The martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel: At what point were attackers' motives clear?

Details continue to emerge about the events surrounding the murder of the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest who was killed by ISIS terrorists at the altar of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church, France.

One of the worshipers taken hostage -- yes, a nun -- remains in serious condition.

French officials have also confirmed that one of the two attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was a known terrorist threat who had twice attempted to travel to Syria. He was being monitored with an electronic ankle tag, but his bail conditions allowed him to roam without supervision between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Mass was at 9 a.m. The follow-up story at The Daily Mail added:

Kermiche and his accomplice -- also known to French police -- forced 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel to kneel before filming themselves butchering him and performing a 'sermon in Arabic' at the altar of the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, according to witnesses.
Both were shot dead by police marksmen as they emerged from the building shouting 'Allahu Akbar' following the attack that also left a nun critically injured.
Sister Danielle, a nun who escaped, said: 'They told me "you Christians, you kill us". They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror.'

Translated into safer New York Times language, in an obituary for the priest, that sounds like this:

Father Hamel was celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning when two men with knives entered the small church and slit his throat, an attack that horrified people across France and the world. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the two assailants -- who were shot dead by the police -- were “soldiers” retaliating against the United States-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

However, this wasn't what some GetReligion readers, via email, and lots of folks on Twitter wanted to know more about yesterday afternoon and last night. They wanted to discuss statements they heard in early television reports, when they said anchors looked into the camera lens and said words to this affect: The attackers "motives are still unknown."

It you search for these statements now, they are gone -- other than a few screenshots on Twitter of stories that have since been updated and the earlier versions spiked.

Yes, if you follow all of those URLs to the story quoted in most of the tweets -- at The Telegraph -- you will not find the following reference.

That Telegraph URL now leads to an updated story that opens like this:

Isil opened a new front in its war with the West by murdering a French priest on Tuesday in the first such attack on a Christian church in Europe.
Two terrorists, proclaimed as “soldiers” by the extremist group, cut the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest, after taking worshippers including two nuns hostage during mass at a church in Normandy.
Experts said the atrocity, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen, marked a new departure for the jihadists following a catalogue of attacks on places of worship in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Father Hamel -- forced to kneel by his two killers who were later shot dead by police -- was last night hailed as a “martyr of faith”.

Readers, of course, assumed that the early details of this terrorist attack -- with attackers shouting "Daesh" and "Allahu Akbar" before they slit the throat of a priest at the end of Mass -- provided enough information to establish a motive for these acts.

What in the world, people wanted to know, were these journalists thinking when they typed, or spoke, the words, "The men's motives are still unknown"? Couldn't journalists look at their screens or teleprompters and say, "What a minute. Say what?"

Here is what I think was going on in the minds of these journalists. To be blunt, I think that they were waiting for official word from a government or police spokesperson that some kind of link to ISIS had been established.

You see, things are real when political figures say they are real, not when eyewitnesses are quoted with details that, well, state the obvious. If you look at the early elite media reports -- such as those in the Gray Lady -- what you see is a parade of statements by official voices, as opposed to eyewitnesses or, later, the nun who managed to escape.

Yes, this bothers me. You see, when I was a journalism student, my college J-prof offered some wise advice in our first reporting class.

At the scene of a crime or accident, he said, it is usually easy to tell the veteran reporters from the rookies. Rookies showed up and immediately started looking for police or even the PR officer for the police. The veteran reporters, meanwhile, quietly walked around talking to bystanders, asking, "Who saw what happened?"

You see, the PR people and officials will take calls later, he said. They have telephone numbers. But that kid hiding behind the tree? That woman crying on a nearby front porch, who just happened to be walking by when this event took place? If you don't talk to them immediately, they are gone. Wise reporters look for eyewitnesses.

Thus, the motives of the attackers were "still unknown" because political people had not released statements stating those motives. Political stuff, remember, is more real than what ordinary people see, say and believe.

So where does this story go, now, other than reports that officials are focusing on possible threats to churches in the UK, as well as in Europe? Might I suggest that reporters consider focusing on religion angles in the aftermath of this horrible event?

For example, the "Woodstock" of young global Catholicism is unfolding right now in Poland. Might the contents of the program at World Youth Day be changed, even at the last moment, as suggested ("Memo to WYD: Forget the program, teach youth about the martyrs") by John L. Allen, Jr., at Crux? Might Pope Francis actually declare Father Jacques a martyr?

Meanwhile, the Catholic News Agency published this news: "French bishops declare day of fasting after priest's murder." It's worth a call to find out if other bishops are following their example.

And what about that video at the top of this piece? It is from this service:

I cannot find a copy of this liturgy online, but patient reporters could watch the entire service right here, on YouTube.

Once again, will any other priests or bishops celebrate this particular Mass, at this poignant time? What if Pope Francis celebrated this rite at World Youth Day?

Would that be a news story?

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