Victoria Police finally confirmed on Friday that Numan Haider, fatally shot after stabbing two officers in an incident at Endeavour Hills police station last week, had not been threatening prime minister Tony Abbott.
Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said that police did not believe there was any current threat to the community, nor was there ever a threat to the Prime Minister, connected to Mr Haider, The Age reported.
But the horse has bolted. This important clarification will go largely unnoticed. Many people in the community will remain convinced that Haider was plotting against Australia's democratically-elected leader on behalf of fanatical overseas “Jihadist” interests.
How did the “threats against the PM” story start and how was it propagated? It all seems to have started very vaguely, via that time-honoured journalists’ trick of saying “we understand” when referring to a rumour:
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius would not go into detail about why they wanted to speak to the man, but the ABC understands he had made threats against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.A later News Limited story under the byline of Simon Benson actually clarified that the threats were only in the heat of the moment, at the time of incident:
Witnesses said he (Haider) made verbal threats against Prime Minister Tony Abbott then stabbed both officers.
Senior intelligence sources confirmed the attacker had made threats against the PM moments before a local police officer drew his gun and shot him dead.
But subtly, that fact is twisted later in the story – without any source being cited – to imply that Haider had made previous threats against the prime minister and that THIS was why security agencies had been watching him:
The man was under surveillance for having allegedly made threats against the PM.
Clearly this is just plain wrong, and very poor journalism. There is no evidence that Haider ever threatened the PM prior to the incident at Endeavour Hills.
And what about the oft-repeated line that Haider had been tracking Tony Abbott, with the obvious implication that the young man had been planning some kind of attack? This also appears to have taken hold, without any corroboration.
Early in the evolution of the story, some media outlets quoted the ABC as saying that "the 18-year-old Muslim extremist had been researching Prime Minister Tony Abbott's movements", taking particular interest in his plans to travel to Melbourne in coming months. I’ve looked and I can’t find any original source for this. However, on Friday, News Limited outlets were reporting that this “research” consisted of a Google search and had happened at some time in the past:
Haider’s passport was cancelled after authorities discovered he had done a Google search to try to find out when Prime Minister Tony Abbott would visit Melbourne and where he planned to go.
Then on Saturday, without citing any source, Gerard Henderson in an opinion piece in The Australian stated baldly that "Evidence has emerged that Haider was tracking the movements of senior politicians, including Tony Abbott". What evidence is that, Mr Henderson?
In fact, a story in The Australian the previous day, again quoting Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton, reported that Australian Federal Police were still looking into whether Haider researched Prime Minister Tony Abbott's movements and that the AFP did not have any "specific" information about potential threats to Mr Abbott.
So… there you have the facts. No evidence of stalking of Tony Abbott, nor of threats - except (allegedly) at the moment of Haider’s attack on the two police officers - nor of conspiracy... except for the media getting together to make news out of rumours, half-truths and bullshit.