The Media & Osama's Superficial Makeover

by Laura Snedeker

Are The Learning Channel's Stacy and Clinton of What Not to Wear fame advising Osama bin Laden? He looks unusually snappy these days in his new robes and fresh cut and color. Those dirty old combat fatigues and the long, grey beard said “got any change?” more than “We will destroy the Great Satan!”

The multifaceted 9/11 mastermind isn’t just a smart dresser; he’s also quite media-savvy. His newest video, in which he criticizes the U.S. government and calls upon Americans to convert to Islam, is the first time al-Qaeda has released a videotape of their leader in three years.

Although U.S. intelligence repeatedly asserted that Osama was hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, increasing reliance on his deputy to disseminate the group’s messages led to speculation about the fugitive terrorist leader’s death.

Osama’s bold return to international politics captured the attention of the Western media, which in his absence couldn’t get the populace excited about his more obscure lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The media are quick to channel government paranoia about another terrorist attack on U.S. soil but fail to properly contextualize the video. Isn’t it convenient that U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials intercepted the tape the Friday before the sixth anniversary of 9/11, which will fall during the same week as General Petraeus’ report to Congress on the progress of the Iraq War?

Coincidentally, bin Laden last appeared in October 2004 – right in time to influence the U.S. election in favor of the incumbent President George Bush. Yet according to parts of the transcript released by the BBC, he blames Americans for the actions of the Bush administration:

"[You] permitted Bush to complete his first term, and stranger still, chose him for a second term, which gave him a clear mandate from you – with your full knowledge and consent – to continue to murder our people in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Osama’s newfound commitment to ending the war in Iraq only seems to strengthen the moral authority of the U.S. government. His opposition to the war, Western corporations, and capitalism also seemingly validate conservative claims that liberal (not to mention radical) opponents of the war hate the “American way of life” and are more ideologically close to Islamic fundamentalists than to mainstream Americans. Osama's views also contradict the benefits of a prolonged American occupation that alienates large segments of society.

Instead of asking the hard questions about who benefits from the timely introduction of the New and Improved Osama, the media have elected to continue their tradition of silent complicity. They live in holy terror of being labeled unfair, slanted, or biased, and yet have traded true objectivity and analysis for meek obedience.

(The image is via ABC News, but the Associated Press and the SITE Institute of Washington, D.C. are also credited with copyright. However, the images originated with tapes from al-Sahab, the propaganda wing of al-Qaeda, and thus are in the public domain. To see a report from Al Jazeera English on bin Laden's latest tape, please check below.)

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