It’s hard to believe that we can handle pictures of Mussolini’s hanging, bodies flung on top of each other in Nazi concentration camps, kids burned with napalm in Vietnam and Michael Moore tanning but not one of Osama bin Laden dead.
So it’s baffling that putting out photos of bin Laden with a bullet in his head is a problem for this administration. Because putting out ones of U.S. troops abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t. In 2009, this same White House turned over 2,000 photos of detainee abuse all over the world at the hands of U.S. troops, reversing President Bush’s policy of keeping those pictures guarded. But now when it comes to the one picture that people ought to see — the kill shot of a man so evil that the New York Times dropped “Mr.” from his obituary, a distinction bin Laden now shares with Adolph Hitler — the administration has cold feet?
On Wednesday, President Obama told CBS News that some people skeptical of bin Laden’s death will never be satisfied, making pictorial evidence superfluous. But that PDF of the president’s birth certificate proved to millions that he was born in Hawaii. The number of birthers has dropped 50 percent since Obama released his birth certificate, according to the latest Washington Post poll. And the shot of Obama’s team in the Situation Room watching the raid on bin Laden’s compound proved to even more that Joe Biden’s alive. So pictures can be convincing.
In the same interview, he added that releasing the bin Laden photos could incite shamed radical Islamists to violence, endangering U.S. troops. But most Muslims have been against Al Qaeda from the beginning. And Pew’s new poll shows that support for bin Laden has collapsed in Muslim countries over the past decade. His base has eroded over 50 percent in Palestine alone. It’s non-existent in Turkey. If the White House wants to save Muslims embarrassment, it’s better off coming up with a plan to get Aziz Ansari off TV.
The press has been too credulous of the White House’s spin. It ought to be arguing for transparency. It’s not the media’s job to collude with the White House to protect Muslim “sensitivities” or even U.S. troops. It’s their job to tell the story. If that enrages Muslims or endangers the military, then that’s the White House’s or the State Department’s problem.
This picture is going to surface. Either some official will leak it or some blogger will sue the government under the Freedom of Information Act and get it that way. But the administration’s reluctance to share it is baffling. Obama’s budget is harder to look at than a picture of bin Laden dead. The White House put the former out. The latter ought to be next.
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned Libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.