Optics Matter: Obama’s Mistake on Bin Laden Photo


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There may be more to the story that I just don’t know, but as I have written previously, I believe that it is a mistake not to release the bin Laden death photo — as well as a photo showing that rites consistent with Islamic customs were administered.
I don’t know all the issues President Obama may have had to consider sitting behind the Oval Office desk — but that’s not my responsibility to figure out. I think transparency works better here, even if there are some downsides. That is what civil society is about — reasoned debate and discussion. I really feel that Obama is wrong on this one.
Tonight, I shared a bit of this thinking on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams above.
Later tonight, I’ll be chatting with Ed Schultz on MSNBC’s The Ed Show along with former State Department Chief of Staff Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson on the same subject.
— Steve Clemons


11 comments on “Optics Matter: Obama’s Mistake on Bin Laden Photo

  1. Robert C says:

    Steve, if the OBL photos are published, Americans should be forced to view photos of innocent civilians, women and children, killed by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Further, we should see photos of those killed by Special Ops. Last year Special Ops killed several innocent relatives of Karzi’s in a botched operation. Those photos should be viewed along side OBLs. Otherwise, it just hubris, not transparency.


  2. Tank Man says:

    Forget about OBL, if you want to see photos, how about
    showing the twisted and wrecked bodies of our boys and girls
    on the battlefield. Let “We the People” get a front row seat to
    the carnage of war!


  3. The River Temoc says:

    Conspiracy theorists don’t care about evidence. A
    few photos won’t satiate them — they think the moon
    landings were faked.
    Remember the alien autopsy video of a few years ago?
    I assume that, because that piece of makeup wizardry
    was frozen on celluloid, You Believe?


  4. davidt says:

    Do you really wish to be known as the “Donald
    Trump of the Blogosphere?”. Or is that the point,
    to get a good gig like the Donald has on NBC?
    That there have been developments in the
    Palestinian leadership with all sorts of
    implications for example (is this now the end of
    the Fayyad era or a more stable continuation of it
    going forward, with or without Mr. Fayyad, in
    which the business community of Israel is the club
    that gets Netanyahu to finally make peace or leave
    politics) certainly shouldn’t divert one’s
    attention from a story for which it’s hard to get
    many respectable people to be so outspoken on one
    side. Even most Republicans aren’t hammering on
    this. That it might be incendiary in Arab
    capitals shouldn’t divert one’s attention from the
    opportunity at network tv. As James Fallows and
    others have pointed out, is it really likely that
    for one who doesn’t believe that Osama is dead,
    they won’t believe that any pictures can’t be
    manufactured (or provide proof from some detail
    that they are fakes).
    Not bothered that people believe they should be
    released. Bothered that one might not let this
    one go given the potential negative ramifications
    of a proposed alternative policy.
    Saw a well-known comedian host a tribute to a well
    known European actress last night. Based on what
    you post, I strongly suspect you would have loved
    it (it was memorable). The host’s Osama jokes
    were so delicioius (he’s an unusually gifted mimic
    and his lines about how it was perplexing that the
    folks who burned their trash and had such high
    fences didn’t seem to wish to join their neighbors
    for seders cracked even me up). I enjoyed it,
    loved seeing the actress in person and was so
    lucky to be a few rows back and got to see her
    reactions to some of the tributes to her made by a
    few well-chosen of her countrymen and a couple
    successful Hollywood types (and the film clips
    showed how timeless her contribution has been).
    But I found myself a little put off with some of
    what to me were excessive comments about the
    actress’s figure and some of the out of place one-
    liners of the host that belonged in a Robin
    Williams monologue at the Comedy Store but not so
    much at this more august occasion (the host had
    nothing to apologize for as he was not only loved
    by the audience but the selected host of the
    honoree). Anyway…point is… different strokes
    for different Bruins.
    Most people wouldn’t have taken my remarks with
    your grace. And my response to your response was
    also rather lacking in good-humor (sorry but its
    still hard for me to feel its unfair, but I should
    have been more generous).
    Steve, will let you go on your merry way. My
    sensibility is just somehow different than yours.
    Just try to at least appear a bit fair and try to
    consider the effects of some of your writing as
    though there might be an accumulation of
    accountability by some universal force at some
    point down the line.
    So long. Will try to move away. Hope you can
    forgo some stuff that may feel good to post but
    might subtract from us all. The more you enable
    others to be as gracious as you can be, the more
    you really contribute to us all, after the
    excitement of the moment fades away. Fondly and as
    graciously as I can be, sadly,


  5. DakotabornKansan says:



  6. JT says:

    So Steve, would you have been OK with them displaying his head on a pike on the WH lawn? From my perspective, releasing the photo immediately would be akin to doing exactly that, just in digital form. I’m sure it will come out eventually, either officially or unofficially. Releasing it now, in the middle of the raw emotional reactions flying around, strikes me as unseemly and counterproductive. As many others have said, the conspiracy theorists will never be satisfied with any amount of evidence; why should we lower ourselves to appease them? As Obama stated, it’s just not the way we do things.


  7. erichwwk says:

    Well said POA
    “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace


  8. Carson Ranger says:

    You need to see a photo when a new bin Laden video
    appears referencing something since his death. But
    when that happens, you know any photo is fake. So
    you don’t need a photo. Get over it.


  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “We never dreamed they’d use airliners as weapons”
    “Mobile chemical weapons laboratories”
    The Niger yellow cake bullshit.
    “We know where the WMDs are”
    Dead incubator babies.
    Jessica Lynch.
    Trust these “leaders” in DC? What, are you insane?
    Any doubts about how FUBAR this country is right now, listen to the partisan maggots on both sides, particularly the scum like Limbaugh, or the not quite so slimey Maddow. Its ALL about partisan gamemanship, reaching for the political edge. Truth, unity, common purpose, common sense, and common decency, flushed down the toilet in their drive to incite the “regular folks” into despising their neighbors and voting along partisan lines. The words “right” and “left” are actually SPIT at us with disdain, shoe-horning us, one and all, into these neat little oppositional ideological niches, designed to instill loathing for each other.
    This nation is rushing headlong into disaster, and all these people in DC, (and their despicable media mouthpieces), can do is point fingers and nurture division. Meanwhile, they are robbing us blind with their prostitution to corporate and international interests and entities that HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH REPRESENTING AND PROTECTING THE INTERESTS OF “WE THE PEOPLE”.
    Photos, no photos. Who gives a damn?
    What, one or the other choice will show these people to be credible or trustworthy? Erase the last ten years of lies, fearmongering, constitutional abuses, and utter disdain for the rule of domestic and international law?
    You’re watching a bunch of actors playing out a charade, yet you are debating it as if these people are as sincere as a mother nursing her firstborn.
    NONE OF IT is credible. The whole shebang is built on deception, falsehoods, and the pursuit of wealth and POWER.
    You will NEVER know the truth. The truth would give the people FAR FAR too much power, and expose our “leaders” as the megalomaniacal criminals that we all KNOW, in our hearts, that they truly are.
    One of you. Give us ONE SINGLE REASON to trust anything these people say.
    Put in a garden. Soon.


  10. truth_serum says:

    This call to ‘show a photo’ is severely wrong-headed, Steve. I have yet to hear an articulate argument favoring such a barbaric display. The ‘phantom’ cliche here is not reason enough to parade our enemies through the digital streets. No one who currently disbelieves Bin Laden is dead will be swayed by photographic evidence. The fact that just a few days on, this is already a highly politicized issue is disgraceful.
    ps- i work in digital forensics, the burden of proof is hardly diminished by releasing a photo. Since when is a photograph considered the pinnacle of scientific evidence? Better educating the public on methodology re: the DNA tests carried out would better serve this end, surely.


  11. Don Bacon says:

    “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” — President Obama, Jan 21, 2009


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