Many of us were celebrating in the streets late on the night of May 1, firing guns into the air and chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The atmosphere became even more festive when we found out that Osama bin Laden had been killed. It was the most excited Americans had been over an international event on a Sunday night since The Beatles played “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
All Americans rejoiced at the news. Some Americans then felt guilty for rejoicing, because it’s distasteful to delight in the death of another human being, even a terrible one like bin Laden. But make no mistake, before they felt guilty, they were rejoicing. Still other Americans rejoiced at the news, but then felt guilty because it’s distasteful to approve of things that President Obama does. The jubilant atmosphere was also marred by the tragic and rapid proliferation of Internet jokes about Donald Trump wanting to see bin Laden’s death certificate.
There was no time for celebration in the country’s newsrooms, where the mood was intense and serious. After three years of being very careful not to write “Osama” when they meant “Obama” and vice versa, now journalists faced their worst nightmare: a news story that involved both men. TV anchors were required to say “Osama” and “Obama” in the same sentence. It was a situation fraught with peril. A few TV stations, newspapers, and websites made mistakes along the lines of “Obama says Obama is dead.” We assumed these flubs were the result of simple human error — except when they happened on Fox News, of course, and then we assumed they were deliberate.
While journalists were gathering the facts and reporting them to an eager audience, the nation’s idiots and crackpots were also working overtime, spreading their message through the time-honored medium of letters to the editor. Here’s one that appeared in Portland’s daily newspaper, The Oregonian, on May 3:
Burial at sea? I and now most Americans do not believe that Osama bin Laden was really killed by the United States. Most feel that it is a lie by the Obama administration.
Jerry Schneider, Hillsboro
Now, I know that Jerry Schneider of Hillsboro is one of our greatest thinkers and statisticians, but I’m troubled by certain irregularities in his findings. Bin Laden’s death was announced at 8:30 p.m. Oregon time on a Sunday night. This letter appeared in Tuesday morning’s paper, and was posted on The Oregonian’s website Monday evening. The traditional method by which crackpots submit insane letters to newspapers is still good old-fashioned U.S. mail, but that obviously could not have been the case here. Jerry Schneider must have either hand-delivered it to The Oregonian’s offices or e-mailed it. E-mail seems likelier until you remember that most people who write letters to newspapers are very, very old, and the elderly tend not to be savvy enough to send e-mails to entities other than family members, and even then it’s just forwarded jokes and urban legends and racist cartoons. So I’m guessing Jerry Schneider got into his 1985 Buick Regal, drove into town, and personally put his important letter into the hands of a newspaper employee authorized to receive such communiques. All of this must have been accomplished by mid-afternoon Monday, no more than 18 hours after bin Laden’s death was made public.
But wait. The letter’s central thesis — it covers a lot of important subjects, but the one on which most of its scholarship is focused — is that the majority of Americans believe bin Laden’s death is a lie perpetrated by the Obama administration. How was Jerry Schneider able to determine this so quickly? No national opinion polls were conducted between Sunday night and Monday morning. The slackers at Gallup and Rasmussen and the Associated Press were no doubt sleeping during that time, rather than surveying people on their opinions of a breaking news story. Jerry Schneider must have conducted this research himself, either by calling random phone numbers or by carefully monitoring Internet forums and extrapolating data from the comments posted therein.
But where are the details of Jerry Schneider’s study? What methodology did he use in determining that “most Americans do not believe that Osama bin Laden was really killed by the United States”? What is the margin of error? What was the sample size? And don’t forget, after Jerry Schneider conducted his research and determined that most Americans believed bin Laden’s death was a lie, he STILL had to write the letter that explained his findings, AND get it to The Oregonian before the paper’s deadline. Even if he called ahead and persuaded an editor to hold the opinion page a little longer to give him some extra time to craft his exposé, he still would have needed to hurry.
Hmm. The more I think about it, the more I think that Jerry Schneider didn’t have any basis at all for his assertion that “most Americans” thought Obama was lying about bin Laden. I’m starting to think that this is merely what JERRY SCHNEIDER thought, and that he said everyone agreed with him because he’s one of those irritating people who always assume that everyone agrees with them. I’m starting to think that when he said, so matter-of-factly, that most Americans didn’t believe bin Laden was dead, Jerry Schneider was simply speaking out of his bottom!!
Bin Laden was given a “burial at sea,” which is a polite way of saying that we dumped his body in the ocean. There are pictures of his bullet-ridden corpse, but President Obama doesn’t want to publish them because he knows that within minutes they would be Photoshopped with funny captions, and this would offend the terrorists, who already want to kill us but would now want to, I guess, double-kill us. At any rate, Obama has let a few high-ranking elected officials look at the pictures during sleepovers or when they’re out in the shed behind the White House and nobody’s around. One of the special witnesses to these pictures is Sen. James Inhofe, of Oklahoma. According to news reports, “Inhofe told the Associated Press that he spent about an hour examining more than a dozen photos, some showing gruesome wounds.”
Excuse me, an hour? He spent an hour looking at a dozen photos? What, was he memorizing them? Was Osama hidden in these pictures, “Where’s Waldo?”-style? Most men will admit they have occasionally spent what would seem like an inordinate amount of time gazing at only a couple of photographs … but I really, really hope that Sen. Inhofe was not doing the same thing they were doing.
Bin Laden’s demise was all anybody could talk about for several days, proving that even in death he could be a nuisance. Fortunately, the nation’s senior citizens soon moved on to other important issues, such as the way young people no longer write cards or letters because of Facebook. Here’s a letter to the editor that appeared in Utah last week:
I know nothing about Facebook. My wife knows a little about it. We both wonder if talking with someone over the phone or writing letters and cards is slowly becoming a thing of the past. If our nation’s students are getting below-average scores in math skills, then I think English and communications skills will be the next victims. It is still great to hear someone’s voice over the phone. You hear their voice tones, inflections, happiness and sadness. Also, sweet little notes you write on the cards lend a touch of tenderness, love and class.
Stan Jacobson, Ogden
Lest you think this is not a crucial problem facing America, let me point out that it ran in The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, and the Ogden Standard-Examiner. Stan Jacobson was so concerned about this issue that he submitted his letter to at least three different newspapers. To the best of my knowledge, Jerry Schneider only reported his findings on America’s disbelief in bin Laden’s death to one news outlet, so I think we know who the real hero is.