The title of a piece in the NYTimes this morning, recounting the shifting descriptions of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The article goes on, "it was a classic collision of a White House desire to promote a stunning national security triumph — and feed a ravenous media — while collecting facts from a chaotic military operation on the other side of the world."
Now it's become a self-inflicted wound. Not serious, but wholly unnecessary.
I've never been in the Oval Office or the Situation Room. I've never dealt with vital issues of national security. But I don't need that kind of experience to know that talking about the details of an operation like this, especially within the first forty-eight hours, is just plain dumb. Even in today's world of instantaneous communications, the story is going to change as it's examined. The chances that the details will look better when re-examined are slight, and if that occurs, the original story will still be the one people remember.
For a White House full of very smart people, this was just stupid. And it was totally foreseeable, because it happens every time there is a story like this. Remember, "Brownie, you're doin' a heck of a job?"
What the administration should have said was: "United States forces killed Osama bin Laden at a hideout in Pakistan on May 1st. His body was positively identified. His remains were treated with respect and in accord with Muslim custom, and he was buried at sea. Further details will not be forthcoming at this time."
At a joint news conference with Harry Truman, Winston Churchill told reporters, "I think no comment is a splendid expression. I am using it again and again. I got it from Sumner Welles [FDR's trusted aide]." Mr. Churchill was a wise man.