How Osama could have stolen the Royal Wedding but didn’t

May 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

It started with a tweet. When the White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer alerted journalists that the President would make an announcement in 43 minutes time, solid sources began to chime in on Twitter that the news was Osama bin Laden was dead.

Mashable has the Twitter timeline of how the story broke but in many ways what’s more interesting is speculating about why the story broke when it did.

An early New York Times story claimed the story ‘leaked out’. On the face of it this doesn’t appear to have been a leak in the accidental and unplanned for sense. It was certainly a deliberate strategy to warm the bed, so to speak, and to ensure that the White House had the full attention of the news media.

The timing of President Obama’s announcement at 10.30pm US Eastern Time can only be assumed to be tactical so it would be screened in primetime across the three earlier time zones across the United States. There are a lot of Republican-held states across mid-America and Obama had the trophy that had eluded George W Bush for seven years.

But Obama delayed his address for just over an hour, before finally taking the lectern at 11.35pm. It has been said he was writing the announcement himself and by that time, no one was in any doubt that the subject was bin Laden. Even delayed as it was, the scheduling still would have worked perfectly for all the blue states from the Mid-West to California and remember, Obama will be fighting for his presidency next year.

Reports say the Americans had known since August last year that there was a ‘high value target’ in the Abbotabad compound, not far from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Planning intensified throughout March to raid what was to prove bin Laden’s hideaway and it was on Thursday last week that Obama gave the go ahead for the operation which appears to have taken place early on Monday NZT.

It is probably worth speculating that the operation was scheduled so the news – if successful – would not compete with the other elephant on the news agenda, the Royal Wedding. If you’re going to throw a party, you’re not going to do it on the same night a good friend had planned for their own big shindig. That’s common sense. If you can control the timing of a news event, do it at a time when you can get the full attention of the news media instead of having news rooms stretched between two large and competing stories. The start of a new week is the start of a new news cycle. Last week was all about Will and Kate. This week, barring some monumental event like a giant meteor collision, it’s all about Obama and Osama.  How George W Bush must rue that it didn’t happen on his presidential watch.

There’s already a lot that’s been written about how the bin Laden story exploded on to the social web. Unlike the Royal Wedding, nobody but President Obama and his advisers would have known anything about the clandestine operation to find one of the world’s most wanted men. It was planned in secret while the royal event was heralded in as public way as possible. But they matched each other in the speed that the news travelled its way around the world. In these social media times, time flies and so does the news.


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