The Cycle of Sound Bites: From Birth Certificates to Death Photos

Republicans believe President Obama, but they still want more proof

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Last month, Republican Representative Michele Bachmann, who two months earlier had said she took President Obama "at his word" that he was a U.S. citizen, urged the President to release his birth certificate once and for all in appearance on Fox News. "This is the easiest problem to solve," she told Sean Hannity. "All the president has to do is show it." This variation of the "birther" argument--we believe Obama was born in America but, given the doubt out there, let's clear this matter up once and for all--was echoed by other Republicans before Obama eventually released the document.

And now a similar line of reasoning is resurfacing as some Republicans call on Obama to release the photograph of Osama bin Laden's corpse to quiet the so-called "deather" conspiracy theorists out there. They believe bin Laden is dead, but they're worried that other people might not, so why doesn't Obama just clear the matter up? Senator Lindsay Graham (pictured above, on right), explained, "I know bin Laden is dead, but the best way to protect our decisions overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world." Senator Susan Collins (above, on left) noted that while "it clearly was Osama who was caught and killed in this raid," she's worried that a "mythology" will "arise that somehow Osama bin Laden escaped, or isn't really dead or someone else was killed." Representative Peter King, who has since backed off his request that the photo be released, initially told CNN, "There's no doubt they got [bin Laden]. And let's not have conspiracy theories develop." On Thursday, GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul said, in reference to the bin Laden death photo, "If something comes up and people are ambivalent, always lean toward openness."

In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan begins her latest column ("Show the Proof, Mr. President") with a flat out declaration that she knows bin Laden's dead: "If it weren't Osama bin Laden we just killed, he'd be giving interviews in the hills right now taunting the great Satan that once again lied." But, as her headline suggests, she's not satisfied without seeing the body.

However, and with our president there is always a however, he has spent almost every moment since his Sunday night speech displaying both a tin ear and a chronic tendency to misunderstand his own country. His refusal to release more evidence that Osama is dead is allowing a great story to dissolve into a mystery. He is letting a triumph turn into a conspiracy theory.

Noonan does not give any examples of people who don't believe that bin Laden's dead. And, interestingly enough, some of the people who most like to taunt America as the great Satan appear to be satisfied by the existing evidence. This morning Al Qaeda itself confirmed bin Laden's death. In the aftermath of al-Qaeda's announcement, Metro U.K. predicts, the bin Laden death photo "will no longer be so eagerly sought by conspiracy theorists across the world." Or, as the Twitter user @calvinwilliams wrote, in reference to the al-Qaeda confirmation, "This confirms Osama's death far more than a photo could ... Smart move Obama."

Photo by The Associated Press

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.