Washington — The American media miss things. Moreover the media are capricious. A few months back journalists were in a fever, remonstrating with the White House for withholding intelligence on the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. Only a few days later the same media were in a fever remonstrating with the White House for scaring hell out of America by publicizing too many intelligence reports of anticipated terror attacks.
Now the media are overlooking an obvious story and a momentous one. Osama bin Laden is dead. Intelligence services have not heard a peep from his communications nest since December. One of the globe’s leading blabbermouths, he has had scores of occasions to pop up on a videotape broadcast from al-Jazeera, the Middle Eastern aerobics salon-turned Arab television station, and boast of yet another terrorist triumph. Yet he remains silent, and in the last tape that was broadcast from sexy al-Jazeera he looked like he had been living on a diet of desert insects and high-altitude bombs.
What more evidence do we need that he is dead? Well, we have not heard a word from his family and the entourage that traveled about dusty Afghanistan with him. Doubtless all are sealed away in the same cave, thanks to the accuracy of the American Air Force. Former associates such as Dr. Abu Laith Allibi (pronounced ali-ebi) have attested that the Rev. bin Laden is in “good health.” Indeed another upped the ante recently, claiming he is in “good and prosperous health.” What are we to conclude from these affirmations? Ask any student of Arab terrorism. The Rev. bin Laden’s associates are inveterate liars and fantasists. What we can always conclude after one of their sonorous affirmations is that it is the precise opposite that is true. Mr. Allibi’s holy pest is “in bad health. He is dead.”
Yet the American media have yet to indulge in the usual “feeding frenzy.” CNN did call in an expert or two this week to discuss the possibility that the head of al Qaeda has assumed room temperature. At least one of the weekend talk shows considered the funereal proposition, but so far the only journalists I know who are intent on telling the world that “Osama Is Dead” are Mark Steyn of London’s Telegraph papers and the New York Sun and yours truly.
Evidence does accumulate that Steyn and I shall be vying for a Pulitzer next season. News reports dribble in from Europe, suggesting bin Laden’s expiry. The FBI’s chief anti-terrorist officer, Dale Watson, publicly has stated his belief that we are right and bin Laden is gone forevermore. Both President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have expressed doubt that we shall ever see the bewhiskered killer upright again. From Araby comes a report in the authoritative newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that bin Laden’s son has taken over a leaderless al Qaeda. Now the Associated Press reports that bin Laden’s bodyguards are to be found among the terrorists we have incarcerated at our military camp in Cuba; no bodyguards, no body. The only authoritative source I know still reporting that the Rev. bin Laden is alive is the distinguished editor at large of the Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave, but I think Arnaud is mistaken.
The media’s present lack of interest in bin Laden’s whereabouts will have its usual perverse consequence. Once the journalists note that we have no corpse and that a proper amount of time has elapsed they will begin a decades’ long debate over where he is hiding. Long after the worms of Tora Bora have ceased to treat Osama bin Laden as their own very tasty crepe suzette, journalistic theorists will be appearing on television shows reporting that in a remote town in rural Argentina a tall swarthy man rides an aging camel, a withered arm dangling from his side. Or perhaps the sighting is made in Paraguay where a man wearing robes has been living in a cave for years, a rusting SUV standing on blocks in the front yard. He has four wives, two use walkers when they go into town to buy dates and nuts at the market.
Long after World War II similar stories circulated about the late Adolf, though all the best evidence had for years indicated that Hitler died in Germany in the last days of the war. It is a fact that there is always a larger audience for the unbelievable than for the believable. Another fact is that our capricious media encourage the belief in the unbelievable.