TCS Daily

Osama's 'Fresh Tops'

By Sue Ferrara - February 27, 2003 12:00 AM

For a number of years, I worked as an editor and writer for what was then one of the three major networks. One of the many wonders I encountered as a new employee was the obituary file. The file contained pre-written obituaries for famous people in the U.S. and the world. All these obituaries needed were what we called "fresh tops," the update as to how the person died, how old the person was, what was the cause of death.

So, imagine my thoughts when I read that Osama bin Laden will die in 2003. Dust off his obituary; get ready to write that fresh top. Osama himself has declared his pending death. A tape released on February 11th said, "In this final year I hurl myself and my steed with my soul at the enemy. Indeed on my demise I will become a martyr." And, he added, "I wish my demise to be in the eagle's belly."

Odds are, Osama is already dead and has probably been dead since the Americans attacked Tora Bora. Think about it. In what has to be one of the most remarkable PR campaigns, Osama's men have kept Osama "alive" until they are ready to declare him dead. Why would they do that? Osama can't die on American terms in a cave in Afghanistan. He has to go out on his terms, as a martyr, a hero, and a man triumphant over the Great Satan.

Read any of the articles written by Lee Harris and you will see how Osama's death must fit in with the Fantasy Ideology that defines al Qaeda. (And what a fantasy these folks have created. Before all is said and done, in the minds of al Qaeda, we are all going to be converted to Islam.)

But what is most remarkable about this al Qaeda fantasy is the technology these folks have to support and promote their fantasy. On July 15, 1985, in a speech before the American Bar Association, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned, "We must try to find ways to starve the terrorist or the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend." Well, now we can starve them all we want. It won't work. Instead of feeding the terrorists, we have taught them how to fish and they have learned well.

Al Qaeda looks like its own CIA with cell phones, portable satellites, videotaping equipment, computers. These guys can create bigger and better than Leni Riefenstahl ever did for Hitler. Heck, al Qaeda can make Osama rise from the dead.

I wonder whether al Qaeda has a production studio that cranks out these supposed bin Laden audiotapes. Through the wonder of hours of his preachings, a son who probably sounds a lot like his father, recording and mixing equipment, gosh, Osama could live forever.

And, al Qaeda no longer has to directly rely on the American media machine to get the word out; it has Al Jazeera-translation: MNN-the Muslim News Network. All Muslim news, all the time, and served up uncut and direct to the faithful. Despite Thatcher's sensible warning, there's no starving this news operation.

Nor can the world starve Al Ansaar, another news organization formed in 1995 and based in Britain. The organization says it strives to be "an independent media organization dedicated on reporting the reality of what's happening in the Muslim world." The company's slogan: Real News, nothing but the truth." According to the company's website over the last 18 months, the Al Ansaar "has kept itself very busy, supplying the likes of Reuters and APT with some of the most exclusive footage on Al-Qaeda. We released the Unseen Interview by Bin Laden, and it hit 84 front pages around the globe."

How best to foment the fantasy but through the media? But dying in the "eagle's belly", how will al Qaeda accomplish this? Will they smuggle Osama into the U.S. and impale him on the White House fence? Will his body show up on a battlefield in Iraq? Will his death be beamed live via portable satellite, or via DVD? Does al Qaeda have the technological capability to create a Hollywood like epic with Osama on his horse galloping off into the sunset? Will al Qaeda stage an elaborate funeral for their martyred leader? Where? Will al Qaeda producers transport sympathetic world leaders to this funeral via videotape, like putting James Dean into a modern day commercial?

In 1917, California State Senator Hiram Johnson noted, "The first casualty of war is the truth." I guess we'll all find out the "truth" about Osama's death when that fresh top is written for his obituary.

Sue Ferrara holds a PhD in Communications from the University of
Maryland, and a Masters in Communications from UNC-Chapel Hill. She worked as an editor and writer for several news organizations in Washington, D.C., including ABC News.

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