The first of these is the “let’s not jump to conclusions” stage in which reporters take great pains not to assume that the attacker is a Muslim just because his name happens to be Abdul or Muhammad or even because he yelled “Allahu Akbar” moments before his killing spree began.
Then, when it turns out that he is a Muslim, reporters wonder if his religious affiliation might have been incidental to the attack—which it rarely ever is. In the second stage, the shortest of the four, reporters actually acknowledge the attack and its motive before quickly moving on to the third stage.
I’ll call this the “Muslims fear backlash” stage, and it’s characterized by stories about hijab-snatchings (that usually turn out to be hoaxes) or Muslims getting dirty looks in the street. It isn’t even necessary to find any actual incidents of backlash after an attack because the fear of a backlash, not the backlash itself, is the real story.
The fourth and final stage is when reporters begin to ask how the right-wing might “exploit” the story. This serves as a warning that taking action to stave off civilizational demise is somehow letting the terrorists win.