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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.

Comments () | Archives (115)

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I'd like to know how many Americans think 9-11 was an inside job.

Have you think about why almost every US citizen celebrated the death od osama, while in the rest of the world we just were thinking out it?
Don't you think it's a lil' western the way this has "happened" (if it really has, which i doubt). I don't think apropriate the way this is supposed to have happened, Killin' someone who was unarmed and unprotected, when by international and war laws a person in that condition SHOULD not be killed UNLESS he means harm for the operation/team (this i read and the terminology should be more or less corect). I think no matter what that man is supposed to have done (and by all means NO ONE has any physical proof that he did hat he is told) he should have had a trial, just like any other criminal, and be judged by the whatever laws. We can't go killing people just because we are told someone is bad (this reminds me of the inquisition, and even more of the times when the witches were burnt alive).
Just Stop and think by yourselves a bit, don't trust everything someone says. Listen, think, get more information, and then give opinion and act on it. We are supposed to be going towards a better society, and all I feel is that we are going back in time.

Only 20%? With the total lack of credibility this administration has exhibited, I would think the number would be far higher!

I believe it is because many people believe the media and government are in cahoots and trust neither.

Well, think about it. 19% is smaller than the number who still approved of Bush's performance as president in the latter part of his second term. These people are, how to put it delicately, not the sharpest knives in the drawer. They thought Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, that the estate tax applied to them, and that Obama was born in Kenya. Most of them think the moon landing was faked, and that fluoridated water is a plot to turn our young men into Muslim lesbians. These are the people who keep Fox "News" in business, basically.

There are 3 kinds of people in this world;
Those that can do math, and those that can't.

Because the great man-god obama has lied to us so many times....when is it safe to believe him again?'s not. UBL is dead and I believe it not because obama said it but because the military confirmed it.

Yea, I dont believe it either still. There's a lot the government isnt telling us. Just like how their helicopter "malfunctioned." Sounds like a good scheme to help get re-elected Mr. Obama...

Why? because among the stupid people in America, these are the most stupid among us.

The President called a world wide press conference and told everyone that UBL was not a muslim but that he was a terrorist. But then turned right around and told us all that UBL was given a muslim burial. I see no reason to doubt the administration. They used information gleaned by interrogators who are being prosecuted as we speak for gleaning that same information. That's consistent as well, is it not? The ONLY consistent thing I see in 26 months of these bozos being in charge is that the only thing that they've demonstrated repeatedly that they really know what they're doing and are good at, is in being corrupt.

Dude, 2008 called, they want their meme back.

Why is it that a covert raid trained-for and executed by stealth is not considered a conspiracy but questioning facts of that raid is?

Osama bin Laden is acknowledged by intelligence experts to have been a potential intelligence treasure trove as to terrorist methods and mindset. Yet we are expected to accept on faith that the most highly trained American covert operatives -- who are better at shoot / no shoot decisions than any soldiers in history -- had as their mission to kill on sight this unarmed man rather than capture him in an extreme rendition to parts unknown, and set up a convincing plausibly deniable cover story that he was killed so terrorists wouldn't kidnap Americans in exchange?

See my cartoon at and my more serious article at

Bin Ladden is just like a DUST BIN LADDEN issue ! why millions of people should worry about him . Haveyou ever worried about yourself? Your health? Your beloved children.>No!
Have ever thought about GOD so much time as you are for BIN LADDEN .NO!

I request all the world to think of GOD STOP the WAR!

We are a nation of simpletons. It's our toxic environment and stress hormones.

Government always over-estimates the degree to which it is BELIEVED.

Nothing could cause conspiracy theories with more certainty THAN DUMPING THE BODY AT SEA so that a diverse panel could no inspect the body.

The Government made similar mistakes with the Kennedy Assassinations and Martin Luther King assassinations

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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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