The RCMP press conference on Monday, April 22, revealing the arrest of two men in an alleged plot to bomb a VIA Rail train was noticeably boring: drained of sensationalism and affect, possessing all the razzle-dazzle of someone reading a press release (twice). This is precisely how it should be.
In June 2006, when the so-called "Toronto 18" were arrested, the media coverage was stained by certain racial biases. RCMP officer Mike McDonell famously remarked that the Islamist radicals represented a "broad strata" of Canadian society.
Monday's press conference avoided such rhetoric by largely avoiding any rhetoric - save for some stuff about "vigilance" and security starting at home. It's important to keep level-headed and factual and not make sweeping generalizations when dealing with stuff like national security and terrorism with alleged connections to Islamic extremists.
Too bad this welcome equanimity lasted, like, four seconds. It evaporated almost instantly as the media scrambled to make up a narrative out of scraps of information: Iran + al-Qaeda + non-citizen + trains + "support" + "individuals" + "direction and guidance" = ???
On CBC News Monday night, Evan Solomon called in terrorism "experts" Ray Boisvert and Andrew Arena to conjecture wildly on the potential connections to Iran, al aeda and Boston. Arena clarified that the U.S./Canada border is lengthy, while Boisvert talked about why trains are "iconic," which is kind of like talking about how they go "choo-choo."
As Solomon noted while stage-managing this sideshow of speculation, there are "more questions than answers." Sure. But you don't get journalism points for just saying whatever you want and then ending your sentence with a lilt like it's a question, or preceding every statement with "Hard to say, but..." and "Let's see."
Nor do you get any points if you default right away to fear-mongering, as columnist Rosie DiManno did in the Toronto Star. "The other is us. The other is in our midst.... The other is enthralled by alien causes," writes DiManno in what reads like - to quote a friend - "an undergrad slam poet's first draft."
It's shoddy, cut-rate sensationalism fit for Fox News and CNN, the kind of stuff that incites irrational passions. The networks and dailies (and weeklies, and websites) may feel pressured to scribble inside the framework of the 24-hour news cycle, but we should all take a lesson from the RCMP: be cold, dispassionate.
The rest of them - the speculators, the bogus experts, the fear-mongering columnists - offer nothing but noise.