Let's say a fire breaks out at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris at the start of Holy Week, and just after two of the city's other most prominent houses of worship - St Sulpice and the Basilica of St Denis - have been attacked and vandalized.
Well, I think we can all confidently say as the first flames are beginning to lick the ceiling that it's undoubtedly an accident. Cigarette butt. Or maybe computer glitch. Probably just an overheated smart phone. We don't need to get in there and sift through the debris. We can just announce it.
On the other hand, when there are coordinated attacks on Easter services at several churches in Sri Lanka, it becomes a little more challenging to pass off multiple suicide-bombings killing nearly three hundred people as an electrical malfunction.
So, in contrast to the confident declarations of a week ago, on Sunday morning the media opted for a subtler narrative. Lead sentence from The Economist:
IT HAS BEEN nearly ten years since the guns fell silent in Sri Lanka's civil war. But bloodshed returned with a vengeance...
So it's something to do with the Tamil Tigers? Their guns fell silent, but now they've returned with a vengeance, eh?
Well, er, no, er, not, ah, precisely... But it's useful for "context", lots and lots of context. And, if you pile up enough context, you can bury the actual story. My old chums at The Age in Melbourne produced an especially fine example:
Colombo: More than 200 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in eight bomb blasts that rocked churches, luxury hotels and other sites in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday - the deadliest violence the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
Ah, there's that bloody civil war flaring up all over again, right?
Steady on. We're not quite saying that, but it's important to know the historical background and so forth...
The scale of the bloodshed recalled the worst days of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, in which the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from the Buddhist-majority country. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.
So it's a Hindu-Muslim-Christian attack on churches and hotels?
Er, not exactly. We're still doing ten paragraphs of general throat-clearing here...
Sri Lanka, situated off the southern tip of India, is about 70 per cent Buddhist. While there have been scattered incidents of anti-Christian harassment in recent years, there has been nothing on the scale of what happened on Sunday.
So it's part of a tradition of Buddhists' anti-Christian harassment?
Well, these Buddhists are notoriously "hard-line"...
There is also no history of violent Muslim militants in Sri Lanka. However, tensions have been running high more recently between hard-line Buddhist monks and Muslims.
So the hard-line Buddhists attacked the churches to get at the non-hard-line Muslims?
Whoops, did we give you the impression Muslims had something to do with this? Our mistake...
Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks...
Let us turn to The New York Times:
Religious Minorities Across Asia Suffer Amid Surge in Sectarian Politics
Gotcha. This is all part of a general problem of various unspecified religions in unspecified countries suffering in a general sort of way. But could you be a little less general and more specific?
Okay. Opening paragraphs:
The deadly attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday highlighted how easily religious coexistence can be ripped apart in a region where secularism is weakening amid the growing appeal of a politics based on ethnic and sectarian identity.
In India, the country's governing right-wing Hindu party is exploiting faith for votes, pushing an us-versus-them philosophy that has left Muslims fearing they will be lynched if they walk alone.
In Myanmar, the country's Buddhist generals have orchestrated a terrifying campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country's Rohingya Muslims.
And in Indonesia and Bangladesh, traditionally moderate Muslim politicians are adopting harder-line stances to appeal to more conservative electorates.
So Hindus are attacking Muslims, and Buddhists are attacking Muslims, and "hard-line" Muslims are attacking moderate Muslims. Thank God for some clarity on the situation. But what were all these Muslims doing in church on Easter morning?
Well, as we said, it's all very complex - not like "Edelweiss" being an obvious white-supremacist dog-whistle by a notorious Nazi Jew composer. Best not to think about it.
Sri Lanka is a popular tourist destination, so there were many western victims of yesterday's attack, including young ones: from an eleven-year-old English boy and a ten-year-old Australian girl to three of the four children of Denmark's wealthiest man, retail billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen. Yet throughout Sunday the UK, Aussie, Danish and the rest of the world's media saw their job as thorough obfuscation of the truth. I heard about yesterday's attack from the BBC, which had extensive rolling coverage with correspondents on the ground - and yet seemed mainly to be trying to tell us as little as possible. A lady think-tanker from Chatham House was keen to focus on the brutality with which the Sri Lankan government had ended the Tamil insurgency a decade ago: a fascinating topic no doubt, but utterly irrelevant to the mound of Christian corpses in Colombo that morning. In the entire hour, hers was the only mention of Islam - when she cautioned that it would be grossly irresponsible and "Islam-phobic" even to bring up the subject.
She didn't really need to spell that out, did she? It used to be said that ninety per cent of news is announcing Lord Jones is dead to people who were entirely unaware that Lord Jones was ever alive. Now the trick is to announce Lord Jones is dead and ensure that people remain entirely unaware of why he is no longer alive. One senses that a line was crossed in yesterday's coverage. As one of our Oz Steyn Club members, Kate Smyth, put it, the media have advanced from dhimmitude to full-blown taqiyya.
The lights are going out on the most basic of journalistic instincts: Who, what, when, where, why. All are subordinate to the Narrative - or Official Lie. All day yesterday and into today, if you had glanced at the telly, switched on the radio or surfed the big news sites of the Internet, you would have thought the Tamil Tigers were back "with a vengeance", as The Economist put it - even though with one exception (the 1990 police massacre) the death toll was higher than any individual attack the Tigers had ever pulled off.
Meanwhile, back in that fast shrinking space known as the real world, from the very first hours the headline of this story was completely straightforward:
Islamic Suicide Bombers Slaughter Three Hundred on Easter Morning
But apparently that can no longer be said.
~Notwithstanding the atrocities in Sri Lanka, we had a very busy Easter weekend at SteynOnline, starting on Good Friday with a particularly timely Tale for Our Time in light of recent events - Mark's reading of pertinent passages from Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris. Our Saturday movie date offered Mel Gibson's take on The Passion of the Christ, and we went On the Town with an audio exploration of Easter parades, rotogravures, and the dearth of sonnets about bonnets. Steyn's Weekend Notebook presented a pop-culture scorecard if you're having difficulty keeping up with the Great Purges: Kate Smith's a racist, Rodgers & Hammerstein are Nazis, and Dame Edna's done. Our Sunday song selection mourned the passing of Les Reed with his first Number One hit: "It's Not Unusual." If you were busy over the weekend with Easter or Passover observances, we hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins.
This evening Mark will be keeping his Monday date on "Tucker Carlson Tonight", across America at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific. Our latest Clubland Q&A will air live around the planet on Wednesday - and later this week we'll be launching a brand new audio adventure in Tales for Our Time.
Tales for Our Time and Clubland Q&A are made with the support of members of The Mark Steyn Club, now approaching its second birthday. You can find more details about the Steyn Club here.