemade bombs. (Chapter 3.162: “A short introduction to agriculture and surface mining – creating the cover”)
There’s one chilling paragraph at the end of what appears to be a diary (paragraph title: “Events on the farm from May 2nd 2011 to June 23rd 2011”) of his progress into planning and organizing the attacks:
“If I had known then, what I know today, by following this guide, I would have managed to complete the operation within 30 days instead of using almost 80 days. By following my guide, anyone can create the foundation for a spectacular operation with only 1 person in less than a month even if adding 2 “resting” days!:-)”
This paragraph can be found under the title: “Optimal time budget, one person.” What follows is basically a to-do list for preparing the bombs in 30 simple steps.
This is all bone-chilling.
The reason why I am pointing all this out is because the choice made by some major Italian news organizations of publishing the integral document without any filter or revision is absurd and dangerous.
I have seen the document published on the websites of Il Corriere della Sera (image 1 at bottom of post), La Stampa (image2) and Il Sole 24 Ore (image 3). These are all national newspapers with millions of readers.
This urge to publish documents in their entirety is something I believe we have inherited from the recent WikiLeaks outpouring of classified documents.
In a journalistic era where we seem blinded by the need of having everything right away, as journalists we sometimes forget what our job is when handling certain material: To look over documents (however long they may be) and make sure that whatever excerpts we are publishing or talking about cannot be used to put others in danger.
The parts of the manual I pointed out above are only parts I have noticed after a quick overview of the document. It did not take me hours. It took me about ten minutes.
If we, as journalists, cannot afford waiting 10, 30, 50 minutes or even a few hours before putting out information that can be dangerous or harmful to others, it means we are losing the battle to keep journalism alive.
Anyone is capable of publishing an integral document. It is up to journalists to do the filtering job.
By filtering I do not mean a dumbing-down of the news or information, or even censoring it, but provide a useful guide to readers who 1) might not have the time to go over the document; 2) might not want to go over the entire document; and 3) might have bad intentions.
Some may object by saying that a document this big in the hands of hundreds of bloggers is positive, because bloggers can dissect the manual in all its parts: “It’s user-generated investigative journalism, Nick.”
If news organizations (and journalists) were doing what they are supposed to, people would trust the media to do their job. But since they have failed to do their job so many times in the recent past, we have lost confidence in journalists’ ability to provide us with a good picture of reality.
Another argument against the “documents must be made available integrally” discussion can be framed like this: Let’s say five million (roughly the population of Norway) bloggers get their hands on a dangerous document. Let’s say only one in five million has bad intentions.
That’s how you get another Anders Breivik.
UPDATE 3:19 p.m. EST
Several hours after I posted this blog and after having written separate e-mails to the online staff at Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa (Il Sole 24 Ore doesn’t seem to have a way to contact the staff) the homepages of these sites still carry the document.
Let me add that this document has not yet been confirmed by official sources, although it does contain Breivik’s name in several places, where he supposedly talks about his childhood and then when writes his Curriculum Vitae.
At least one Italian news website (Il Giornale) has the decency to explain where it got the document from, claiming it was downloaded from Kevin Slaughter’s website, who is careful to point out he has no way of confirming the document’s validity.
None of the Italian news websites care to point out that very important detail, though.