Commentary Magazine


Is It Really Bin Laden?

The response will be what you see and not what you hear . . .

Funny, because the threat is all sound and no picture.

Just how seriously are we to continue taking these imageless recordings of Osama bin Laden? The credulity of the media has become instant and absolute. News outlets no longer even question whether the tapes are authentic or of recent vintage. It used to take an AV man at the CIA a few days to confirm that the scratchy, spliced hysteric was the world’s most wanted man; that process has now somehow been cut down to the speed of light. Authenticity is now taken at face-, er, voice-value.

This increase in credulity seems to correlate with the media’s fevered desperation for some flesh-and-blood villain to sell commercial air time. As the war on terror has become less sensational, and as the U.S. has taken out so many of her enemies, the networks are facing a grim programming dilemma: Where are the charismatic monsters of the last five years? Who are the new subjects of in-depth “closer looks” at primetime? Saddam is dead, his sons are dead, al-Zarqawi is dead, and Zawahiri never had “it.” The media has been so desperate for a bin Laden-like presence that they’ve taken up something of a talent search in hopes of finding his successor. So, when a new tape comes out, they milk it.

Bin Laden may very well be dead. As I pointed out yesterday, he hasn’t offered conclusive proof to the contrary in almost four years (even the “blackbeard” video of 2007 freezes whenever current events are mentioned.) This is no small failing for al Qaeda. They know how important it is to make the world see that their fearless and capable leader can elude the forces of the great Satan. Yet they can’t quite pull it off.

This is not a tenable situation. “Closure” is a nauseatingly touchy-feely term, even under the most benign conditions. But something like closure needs to be conferred upon the fate of the man who declared war on the West. After the Bush administration’s premature declarations of “mission accomplished” and an insurgency in its “last throes,” their hubris detector is set to extra-sensitive (as it should be). If they suspect anything about bin Laden’s fate, they’re not telling. In time, though, the question of bin Laden’s death will become unignorable, and it should be answered. Justice is much sweeter with proof. Just as threats become laughable without it.

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