Wednesday, May 4, 2011

If This Is The Age of Information, We May Be in Trouble

On the Salon website, veteran airline pilot Patrick Smith pens a column called (wait for it...) "Ask the Pilot." While an occasional column answers readers' queries, most of Smith's work revolves around recent news involving airlines and, unfortunately, plane crashes.

One of Smith's most common mantras about major airline catastrophes came to mind this week — the bigger the story, the more likely it is that the first reports on it will be factually incorrect. 

For all of the media that can be employed to learn what is going on in the world around us, the accuracy of fast news delivery does not seem to have taken many great steps forward since "Dewey Defeats Truman." This week provided us with a host of evidence to that end.

On Monday morning, a team of highly trained U.S. Navy SEALs stormed the residence of one Osama Bin Laden — the Most Wanted Man in the World — AbbottabadPakistan, and killed the leader of the notorious terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda. This is what we know, or at least think we know, as fact.

Just how the storming of Bin Laden's "luxury mansion" went down and how the wacko Muslim met his demise seems to be a point of contention, even several days later.

Early reports from the "firefight" between the SEALs and Bin Laden's bodyguards said that Bin Laden was armed and shot only after he resisted the SEALs incursion (who didn't see that coming?). Turns out, the SEALs thought he was reaching for a weapon. Bin Laden's wife reportedly was killed in the attack when she was was used as a human shield. Except that she wasn't. That is, she wasn't used as a human shield, and she wasn't killed.

President Obama announced Thursday afternoon that the White House would not release a photo of the dead Bin Laden, although such a photo was reportedly already shown on Fox News. The president made this announcement less than 24 hours after CIA director Leon Panetta told NBC News that photos would be released.

Perhaps the most telling moment of the week came from White House press secretary Jay Carney. Paging through notes at Wednesday's briefing when quizzed about the number of floors in Bin Laden's compound, Carney confessed, "Even I'm getting confused."

And if the White House is having problems keeping its story straight, is it any wonder the rest of us get flummoxed like Carney. 

How did the U.S. get the intelligence about Bin Laden's whereabouts in Pakistan? Former Vice President Dick Cheney (and others) asserted the knowledge came as the result of "enhanced" interrogation techniques that qualify as (or border on) torture. Those not so enamored with waterboarding and the like countered that, no, not so much.

After the rowdy college students finished their preening for the cameras in Washington, D.C., and New York City on Sunday night, greater thinkers were conflicted about Bin Laden's death. Some flatly refused to dance on his grave, including Obama.

Things also got a little sticky when well-meaning folks tried to cite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mark Twain to defend their moral stand. While the quotes from those two great orators were appropriate for the moment, the words would have held more gravity if the two men had actually, you know, said them.

Of course, all of this discussion about what happened in Pakistan early Monday morning would be moot if, as some believe, Osama Bin Laden might not be dead after all.

In a week of mis-information, that tidbit would certainly top the list.


  1. It's hard to gauge when to stick your head up from the foxhole and try to gather intel. A lot of the world just slides by while we rise, eat, rinse, repeat.

    There was a reporter the other day saying that in the early going of a big story, their job is dead simple: report the facts. Which sounded funny to me, because I thought that was their job all the time.

  2. This is just an outstanding post from Mr. Dilbert: