Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 4, 2011

NO COMPARISON.... On Monday, Obama administration officials offered reporters a variety of details involving the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. Yesterday, after gathering additional information, the White House clarified matters, and corrected mistaken information that had been shared the day before.

Under the circumstances, this doesn't seem especially shocking. It's not as if Monday's information was part of a deliberate effort to deceive anyone -- if it were, officials wouldn't have been setting the record straight a day later.

With that in mind, Josh Marshall flagged this report comparing some of this week's errors to the Jessica Lynch story back in 2003. He's not buying it, and neither am I.

What does seem clear is that the White House went public with details only hours after the attack had happened. The Seals were no doubt pumped up by the success of the mission. And it's clear that the president's top staff were very pumped up too. They went forward with details that hadn't been reconciled, in some cases proved untrue and in a couple key cases really should have been seen as a bit too good to be true. In retrospect, as I'm sure the White House is finding, it would have been better to wait to get all the details confirmed and ironed out before doing these briefings -- something that was likely hard to do considering the probably literally unprecedented press and public demand for details.

Still, c'mon. There's a rather clear difference between going forward with unconfirmed or even pumped up accounts of events of an indisputably dangerous and successful mission and hyping up what was essentially a non-event into propaganda morality tale.

Quite right. I've even seen a few comparisons to the Pat Tillman story, which are equally over the top.

In the Bush era, stories like Lynch and Tillman were used as propaganda. Officials knew the truth, but created fictional-but-inspiring stories for purely political reasons. It was wrong, and the truth was hidden for months, and in some cases, years.

There's just no comparison between this and the details of the bin Laden killing.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Beltway journalists have to be "balanced".

Posted by: Holmes on May 4, 2011 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, you're assuming that with the end of the Bush era, untrustworthy US government and military officials suddenly became trustworthy.

That's quite an assumption.

Posted by: Chris S. on May 4, 2011 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

In retrospect, as I'm sure the White House is finding, it would have been better to wait to get all the details confirmed and ironed out before doing these briefings [...] -- Josh Marshall

Had they done that, the "righty" story line would have been "they took so long the better to cook the books". There's nothing - nothing at all - that Obama does and that won't have some scurrilous interpretation attached to it by the SOBs. Their standard attitude to everything coming from Obama is: "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't"

Posted by: exlibra on May 4, 2011 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'd swear I heard Matt Lauer add the word "alleged" when teasing an upcoming story on bin Laden this morning. So now the lack of a photo has put bin Laden's death into question?

Posted by: 3reddogs on May 4, 2011 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

There is one comparison: when a glittering fiction precedes a more complex truth, the fiction cannot be dislodged from the public consciousness.

Bin Laden may have been caught with his pants down in reality, but the mind's eye will forever see him with an AK-47 in his hand, cowering behind a woman.

Posted by: Grumpy on May 4, 2011 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

As if we needed yet more examples of just how fucked up the corporate media is ... trying to fabricate 'narratives' and 'story lines' that emanate from the corporate agenda itself which starts with defeating Obama and all Democrats who threaten the corporate bottom line: ever more profits. This is why the corporate media also, in lockstep with the Repiglicans, are trying to 'marginalize' the Democratic party itself. This is what is behind all the redistricting now in the various states, is what is behind now creating all these bullshit voting laws, is what is behind the corporate media rushing to every Repiglican they can find to comment about whatever . It is what is behind the Sunday propaganda shows in which the vast majority of the propagandist are Repiglicans.

Posted by: stormskies on May 4, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

It's not as if Monday's information was part of a deliberate effort to deceive anyone --

They certainly could have been part of a psyops campaign aimed at the Islamic countries to show OBL as cowardly (reminds me of the stories of Jefferson Davis being caught trying to escape in women's clothes). Same goes for the Islamic rites burial at sea, except to show us as respectful. I really don't care if it is true or not, it is largely irrelevant to the end result.

All governments lie.

And yet we have reporters who will continually report what the government said preceded by the phrase "We now know..." (looking at you NPR).

Posted by: martin on May 4, 2011 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Memories of the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch stories came back to me after hearing the corrections. I am giving the WH team the benefit of the doubt when it comes to details, but I don't really understand how the phony details were manufactured in the first place as they seem like propaganda too. (using a woman as a shield while he engaged in a gun battle).

Posted by: tomb on May 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, but how do you explain that the Pakistanis were protecting Geronimo? Huh? Huh? I mean, everyone knows the Pakistanis hate Indians.

Posted by: Danp on May 4, 2011 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

We learned from Republicans that "deficits don't matter". (except when they help whatever argument you are currently peddling.)

We now have a new meme: "Facts don't matter." (except when they help whatever argument you are currently peddling)

Back in Nixon's time "That statement is no longer operative" is what they said when caught in a lie.
Today they just use the simpler form of discourse: The Kyl-lie.

Posted by: DAY on May 4, 2011 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

My main issue with the revisions was the fact that OBL was actually unarmed when he was shot. If the compound was lightly guarded and security had been neutralized, then they should have captured him alive for trial.

I know all the facts haven't come out yet, but this is a pretty big unresolved issue for me.

That said, the administration did make the correction as soon as the facts were known. The Lynch and Tillman scandals were clearly PR-driven cover-ups that were only forced into the light by aggressive inquiry.

Posted by: bdop4 on May 4, 2011 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

There is a giant difference between the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stories ... the Bush administration never, ever tried to correct itself: the stories stayed the same no matter how many questioned the details. The Obama administration is doing just that. They wanted to get the story out as best they could because of the fucking media, and peoples desires to know what happened. In so doing this has become the result, and they are correcting themselves as the actual details become known. That is the giant fucking difference ...

Posted by: stormskies on May 4, 2011 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, picking on various aspects of this has become the right-wing practice. The term "deathers" was already used for death-panel claimants so someone here suggested "assers" for OBL assassination doubters. Now, few are following along with the meme that OBL wasn't killed, instead many on the Right are working the variations in WH reporting. More critical, more of them are now saying - hold for this irony - that it wasn't legal to kill Osama, like Andrew Napolitano (whom I however give some credit to for consistency of critique over the years, some.) Maybe they can be called "legalers"? Well since all these people are claiming some sort of fraud, maybe just call them "frauders." Then we can have sub-types: birth-certificate frauders, Obama assassination frauders, etc.

Well, was taking Osama down legal? Many people, the European press, (certainly not many right-wingers did until they realized it could needle Obama) worry if it was appropriate to shoot Bin Laden now hearing he was unarmed. I felt misgivings too just on principle, bad a person as he was. However, aside from worrying what would happen if he was taken alive: I have seen various reports that OBL's associates were sworn not to let him ever be taken alive, that they were to shoot him if he would be compromised. Hence, this wasn't in principle like charging into a bunker in WWII and having the squadron and their leader surrender. Any attempt to take OBL away alive would have been dangerous, everyone else they would keep resisting regardless of how subdued he was.

Also as said today, OBL might have had a bomb on him, trackers to help confederates, etc. One congressional spokesman was quoted in news today, that Osama would basically have to be naked to be a safe surrender and arrest, but that the SEAL team was prepared to take him alive if practicable.

Posted by: neil b on May 4, 2011 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's team, in the chaos of the first day, got 97 facts right out of 100. What they missed, was missed accidentally.

Bush's team lied to us for years about WMD's, torture, and a dozen other things, deliberately.

So, yeah. No comparison.

Posted by: Henry Plantagenet on May 4, 2011 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I'm laughing my ass off. Not legal. These ass clowns that are whining about the legality of killing Bin Laden are the same douche bags who cheered for war based on lies. With a death toll certanly of over 100,000 it's impossible to take these buffoons the least bit serious. Also I bet every asset that I have that these same people would have been bitching a blue streak if Bin laden had been taken alive.

Posted by: Gandalf on May 4, 2011 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Some people say the world is round, but others say it's flat. Tonight, on Nightline, a debate...


Posted by: Zorro on May 4, 2011 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

It wasn't 'legal' either to fly planes into the twin towers and kill over 3,000 innocent people ....... fuck this assholes...

Posted by: stormskies on May 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

I'm getting the feeling that a lot of the policy elite are seeing the killing of bin Laden as kind of a bad thing. He was The Boogeyman, the justification for all of our post-911 military adventurism. With him gone, and no suitable substitute, what are we supposed to use to get the public to approve future wars against brown heathens?

Posted by: Doctor Whom on May 4, 2011 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

I give the administration credit for correcting their errors and having the character to admit that OBL wasn't armed. Which leads me to believe that this was never going to be a "capture" mission and all the incredible problems that would have created. It was only going to be an assassination.

Posted by: tomb on May 4, 2011 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hussein Obama didn't really kill Osama, but when he did it wasn't legal, and he should have gloated about it more after he lied about it. He should have wagged the cut off penis of Osama all around at Ground Zero, just to show the rest of pussies in this world what beeyatches we are, but you know what that is political grandstanding by that Zulu not really from Honolulu.

Posted by: right wing frauder on May 4, 2011 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

This iteration of the OBL story is different from the Tillman and Lynch stories, in Mr. Benen's assertion, because Mr. Benen believes that Obama's admin really didn't know the truth, and then corrected things much more quickly than Bush's admin/military.

So: (1) intent, and (2) duration of the falsehood. "Duration" is more a difference in degree than kind, but the "intent" point would be valid, assuming that you believe what Obama's admin is telling you. That a guy like Mr. Benen believes that Obama's admin/military wouldn't lie to him strikes me as too ridiculous and naive to be believable, so I assume that Mr. Benen doesn't really care what the truth is...

The truth about these details might be as it is claimed, or it might not. But the more general and important question is about the truth of the overall story -- was OBL there, did Pakistan know, etc.

"All governments lie. ... And yet we have reporters who will continually report what the government said preceded by the phrase "We now know..." (looking at you NPR)."

Absolutely, especially about National Pentagon Radio.

Posted by: flubber on May 4, 2011 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

There's one ENORMOUS difference between this situation and the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stories. The White House went public with the corrections promptly, and it did so, as far as we can tell, voluntarily. The journalists who broke the true stories about Lynch and Tillman certainly got no cooperation from the Bush team. Glenn Greenwald, of course, was in full screech yesterday about how the administration lies, the media does the administration's bidding, and most people never learn the truth -- except that in this case, the White House went to some pains to make sure that the public WOULD learn the truth. And the New York Times lead story today was the correction to the record. Not exactly a cover up, is it?

Posted by: T-Rex on May 4, 2011 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

I was amused and pissed seeing a reporter on MSNBC going on about how the Obama team needs to get it's act together on releasing information then having to go back an correct it.

Sure, the Republicans are excellent at concocting a story and sticking to it, even if it's proved wrong (WMD)....but if Obama corrects something that was wrong - that's incompetent.

For me, I'd rather have an Administration capable of disposing of the world's greatest terrorist than one specializing in lock-step public relations. How about you?

Posted by: T2 on May 4, 2011 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Glenn Greenwald explains why this is still a problem, whether or not it's like the Lynch and Tillman travesties. Emphasis added.

Whether bin Laden actually resisted his capture may not matter to many people; the White House also claimed that they would have captured him if they had the chance, and this fact seems to negate that claim as well. But what does matter is how dutifully American media outlets publish as "news reports" what are absolutely nothing other than official White House statements masquerading as an investigative article. And the fact that this process continuously produces highly and deliberately misleading accounts of the most significant news items -- falsehoods which endure no matter how decisively they are debunked in subsequent days -- doesn't have the slightest impact on the American media's eagerness to continue to serve this role.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on May 4, 2011 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK
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