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May 10, 2011

Unseemly Celebration

Roy Meachum

Monday’s Washington Post front page ran two stories; inside, a column, an article on SEAL Team 6 and even a cartoon drawn after Osama bin Laden was killed. The New York Times was more restrained: reviews of books about the Special Forces team.


The previous Monday I was exultant that America’s chief terrorist was dead; I welcomed a Post total front-page and more than several stories. But eight days later, the continuing coverage struck me as unseemly; enough to justify in the rest of the world that bin Laden’s taking out excited undue celebration.


Crowds gathered at the White House and Ground Zero were righteously gloating; after all, Manhattan’s twin World Towers and the Pentagon were the principal sites where nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives. A Pennsylvania field was honored where passengers fought hijackers to save some other Washington building, supposedly the White House. A couple days gloating seemed sufficient. But more than a week later was more than enough.


Being in the media all my life I knew The Washington Post reflected public interest; the old legend about a dog biting a man was ordinary, but a man biting a dog was news. And all its national and international stature aside, the Post is a paper for a single-interest community, formed around the government; it is a town newspaper.


And since the Post has a large circulation on the eastern coast, augmented by the chief SEAL Team base outside Norfolk, the result of the saturation was a boost for Barack Obama’s re-election. In Virginia, the before-and-after differences switched public support from negative to positive significantly. Maryland and the District grew their Democratic bases. The economy remains paramount for next-year’s presidential race.


Killing bin Laden would have prompted special editions rushed out to newsboys with strong voices to peddle on street corners, and in between. One of my childhood’s strongest memories was the New Orleans night I returned from drinking long-necked Barq’s root beer and eating free shrimp. A newsboy was out on Second Street hawking that John Dillinger was dead; I didn’t understand his reference to “the lady in red.” Certainly, the murderer of several thousand Americans was as newsworthy.


That begs my point. Would his death be savored as much if he were a white Christian? Certainly a significant part of the fear he invoked was his totally foreign nature. The average black in my segregated Southern youth posed a similar threat because of his race’s majority number.


All by himself, Osama bin Laden presented no danger to America and the West, but his appearance in the media was heralded by the blowing up of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by his followers. He was always depicted with a host of supporters. That made relief more widespread at the stories out of Pakistan the Sunday before last Sunday. But still no excuse for the excessive wallowing.


Move on, America and its press.


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