Elsewhere in Slate, William Saletan explains why the human-shield myth was a bad idea, Dave Weigel talks about how Osama's death proved everyone right, John Dickerson looks at Obama's secret meetings, Dahlia Lithwick says it's time to end the war on terror, Chris Beam explains the mood in Pakistan, Heather Murphy compiles a slideshow of the elite Navy SEALS, and Maura O'Connor looks at how the war still continues in Afghanistan. For the most up-to-date-coverage, visit the Slatest. Slate's complete coverage is rounded up here.
"You can't have it both ways," Zelizer told me in an interview.
The Bin Laden photos, Zelizer says, are "part of the record, part of the news event" and locking them away ascribes "magical powers" to the photos that wouldn't otherwise exist. If we conceal them from public view, we board a slippery slope that flows toward ignorance, timidity, doubt, and conspiracy-mongering.
Part of the ambivalence about releasing the photos, Zelizer says, is that a universally accepted narrative for Bin Laden's killing has yet to emerge. As I wrote the day after the raid, the press and the government had huge trouble agreeing exactly how the operation unfolded. Did Bin Laden make a human shield of his wife? Was she killed? Did he shoot at the SEALs? Or did the SEALs summarily execute an unarmed man?
If such an accepted narrative existed, it might be easier for the administration to predict how the photos would be received at home and overseas. But it's not the White House's business to control and manage news for the good of the nation based on some imagined worst-case reaction to events. That's Soviet thinking.
If a nation can be trusted to view the horrors of 9/11 in real time, flip through the Abu Ghraib picture book, witness the made-for-video murder of Daniel Pearl, see images of dead Uday and Qusay on the evening news, and gaze upon pictures of dead soldiers coming home as air freight (photos that President Bush, incidentally, tried to ban in the name of managing the news), then it can be trusted to stomach the last photos of Osama Bin Laden—and whatever turmoil those photos might cause. Why? Because that's what sort of country the United States is.
What about the helmet-cam video of the operation? Yeah, I'm for its release, too, although I can see the case for why it should be edited to withhold secret operational details that led to the mission's success. Make the case for the release of the unexpurgated video in email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Expurgate my Twitter feed. (Email may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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Correction, May 5, 2011: This article originally misspelled the last name of Neda Salehi Agha Soltan. (Return to the corrected sentence.)