One quick look at today's front pages will confirm the potential pitfalls of covering a terrorist attack. There are some pretty grubby examples on offer. The Daily Express' decision to plaster a photo of Kate Middleton (yep, she's still pregnant) next to the story was staggeringly misjudged.
But the worst example came from the Guardian, which is usually more restrained. Like most newspapers, it ran with an image of one of the alleged assailants, his hands covered in blood, with the headline: "You people will never be safe." He might as well write them a cheque. They did his job for him.
As Sunder Katwala pointed out last night, the decision to extract direct quotes as the top line was a mistake. It was especially damaging given the Guardian's decision to use a large photo for the front page, giving the event an extra injection of importance and relevance. It spreads the message of the terrorists and serves to lionise them in the eyes of men who might consider similar actions.
A similar responsibility lies with broadcasters. There has been a growing awareness of how repeatedly showing the photographs and home-made videos of mass shooters in the US encourages others to commit similar crimes. Recently, some outlets have tried to offer a more restrained take. That sort of approach would have been suitable here.
However, there are certain details journalists are trained to focus on and which prove impossible to avoid. There was some question yesterday whether the video of the alleged assailant was suitable to be shown. It clearly was, on the basis that the public must be informed of what is happening on its streets. Similar, it was appropriate to quote the man in the body of the copy, if not as the headline.
In actual fact, repeating his words is useful, because it shows how muddled and redundant his thinking is. Specifically, he seems unsure whether the words 'us' and 'we' refers to Britain or Afghanistan. It is not a coherent message; it is a cry of confusion.
Journalists also understandably focused on the exotic weaponry, with a machete involved in the slaying. It appears the two men tried to behead the victim. These may seem like gruesome, unnecessary details, but they are vital to the terrorists' psychological message: that the warfare of far away is now on British streets. A method of killing which would be considered unspeakably savage by most Brits was employed. It is a violent, foreign death - conducted domestically. But to avoid this information would be to do the public a disservice. They are part of understanding an event which it is in the publics' interest to understand.
Coverage must be suitable restrained and sober, especially when one of the specified aims of the terrorists is to encourage "war in London". Presumably they would have envisaged the EDL marches last night and BNP protests for Saturday as the first step in that process.
But some quarters of the internet are demanding a little too much restraint. Some have demanded, for instance, that the events be described solely as a crime. They point to the problematic use of the word terrorism and ask why the insane rambles of lunatics should be given credence by repetition from newspapers and websites.
The trouble here is that motive does matter. It matters in journalism, because it explains an event. It matters in law, as categories such as 'racially aggravated assault' demonstrate. Even the distinction between manslaughter and homicide is proof of the relevance of motive. As a society, we care about what someone was trying to do, not just what they did do.
Some on the left said Theresa May's description of the killing as an attack "on everyone in the United Kingdom" was needlessly provocative. But May was right: acts of terror are by definition attacks on the people of the country, because their stated aim is to secure political change through violence, generally by spreading fear. The comments of the alleged assailant yesterday confirmed that.
It is incumbent on the press to treat the attacks as what they are: a political event. And this fact does hinge solely on the motive of the assailant. But that does not mean we adopt the same politics as the perpetrators. For instance it would be completely wrong for any news outlet to demand condemnation of the attacks from British Muslims. British Muslims are no more responsible for the attack than anyone else. To demand extra statements from them is to vindicate the central argument of the terrorists.
A similarly responsible approach needs to be taken when covering the far-right response to the killing. It is vital that news outlets do not enflame the situation. This can be difficult for tabloids, who are used to being as provocative as possible. It is not much easier for the rest of us. There is lots of traffic for this story. The temptation to make it more lurid with colourful coverage of Islamic extremism and the far-right, to drum up the sense of crisis, is always there.
It seems unfair that no more than 200 lager lout EDL thugs should be able to control a news agenda. It is even worse than the spent force of the BNP and its village-idiot leader Nick Griffin should command column inches with their predictably irresponsible response to the killing. But at the same time the press cannot get itself into the position of becoming official censor.
We are not in the business of studiously ignoring events because of their possible effect on the public. Of course, this might take place in wartime, but at the relatively small scale of disruption we are addressing right now, it would be inappropriate and unethical.
The smaller details can torture you too. I spent quite a long time yesterday wondering whether to mention that the two men waited at the scene for half an hour before police arrived, not hurting bystanders, not showing any fear of what was to come, sympathising with women who saw the attack and making no attempt to escape. I thought mentioning this could make them sound honourable. But to censor this sort of information is paternalistic.
At this early stage of the story, almost no-one is getting it right – although I must confess I was surprised by quite how wrong many newspapers got it yesterday. Ultimately, you can't nail the final coverage. It will always be a tortuous compromise. But you can nail the approach you take and proceed responsibly: informing rather than shaping, adopting a more passive, receptive approach than the media usually does.
Theresa May is so desperate to regain her popularity she is willing to create a hierarchy of murder.
The home secretary had a torrid time at the Police Federation conference last year. It turns out her police reforms (code for cost cutting) aren't that popular with the rank-and-file.
So this year May and the organisers have conspired to make the event go rather better. The newchairman has asked members to be respectful, May has been given a briefing on which questions will come up at the Q&A and she's arrived with sweeties for the police. The sugary treat is a promise to put cop killers in jail for the rest of their natural life, instead of the current minimum of 30 years.
The idea has all the hallmarks of cobbled-together-in-the-back-of-a-taxi policymaking. It is free, it will please the red tops and it is tailored to win May a warm reception from the police. Of course, she doesn't have to go to these annual get-togethers, but it doesn't pay for a law-and-order home secretary to be frozen out of their conference.
So the home secretary cooked up a policy designed for announcement rather than implementation. It hasn't even worked on that level – even when she says things they like, the Federation can't mask its disdain. But her policy is also populist, counter-productive and morally intolerable.
If May bothers to implement her proposal (these things often die a day after announcement) she would be creating a hierarchy of murder victims. A policeman's life is worth more than a member of the public's life.
May says this is because "to attack and kill a police officer is to attack the fundamental basis of our society", in which case, she must believe this is a police state. Killing a policeman is no worse than killing a doctor or a racing car driver or a newsagent. All murder is an attack on the fundamental basis of our society, because society is about coming together for mutual benefit. Her rhetoric is the product of either a simple or a cynical mind. Perhaps a bit of both.
Admittedly, we do hand down harsher sentences for crimes based on additional criteria, such as racially-aggravated assault. But these tougher sentences do not reflect the identity of the victim. They reflect the motive of the assailant. They exist to clamp down on particular types of problematic behaviour. In other words, they are aimed at creating less crime.
Penal experts predict May's policy would do the opposite, particularly in prison. With no prospect of release, inmates will lose any restrain on their behaviour. That type of mentality is highly dangerous for maintaining order in jails.
These types of moral and practical discrepancies are what you get if you treat British law as a press release. May's proposal has been constructed specifically to get her over a tough speech, with little thought to its ramifications. For a law and order home secretary, she seems uninterested in the first and intent on damaging the second.
Keith Vaz isn't often right, but he's right today. "An in / out referendum before the next election would clear the air," he tweeted. "We could actually hold it on the day of the next general election."
His view is presumably less influenced by his desire to "clear the air" than it is by basic political strategy, but his basic political strategy is a very good one.
Labour's shadow Europe minister, Emma Reynolds, is in Vienna today outlining the party's policy on Europe. Miliband's in a bit of a bind. The Labour leader does actually believe he will be prime minister come 2015, and he doesn't intend to spend the entire time bickering over Europe. But nor does he want to end up on the wrong side of voters' opinions on the EU by opposing a referendum come election time. Tricky. Luckily for Miliband, Vaz has provided the least bad option: demand a vote in 2015.
Today's intervention by Nigel Lawson shows quite how damaging David Cameron's EU referendum pledge will prove to be. No matter what deal he secures in Europe (and it is unlikely to be impressive) there is a substantial minority of core eurosceptics in the Tory party who will vote 'no'. Lawson's intervention fires the starting gun on the debate. Now that a senior, former pro-Europe political figure has broken ranks, they can do so under some degree of cover.
Why should Labour wait until after the election for the Tories to destroy themselves? Why not force them to destroy themselves during a general election campaign? Having now won the fight for a referendum, eurosceptic Tories will soon have to acknowledge the idea that their leadership is going to run a pro-EU campaign. From Labour's perspective, there is no better time for that campaign to be fought than during a general election. Voters will be put off by a party whose leadership and backbenchers are so substantially at odds and whose concerns centre on their pet hates rather than the subject of the economy. The party's Ukip-centred anxiety attack will become a full-blown nervous breakdown.
The Tories have already shown they will fall for this sort of trap. Fifty-three Tory MPs backed Labour on the EU budget and defeated the government, despite Ed Balls' trap having all the subtlety of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
Even better, it would kill off one of George Osborne's much-loved dividing lines. As things stand, the Tories believe they have Labour on the wrong side of public opinion on Europe, much as they do on welfare and the European Convention of Human Rights. By demanding a referendum early, Labour can paint itself as more committed to a public say on the EU than the Tories are. By the time the party is campaigning for the UK to stay in, it will be joined in the endeavour by the Conservative party.
The Tories will claim there is not enough time before 2015 for Cameron to secure a good deal for the UK. Labour can simply claim that there is. In truth, no amount of time would be enough for Cameron to secure a credible deal, given he has already revealed his hand. Cameron's negotiations are a doomed endeavour.
Will the Tories play ball? Absolutely not. The chances of having an EU referendum on voting day are slim-to-none. And that's all the better for Labour. If the Tories refuse to hold the referendum on election day, Labour will find itself on the right side of the issue – pushing for a more robust EU policy than Cameron is prepared to deliver. If the Tories do agree to hold a referendum, it will do them more damage than it will Labour.