Wednesday, May 04, 2011

what drives evolving stories

it's fascinating to see how the account of bin laden's killing has evolved since it was first announced sunday night. evolving stories like this are inevitable when big news breaks, the media is hungry for details and its the kind of story likely to make the powers-that-be look good.

what tends to happen with a rushed story like this, however, is the initial information gives out details that turns out to be untrue. nevertheless those first inaccurate story often are the ones that stick with the public. we all remember that the 9/11 hijackers used box cutters. because that's what the first reports told us, even though there there doesn't seem to be any evidence of that and the subsequent inquiry concluded that the hijackers probably had utility knives instead. but by then it was too late. box cutters had become part of the 9/11 lore. not that it mattered all that much for the overall story.

the initial story from earlier this week was that bin laden himself was killed while he was "engaged in the firefight" and that he used one of his wives as a human shield before both he and the wife were killed. that story has since been revised. as of today, we are told that bin laden was unarmed, that his wife was not used as a human shield but rather charged at the navy SEALs and was shot in the leg, but not killed.

the account might change again (who knows where it will end up). but i think the differences between the original story and the revised version are pretty interesting. the first version had bin laden as almost a cartoon version of a villain. i'm surprised they didn't have him twist his mustache and cackle as he held his wife in the line of fire. also, as echidne points out, the first version also portrays the wife as a typical female victim. now it seems that bin laden was unarmed (raising the question, which few dare to ask out loud, whether shooting him in the head and chest was really necessary) and his wife was actually pretty courageous. i doubt if i would have had the guts to run towards a team of heavily armed SEALs if i were in her situation.

we're all biased. and when facts are not clear, those biases tend to fill in the gaps. i think the differences between the initial account and the revised account says a lot about the people telling the tale.

i have no insights into the psyche of whoever came up with the box cutter thing, though.