Many of us were wrong to think that the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik was a solitary lunatic who went berserk when he killed seventy-seven young people on the island of Utoya nine months ago. We are used to psychotic serial killers.
But Breivik is a different case. He is not an obvious madman but a right-wing extremist who has an elaborate political program. It has much in common with right-wing platforms everywhere. He has been looking forward to his trial and wishes to proclaim his ideas to the world. Whether or not the court will accept a plea of insanity is impossible to tell at this stage.
Conscientious media managers did not have to wait for the results of the French election on Sunday, which showed a considerable rise of the French right wing, to hesitate before giving substantial space to the trial. This is a real dilemma reminiscent of the dilemma newspaper editors and broadcasters faced in 1970 in Canada during the October Crisis. The question was whether or not to give the FLQ a platform by publicizing its manifesto.
On Sunday, The New York Times published an essay by the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard. This is an excerpt:
“To get an impression of the nature of a person, one has to see him in motion. So much is contained in the posture of the body, the position of the hands, the movement of the eyes. I had no idea what sort of charisma Breivik had. How he would react to the situation he found himself in. For some reason, this seemed important. So I sat down with my neighbor, Bo, and there was Breivik on the screen, filmed listening to his defense attorney. His body was relaxed, and his eyes expressed first surprise, as if he didn’t believe what he was hearing, then intensity and something like eagerness….
“An opinion poll published before the court case showed that two out of three Norwegians felt the media coverage was too extensive. I was among them. And yet I was drawn to the screen to see him, the perpetrator of the crime. Why? Not out of pity with the victims and the bereaved. More out of curiosity – who is this monster?”
Let us hope that the search for an answer to this cri de coeur will justify the extensive media coverage of those who choose to go ahead with it.