The world first learned of the death of Osama bin Laden through Keith Urbahn, a 27-year-old chief of staff for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. On the evening of May 1, Urbahn tweeted, "So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn." The tweet found its way to New York Times TV reporter Brian Selter, who then broadcast it to the world; suddenly, Urbahn was an accessory to the biggest story of the year.
Last night, The New York Observer published a profile of Urbahn, who lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife. Here's some of what we learn in the Observer piece:
Urbahn heard the news from a TV producer who shall remain nameless. Sunday night, Urbahn got a call from a "connected network TV news producer"--that's all he'll say--who told him that bin Laden had evidently been killed, and the network wanted to arrange an interview with Rumsfeld. Urbahn "waved off the request--it was too premature," according to the Observer. Then, in his own words,
"I mentioned it offhand to my wife, and just threw it down on Twitter thinking there surely have to be a couple of dozen other people who have heard the same rumor and thought of [doing] the same thing ... But apparently not. The tweet went viral and it was off to the races at that point."
He didn't really think twice about The Tweet. "It didn't give me pause at the time," Urbahn told the Observer, "simply because I thought it would be repeated many more times and there was no chance in God's green earth that my tweet would in fact be what broke the news." Urbahn also says that Rumsfeld's office didn't know about the tweet in advance--a fact that stunned former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer into "silence for several seconds" when the Observer told him.
"Wow. I am startled," said Fleischer. "He didn't clear it with Rummy? Wow. Wow."
Rumsfeld is totes down with social media, by the way. "He is 78 years old, but he understands social media," Urbahn says of his boss. "He is on Twitter himself and he tweets things and comes up with ideas for things to throw on Facebook, and you know he gets it. I didn't have to explain to him what it was. He knew."
Urbahn would just as soon stay out of the media circus. The Observer notes that Urbahn "seemed anxious for his newfound celebrity to pass. He is not, he said, interested in a second career as a breaking news Tweeter." (Although he did tell The Daily Caller, "who knows, I may break some more major news in the future.")
The Observer quotes Urbahn as saying, "I can't really wrap my head around all of this so I may not be the best person to analyze why this has become the story ... This is a bit of a distraction, and it reaches a little bit to the level of media navel-gazing for my taste."
Photo by Keith Urbahn via Twitter
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.