James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Obama and Osama both make good career move

Posted by James McPherson on May 2, 2011

 In what virtually everyone other than Hamas and the Pakistani Talaban considers to be good news, Osama bin Laden is dead. Maybe even bin Laden would consider his death to be good news–or at least, according to a former CIA official, “a good career move.”

Barack Obama made the right call (and apparently a decisive one, for a change, drawing praise even from Rush Limbaugh), and now Obama and bin Laden will be connected forever. And not only in the too-hasty reaction of MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell, who apparently tweeted, “Obama shot and killed.” Oops. That’s another good reason for journalists to use last names, Norah.

Not that O’Donnell was the only journalist foiled by haste Sunday night. As I was scanning news websites after the first mentions on cable news that Obama was going to make an announcement relevant to bin Laden, the first source I saw to report bin Laden’s killing was Fox News. Unfortunately, Fox got the details of the story wrong–and stuck to the faulty story even an hour after CNN had it right.

This, from Fox News: “Usama bin Laden is dead, putting an end to the worldwide manhunt that began nearly a decade ago on Sept. 11, 2001. The architect of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil was killed a week ago inside Pakistan by a U.S. bomb.” Fox later corrected the story, though without an editor’s note saying that it had been changed.

Despite apparent DNA evidence, of course, conspiracy theorists are already claiming that either bin Laden wasn’t killed or that he died at another time and Obama just released the bin Laden information Sunday night for political reasons. Let’s look for a moment at the stupidity of such a claim, shall we?

If it were a political stunt, why would Obama make the announcement late on a Sunday, when reporters had to be called back in and when the story then wouldn’t be on the front pages of some West Coast versions of the New York Times or USA Today (including here in Spokane; I picked up both this morning)? Why wouldn’t he release it midday Monday or Tuesday, which any politician or political PR person knows are the best days for maximum news coverage?

And why would Obama chose to announced it on May 1 of an odd-numbered year (unless he wanted to commemorate the 66th anniversary of the announcement of Adolph Hitler’s death), rather than in the weeks just before an election? After all, bin Laden wasn’t going anywhere, and in late in campaigns is when we usually heard about bin Laden from the Bush administration.

No, the Obama administration chose to make the announcement when it had confirmed the information. Unless the decision to announce it when they did is merely reverse psychology, or a means of blunting wacky birther claims. Or maybe it’s just proof that the administration is politically inept, and therefore doesn’t deserve to be in power. Sigh.

We’re too far out from the next election for bin Laden’s death to guarantee victory for Obama. The state of the economy will matter far more. And, assuming they don’t get their act together, the continuing ineptitude of Republicans in identifying either a credible candidate or a coherent message likely will help Obama most of all.

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