David Axelrod on the Bin Laden Joke Obama Never Told

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The death of Osama Bin Laden brought many revelations -- from quirky discoveries about his personal habits to looming questions about the nation that harbored him. It also drove home something we thought we already knew about President Obama: the man is cool. A few hours before the operation, he'd been able to stand up at the White House Correspondent's Dinner and make cheerful, relaxed quips about his Republican opponents, including a dig at Tim "Hosni" Pawlenty. 

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As it turns out, Obama's speech writers originally wanted Pawlenty's middle name to be "Bin Laden." But the president nixed the joke, a decision that puzzled everyone, including his former advisor David Axelrod -- until the news broke the next evening. In this conversation with Time magazine's Joe Klein, Axelrod recalls those hours before the Correspondents' Dinner and the death of Bin Laden.

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

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