08 May 2011

Mixed Media Message On UBL

photo credit AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Since the White House pulled the trigger on the UBL elimination operation last week, there has been a barrage of mixed media messages.  Seemingly, UBL’s death brought 72 versions, with the story changing all the time.  The drastically different details are disturbing from people who purported watched the proceedings in real time from helmet cameras.  Oh wait, the official story is that there was a video blackout during 20 crucial minutes during the Special Forces mission.  Perhaps the spirit of Rosemary Wood from the Nixon White House was in charge of audio video in the Obama Situation Room. It is likely that such a feed was conveniently lost, whether it was in real time or retrospect, for officials to maintain plausible deniability and to  avoid answering uncomfortable questions on operational specifics.

The different versions of the raid muddle the message but are not uncommon in the fog of war.  What is unsettling is the Obama Administration’s incoherent policy on releasing media on the UBL operation.  Aside from the helmet cam controversy, there were competing factions within the Obama Administration about whether to release pictures of UBL’s cadaver.  Current CIA Chief (soon to be Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta insisted that the photos would be released. But just about everything that the Chief Spook said about the UBL operation has been walked back.  In the end, President Obama decided that the UBL death photos would not be released as there was no reason to “spike the ball” and that a gruesome photo would inflame the so called Arab street.

Despite the Obama Administration’s anxiousness to quell any Islamic anxiety over UBL’s elimination, the Pentagon saw fit to release videos of Usama bin Laden blooper reels, UBL with a grey beard and a sequences showing a vain UBL watching video reports about himself.  Wisely, the DoD did not include audio tracks with this release. But so much for not spiking the ball. At a time when “deathers” are clamoring for the death photo and jihadist UBL sympathizers are already agitated, what a foolish way to feed the media beast.

President George H.W. Bush often mispronounced his Persian Gulf nemesis’ name. While it could be attributed to the verbal clumsiness characteristic of the Bush dynasty. But it turns out that Bush 41 was deliberately mispronouncing it as  "Sad-DUM"  to irritate the Iraqi dictator, which both rhymed with Sodom and Gomorrah and perhaps as a subtle Arab insult, as it connotes  either "nothing" or “little shoe shine boy”.  But a picture says a thousand words in a media age.  Certainly the shots of an aged Usuma were intended to deflate  cultivated image as the Lion of the Jihad with a prized black beard. But when UBL supports are hungry for any image for hagiography, these unguarded UBL images may stoke his supporters.  

Some media reports have indicated that President Obama had several months to contemplate an operation against UBL.  It is mind boggling to think that the White House did not anticipate the impact of post raid UBL images and have a unified front in the aftermath. The White House recreated President Obama’s dramatic exit from the UBL elimination declaration for the benefit of still photographers.  The Obama 2008 Presidential campaign was obsessed by optics, as epitomized by the Styrofoam Greek column “Barackenon”  from the Invesco Field acceptance speech.  The media miscues for the UBL raid seem like Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge scene.  It is difficult to control the message when it is not contained with a Big Slobbering Love Affair with the American Lamesteam Media.

The Long War that encompasses the War on Terrorism can not just be won on the battlefield but must win the media war.  The UBL Special Ops mission is a strong step in changing the perception in the region that America is not a strong horse.  But the equivocation about releasing photos, the constantly changing story in an Administration awarded for its transparency, the extent of leaks regarding the treasure trove of information and  and the mixed media messages on UBL is squandering the momentum from the “W”.

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