The White House's account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has undergone some revisions in recent days--a fact White House press secretary Jay Carney (pictured above) attributed to a "fog of war" atmosphere as information continues to stream in. But that explanation hasn't been sufficient for some journalists, who are beginning to grumble on Twitter.
The changing story has drawn considerable criticism, notably from analysts on the left, where there was already ambivalence about celebrating bin Laden's death. Salon's Justin Elliott has been hitting hard, claiming the Pentagon's report from Monday now "reads like fiction" and writing "on my way to becoming a Deather with latest story change that there was no big firefight after all." Filmmaker Michael Moore observes, "The Pentagon lied about the Jessica Lynch rescue & they really lied about Pat Tillman. They've already changed their OBL story 3x in 3days.." Bin Laden, states author Joe McGinniss, "was unarmed, we killed him. Spinning it like self-defense is as wrong as Vietnam."
Elsewhere on Twitter, Politico's Ben Smith writes, "Admin could have avoided all this grief by just making up a story out of whole cloth and sticking to it, as is traditional," while Slate's Dave Weigel tweets, "Tomorrow, admin sources will revise story. bin Laden actually in purgatory" (where a majority of CNN poll respondents believe he is). Weigel also cites the claim from administration officials in the Times report that bin Laden had an AK-47 and Makarov pistol in arm's reach: "So was one in hand and one in arm's reach? STUPID LANGUAGE."
Then there's Time's Bobby Ghosh, who says "methinks media would not have been so understanding if it was Bush in the WH now, making so many mistakes in announcement of #OBL's killing," adding, "'Fog of War' excuse doesn't wash. How many factual errors did Bush White House make in announcing Saddam's capture... or Zarqawi's killing?" Ghosh delivers one more parting shot: "By claiming 'fog of war' the WH is suggesting Seals gave wrong first information. If there was a fog, it was in the WH. Fog of politics."
To catch you up, here are some of the main ways the story has changed in recent days:
- Bin Laden's Resistance and Death: On May 2, counterterrorism chief John Brennan said bin Laden was "engaged in a firefight" with U.S. forces, though he didn't know whether bin Laden "got off any rounds." On May 3, Carney said bin Laden "was not armed" but that he "resisted," adding "resistance does not require a firearm." And now today, The New York Times learns from unnamed administration officials that bin Laden had an "AK-47 and a Makarov pistol in arm's reach" when commandos entered his room. Attorney General Eric Holder said on May 4 that bin Laden gave "no indication" that he wanted to surrender, a day after CIA Director Leon Panetta told PBS that bin Laden didn't have "a lot of time to say anything."
- Bin Laden's Wife as Human Shield: On May 2, Brennan told reporters that one of bin Laden's wives had been killed when he used her as a human "shield." On May 3, Carney said bin Laden's wife had been shot in the leg but not killed when she rushed commandos who found her upstairs with bin Laden, but that it was "unclear" whether "she was being used as a shield or trying to use herself as a shield or simply caught in crossfire." He added that another woman had been killed in the "crossfire."
- The Firefight: On May 3, Carney read an account of the raid from the Pentagon stating that U.S. military personnel "engaged in a firefight throughout the operation," and Panetta told PBS that "there were some firefights that were going on as these guys were making their way up the staircase in that compound." But administration officials tell the Times today that "the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation," when bin Laden's courier began shooting from a guest house. When the courier was killed, the Times explains, the firefight ended.
- Bin Laden's Dead Son: On May 2, Brennan said bin Laden's son Khalid was killed but the transcript released by the White House identified the son as Hamza. On May 4, Carney said the son was indeed Khalid, and that the transcript was incorrect.
Photo by The Associated Press