Isn’t editorializing in a news story supposed to be out of bounds at The New York Times? Here’s the third graf of Bin Laden’s Secret Life in a Diminished World, which (with a headline describing his Shrunken World) dominates the print edition of today’s front page:
Videos seized from Bin Laden’s compound and released by the Obama administration on Saturday showed him wrapped in an old blanket watching himself on TV, like an aging actor imagining a comeback [emphasis added].
You’d think a news editor would have killed the offending phrase. But you’d be wrong. It would have been very easy to do, and it would not have subtracted an iota of fact.
Videos seized from Bin Laden’s compound and released by the Obama administration on Saturday showed him wrapped in an old blanket watching himself on TV.
like an aging actor imagining a comeback.
See how simple that was? And how much better it reads?
We’re also told in the same paragraph, “A senior intelligence official said other videos showed him practicing and flubbing his lines in front of a camera.”
How does the NYT know that this kinda sorta aging actor imagining a comeback flubbed his lines? Well, because the intelligence official said so. And we know American senior intelligence officials can be depended upon to tell the truth.
But, hey, the three reporters who wrote the story had no choice. They had to depend on that official because he heard the tapes, and they didn’t. As we learn in the 18th paragraph (in a by-the-way aside, no less), all the videos released by the White House “were provided without sound.” You read that right.
For all I know, the videos really do show what the unnamed intelligence official says. It’s worth noting, however — as a more forthright story on page 10 of the NYT print edition points out — the White House released the videos not just “to promote an intelligence triumph but also to try to further diminish the legacy and appeal of Bin Laden.”
And belittling remarks inserted into a front-page news story where they don’t belong will certainly help. Robert Fisk’s column tells the tale as it should be told:
Bin Laden got his just deserts — those who live by the sword tend to die by the sword — but did he get the “justice” that President Obama talked about? Many Arabs — and this theme was taken up by the Arab press, which spoke of his “execution” — thought he should have been captured, taken to the international court in The Hague and tried.
He makes no bones about Bin Laden’s diminished status. “[N]eedless to say, he was a has-been,” Fisk writes. But remember, he’s voicing an opinion. And besides, “the real problem,” as he puts it,
is that the West, which has constantly preached to the Arab world that legality and non-violence was the way forward in the Middle East, has taught a different lesson to the people of the region: that executing your opponents is perfectly acceptable.
Postscript: And now … the feature flick: video of a has-been. Here are all five.
PPS: May 9 — The phrase “like an aging actor imagining a comeback” appears to have gained traction. It was used this morning by NBC’s “Today” show to describe the video of Bin Laden watching himself on the tube. Why am I not surprised?