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Why do one-in-five American voters now believe Osama bin Laden is still alive?

Osama bin laden supporters in Pakistan protest his reported death 5-6-11

Here we go again.

It's been only two weeks since President Obama reported on national television that an American commando team in four military helicopters had killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan bedroom. Within literally minutes, word of the terrorist's death by gunshot prompted seemingly spontaneous street celebrations outside the White House and elsewhere.

Now comes word from noted pollster John Zogby that while an overwhelming majority buys the administration's account, a surprising almost one-in-five likely American voters believes the Al Qaeda founder is not dead at all, nor buried at sea, as Obama officials have stated.

How could this possibly be?

That's more than twice the accepted estimate of silly folks who think Elvis is 76 now, watching his old movies and collecting Social Security in a secret somewhere.

How could so many presumably normal citizens (19%, according to Zogby) be so ignorant as to....

...not believe the claims of their duly-elected president and the detailed accounts by his deputies of the deadly dark-of-night raid deep into Pakistan by a team of Navy SEALs, the firefight and the flight with the corpse to an American carrier offshore, the confirmation of his DNA, the preparation of his body according to Muslim ritual and its hasty burial somewherOsama bin Laden 1998e at sea to avoid creating a shrine?

All this within 12 hours?

Even Al Qaeda has confirmed its leader's death.

But wait! Isn't that what terrorists would be expected to say to convince enemies to abandon their 10-year manhunt?

This incredulity phenomenon is a curious creation of a high-speed global media so full of unverified and unverifiable information floating about, combined with a modern cynicism about political leaders masquerading as voter wisdom.

After so many lies and misleading claims by politicians over the decades since the Kennedy assassination and its conspiracy theories ("I am not a crook" "I did not have sex with that woman"), the safest way to look wise and experienced these days is to dismiss virtually any public official's statement as a talking point and/or lie.

The widespread arrival of television some 60 years ago and more recently online video has trained people to expect some kind of visual confirmation of virtually any news, either live or shortly after. Its absence almost surely spawns doubts.

President Obama watched the raid live via satellite and has seen the photos. Because he himself was convinced of Bin Laden's death, the president deemed providing visual -- albeit allegedly gruesome -- photographic proof to any doubting fellow Americans was unnecessary. The people could take his word for it.

And he worried it would seem vengeful, even though nearly 3,000 died on 9/11 and another 1,573 Americans have perished in combat against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in what on Obama's watch is now the country's longest war ever. Obama said he wanted to avoid appearing to spike the football in the end zone, although that desire didn't keep him from a ground zero victory lap and talking Bin Laden killing at two subsequent Democratic party fundraisers.

That dismissed domestic concern was outweighed, Obama aides explained, by the president's concern over inflaming those jihadists who've been violently killing American infidels and many of their own faith for nearly two decades.FBI's most wanted list updated with Osama bin Laden's reported death 5-2-11

So no Bin Laden corpse picture because why, some have since asked, the lack of one photograph will somehow prompt these crazies to doff their bomb belts?

Or be a kinder, gentler captor of future prisoners? Could any American commander-in-chief seriously believe this?

Additionally, Obama aides' eager and hurried attempts to tell the raid story to their boss' best advantage lead to countless conflicting details and confusing inaccuracies.

The botched recounting turned a PR homerun into a merely impressive triple, needlessly eroding Obama's credibility even among those wishing Bin Laden ill.

To assuage criticism among some influential Washington pols -- the people who really matter in Obama's non-fundraising day-to-day world -- he offered to show the not-so-nice photos to select members of Congress.

However, although global audiences have been treated to countless photos of atrocities and gruesome scenes in recent years -- severed heads online, bound Abu Ghraib prisoners, Saddam Hussein hanged and burned, mutilated American bodies hanging from a Falluja bridge come vividly to mind -- Obama clearly was more concerned about possible foreign reaction than domestic disbelief, which he doesn't place much stock in.

A strange reaction from someone who tried for four years stonewalling skeptics of something as simple as documenting his birthplace, only to finally give in and release his sealed long-form certificate just this spring -- and then see virtually all the wind immediately disappear from the sails of the so-called birther movement.

Operating in a longtime one-party city like Chicago, Democratic politicians do not often feel beholden to explaining themselves to the obedient public. So, the lesson this president from there obviously drew from his unnecessary birth certificate-sealing confrontation was to do it again with the Bin Laden photos.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Khalid Tanveer / Associated Press (Pakistan supporters of Bin Laden protest his reported death); Associated Press; FBI's updated Most Wanted List.

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Why do 1 in 5 Americans believe bin Laden is NOT dead? Easy. At least 1 in 5 is viably mentally ill.

because 1 in 5 americans are far right wing reactive republicans who hate Obama

If he could he would, but he can't and so he won't.

"the lack of one photograph will somehow prompt these crazies to doff their bomb belts?"

Obviously the concern is not over the crazies, who (as you imply) aren't going to be affected one way or another, but over the near-crazies who could be driven crazy. Use of the pictures as a propaganda tool for recruiting is the concern. Do you really not believe that the USA's actions don't provide fodder for creating new terrorists?

"only to finally give in and release his sealed long-form certificate just this spring -- and then see virtually all the wind immediately disappear from the sails of the so-called birther movement."

Oh, really? You don't think that at least 19% of voters still believe that Obama wasn't born in the USA? Your point collapses.

How ironic it is for a journalist to dismiss voter skepticism and to endorse blind trust in the officials in power. Perhaps the 19% choose not to believe the President because there has not been an honest President in their lifetime?

It's not that I don't believe that he's dead.
I believe he died years ago and they were saving the news for a "rainy day"
Remember 5 years ago, the media reported that he was dying from kidney disease ?
Also, remember the videos from a few years back of how his hair and his beard had turned totally grey ?
Did bin Laden live in an apartment that had almost no necessities, but still managed to dye his beard ?

Like a majority of voters, I wanted seriously to believe in Obama and to believe him. Unfortunately, he's become just another politician doing the Politician Thing, which contains an out-sized measure of stupidity and lies. Less, perhaps, than his incredible predecessor, but enough to place him squarely in the downward spiral of American Presidents (and their hand-chosen team of jokers.) So his handling of Bin Laden's assassination is to be expected. Deplored, certainly, but predictable. So who's next Donald Duck?

To answer the headline question - perhaps because of their being ideologically straitjacketted?

Ridiculous. Of course the nutters would also have to believe that al-Qeda itself is complicit in such an absurd conspiracy -- otherwise bin Laden would have been on world websites in a shot, waving copies of newspapers reporting his demise and throwing an awful lot of egg into the faces of the US.
Of course, that hasn't happened.
Because the man is kaput. Kapish?

1 in 5. hmmm... and why too.
That is indeed an interesting question. I have not read whole article here so pardon me for commenting on the articles opening question.
Trust is the reason and although our government has been fairly well transparent, they have not coughed up the trophy photos. Maybe they should have had a taxidermist stuff and send him to Texas or something.
Yet, even with the obvious reasons some are skeptical, the way the raid and such played out, and the open statements made about having photos and the fact they did kill him and gave him a quick burial scares people. He was the guy who killed thousands, it also really has played a long and lasting effect on our economy and liberties here to the negative as well as elsewhere.
Yep, I say give em their trophy. Charlton Heston could hang this guys head on the wall next his Moose Head or Lion Head trophies for all I care.
No PETA, I love animals and do not own a gun.

Why would this be surprising when a third of Americans believe in a literal Book of Genesis?

And while I accept your point about Obama possibly not feeling the need to prove these things to the American people, but I wonder if another President would even be expected to. Bush was never pressed to "prove" his case for committing us to a costly and wholly unnecessary war nor held responsible for getting the call so very wrong.

Ironically, I'm quite sure that had Bin Laden been killed during the Bush administration, the number of doubters would have been much lower and the reasons to doubt much higher.

Bill McQueen

You have 0 comments because your an idiot.

The writer is trying to start something so he can see his name more often, just like someone did for Elvis Presley. Bin Laden is dead and no stories start anything otherwise!


You went through way too much thought and work for this article. All that had to be done was ask how many of the 19% watch Fox News, and how many had a sheet in their closet with a pair of eyes cut out.

How can anyone buy the administration's account? Which version are we talking about? The administration has probably changed their account since I last heard it 15 minutes ago. While I believe bin Laden is dead, I don't believe much of what I've heard about it from the White House -- they simply can't get their story straight. The administration has badly mishandled this information. It is their mishandling that is creating the doubts.

It's roughly the same ratio of people who still believe Obama was born outside of the United States. It's roughly the same number who believed Dubya was still doing a good job toward the end of his term. It's roughly the same number of people who will buy any piece of information offered by a right-wing hack, no matter how outrageously construed, no matter how slanderous toward a sitting president; so long as that president has a (D) next to his name, nothing is off limits.

One in five people with beliefs that can charitably be called deranged have a home here. Why the LA Times insists on providing that home remains a mystery.

Despite the atempts by this newspaper and reporter to label anyone QUESTIONING the lack of evidence as a conspiracy nut or elvis nutjob, there will always be SANE and RATIONAL people that demand the evidence that is lacking from a government that has lied over the past 10 years!.

the DNA evidence has not been presented or indepentant verified.
the photos have not been shown
the video of supposed burial at sea (convienent!) not shown
supposed messages on forums from the bad guys found by a shady 3rd party organisation on the payroll of the USA is NOT evidence.

Basically people are questioning the version of events that america is spinning and if 1 in 5 yanks believe it. you better send that poll out to the world because a HELL of a lot more think the usa is full of lies and outright fabrications. and can you blame the world for thinking that since the dirty lies of reasons for war with WMD's and the juicy secrets and lies exposes by wiwkileaks.

America IS the boy who cried wolf!

"Why do one-in-five American voters now believe Osama bin Laden is still alive?"

Answer: Because they're the same gullible fools who buy into the same, lame, sensationalist conspiracy theories of Elvis's death, 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, UFOs, Jimmy Hoffa, Area 51, a flat earth and a whole host of other "evil government" plots.

Anyway, who says sound critical thinking must be contingent upon a sound education?

Because manyAmericans are basically STUPID!

Every one of those 20% is a Registered Republican. They don't believe Osama is dead, because a black Democrat "got him". (Apologies to the Army/Navy/Air Force/Marines).

They also still believe in WMD, and will continue to do so no matter how many times you show them Bush saying, "Nope, weren't there."

Didn't the times just win a Pulitzer? Why would they jeopardize sullying such an achievement by publishing a yellow journalism piece such as this filled with innuendo, rumor-mongering, and "birther" conspiracy theory nonsense?

I know this is only the online blog section, but where are the editors? I actually find it hard to believe that anyone with the credentials to be published by the times even believes this garbage, so I have to assume this is a blatant attempt at trolling for page hits.

See everyone in the picture? Yea those guys, kill them.

Because, unfortunately, about 20% of Americans are insane or dangerously stupid.

News Flash!!!

Two out of five don't believe polls.

I have to admit that when I'm hounded by a pollster, I'm liable to tell them all kinds of crazy stuff.

Just sayin'

Do these people realize they are calling the US Navy Seals liars?

Some people believe that Bush saved Osama's death for a rainy day...for the Democrats? That's so moronic. Even if they had Osama lie in state for the unbelievers, they would say a million things and not believe anyway. Obama did the right thing.

Because 1 in 5 also believe that President Obama wasn't born.

We *have* to get over this - 20 % of this country's inhabitants is nuts.

He is dead. The reason why 1/5 Americans is false information created by the media to put pressure on the government to release Osama's death photos so they make more profits.
The media is the world's largest problem, it can seduce the public into beleving or "hearing" what ever they want it to. In this case Osama being "alive" keeps this story alive and bringing in the cash. Anyone including myself who is reading this went too far and fell for one of the media's ploys again. Think about it.....

Why do 1 in 5 Americans believe Osama bin Laden is still alive?... because they hate Obama and will look for any reason to express their hatred and bigotry toward him.

1 in 5 Americans believes that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it.

i thing obama wants re-election

If Osama died in the operation why dont they show the video ...Photos are for kids? They will show the video if they have the problem is they dont have ... as elections are coming Osama is a hot cake which unites all ...remember It was Osama video that brought Bush to victory ....and now again elections and again Osama .... Next time it will be Aiman Al zahwari ....

Ignorance is a sad think, just look at all the republicans we have.

50% of the people in this country are below average intelligence.

About half of those are idiots.

So why should anyone be surprised ( especially given that the same people firmly believe the world started 6000 years ago with two nudists and a talking snake. )

Keep in mind that the other side thinks you can get 72 virgins by blowing yourself up.

It's a tie.

More garbage for the idiots at the L.A.Times to report .

Hate to break it to you, but AT LEAST 1 in 5 Americans are COMPLETE MORONS! How else could we elect a baboon like Bush twice as president, invade the wrong country after 9/11 and allow war criminals like Cheney to continue to run our country?
People will believe what they want. Who cares what the annoying, uneducated, religiously zealous community of complete bat $h!t people believe. They are inconsequential to the security of our future. Talking about them or giving them attention just uses up valuable oxygen and computer bits of text!!!

How could so many presumably normal citizens (19%, according to Zogby) be so ignorant as to....

...not believe the claims of their duly-elected president

Yellow cake anyone? WMD in Iraq? Was that also not "DULY ELECTED PRESIDENT" ?

Seems to me that there only are 19% free thinking individuals left in the US. This now is the country of drones where tragic murder of 3000 humans is used to justify equally tragic murder of over a million and counting. Osama should be known as the guy who got two failing US presidents elected for a second term in office.

i seen him saturday in the dollar general in lewiston mi. buy vienna sauages
and crackers

"...the lack of one photograph will somehow prompt these crazies to doff their bomb belts?"

And the presence of one photograph will somehow prompt our crazies to believe Osama is dead? If they aren't going to take the word of Obama and his government, they aren't going to be convinced just because that government releases a photo. They'll just cry Photoshop, body double, blah blah blah. Yeah, I feel let down by Obama in some areas, but his handling of Osama bin Laden is not one of them. An America that doesn't stoop to fetishizing gory photos of our fallen enemies is something I can take pride in.

The birther movement did not dry up, its just resting a little bit until all this bin Laden stuff blows over and they can get back to the - to them - important issues.

There is a simple answer if a liberal writer and news paper want to face it. They dont believe anything that Obama has to say on any topic. They say this from experience. They see the media covering for him on everything he says or does. Presto, no one believes him or the media any more and for good reason.

Why? Perhaps because the President was going to speak at 10:30 p (et) that night. Then 10:45, then 11, then 11:05, then 11:30. Perhaps because Osama was killed and within hours he was "buried at sea" in accordance with Muslim tradition. It isn't muslim tradition to bury at sea. He was armed. He wasn't armed. He used his wife as a shield. He didn't use his wife as a shield. The Seals came under intense fire. There was no resistance. Everyone had guns. Only one person had a gun. It was a kill mission. It wasn't a kill mission. Because the President was going to release pictures. No, he isn't. Yes he is, no he isn't.

Am I "crazy" or a "conspiracy righty"? Nope. But I also can't say "it must have been soooo chaotic that it took a while to get the stories straight". Because the image of the President, Secretary Clinton and all of the others in the room watching via the Seal's helmet cams....say....that no one in Washington is worthy of the American people's trust anymore.

Why? How about Americans are dumb as a hoe handle?

Ten percent of Americans can't read. More read at the4 th grade level. Fifty percent have an IQ that is less than 100. Twenty % have mental illness. Ten % are alcoholics. How is this different than we never landed on the moon?

What obligation does anyone have to tell the truth to a pollster? The real question should be if you believe that 19% of people polled really believe that Osama is not dead, or if you think that people may just be saying that because they don't want to give any credit to those who seek it.

It doesn't really matter if he is dead or not except for some slight feeling of justice, so how could it matter if 100% of the people believe it?

My beautifully crafted bon mot from about 4:15 disappeared; alas! I'll assume it was a surly server and not enemy action. ... My point was that this is a pretty sad conservative hack job on the bin Laden killing. This operation was a great and good thing for our country, and your writing to diminish it is pretty ugly and intellectually unsound. I see that 34% of Americans believe in UFOs, or perhaps 34% of Americans believe in trolling pollsters. So, I would say that 19% claiming to believe bin Laden being alive was about normal background noise.

This is not about "silly folks" refusing to swallow the Osama bin Laden's death story with one gulp! This is about Americans accustomed to hear lies from their government, and
taking everything they hear from it with a grain [shall I say a truckload?] of salt! The fact that the president may say something on national TV doesn't mean that it is true. The president and all politicians lie deliberately to pull people on their side, and once they achieve what they want with their lies, they can patch them with another lie. The so-called "silly folks," therefore remember how George Bush lied about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq to win support for his war, and then tried to cover up his outright lies with a "faulty intelligence" patch!

I, for example, am not sold 100% on the killing of bin Laden. My common sense tells me that the U.S. would prefer to have taken him alive, and torture him to spit out information that the U.S. would then use to dismantle his network. If, therefore, the U.S. announces tomorrow that bin Laden is alive in a U.S. military base in the Pacific, and he is talking, I wouldn't be surprised. And as a former military officer myself, I know that the capturing high rank officers of the enemy involves extracting information first, not shooting first and then try to extract information from their belongings!

The rationale in my opinion goes to the 19% who still have reasonable doubts -like myself. Now, if the U.S. decided to execute bin Laden, bag him with weights, dump him in the ocean in an "out of site-out of mind" idea, and then smudge his remaining memories with porn watching stories, then "the silly folks" are at the White House - not in the 19% doubters!
Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Let's no forget how often US citizens have been lied to by the government since 9/11. WMD's, torture, blah, blah, blah. It's quite natural that now many are not trusting of the words of our leaders. We're about as covert as a country gets. Who's to say that we don't actually have bin Laden stowed away somewhere and are torturing information out of him? We're quite capable of lying about that and are just as capable of doing it.

I personally believe that bin Laden has been eliminated but it's not ludicrous for anyone to believe something covert is going on and that he's still alive. Our leaders and politicians, not wacko citizens, have created the doubt and suspicion. Continuous lies, deceit and cover ups have destroyed the trust of the average American. If you look at it correctly, it takes a wacko to believe the words of our leaders these days rather than have much doubt about them.

Their hatred of Obama is so obsessive that they will do anything to deny any fact which gives Obama credit. These people would prefer to see the economy destroyed rather than see it improve if Obama gets any credit. Of course they will deny that Bin Laden was killed. Obama gets credit for it. They would prefer a very successful Al Qaeda attack in this country so that they can blame Obama.

Well, they did lie about him using his wife as a human shield, they did lie about him using an AK-47 to shoot at them, they did lie about killing his wife--while I believe Osama dead, enough lies have been told, that in a court room, the case would be tossed out. Why does our President lie when truth would serve him better? One thing for sure, you don't lie to people you respect. And, as the lied to us, it speaks volumes about the inner workings of the President's brain. I have a suspicion that were the photos released they would show that Osama got shot in the back. Obama might really consider that the thing that brought the curtain down on Nixon--and nearly did on Clinton was lying to the American people.

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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