So close to the “Jackpot”…: Bin Laden’s death and the United States’ communication
There is no question the “Jackpot” operation which killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan has been a tremendous success on the ground. On the other hand, it is surprising the communication around it appeared so chaotic. Actually, at its very beginning, the United States’ communication seemed to be totally under control, as President Obama’s address to the nation on TV proved it (a clear and solemn message was delivered to the nation, mixing facts and in-depth content). Nevertheless, the following days were characterized by such a confusion that anarchy could not be that different.
Numerous people spoke on the topic, but the messages they delivered were different and even, at times, contradictory. What can be highlighted is that these contradictions were about both the facts themselves and the communicational strategy that was being implemented. Regarding facts, it soon became clear, for instance, that all the details that had been given did not strictly match the reality (how did the operation take place, how did Bin Laden die, …). In other regards the global strategy, while it had first been said that a picture of Bin Laden dead was to be released, the final decision was not to publish such a document. All the same, the fastness of Bin Laden’s inhumation in sea gave birth to a certain unease and gave ground to the theory of conspiracy.
Such an uncertain communication is somewhat surprising, because the public opinion could most certainly have understood that silence and discretion were needed on a topic related to national security. Confidential-defense remains a legitimate exception to rule of unrestricted transparency. While they could have defined a strategy to stick to during the crisis, the American authorities got involved into an unclear communication and involuntarily gave a hand to the most unlikely ideas. Sticking to a previously defined strategy would also have made impossible photomontages like the fake photo showing a dead Bin Laden which spread through the media all over the world.
The American communication about Bin Laden’s death shows once more how essential it is to work and define a strategy before the event occurs to make it successful. Once the crisis is ongoing, it is often too late to choose a message, to target the right people, to identify the tools that are needed. Here, it is very likely a few scenarios had been elaborated, that key messages had been adopted… but, for an unknown reason, this strategy was not rightly implemented. In addition, spokesmen were too numerous to deliver an homogeneous message.
It can also be underlined that the differences between the messages proved that the strategy was, to a certain extent, unachieved or, rather, that it pursued to many goals to be efficient. Convincing public opinion, promoting a real success, handling softly the muslim street…: none of these goals had been given a clear priority over the others.
To finish on a positive note, because it can’t all be negative: Obama’s word has been safeguarded. Indeed, Barack Obama spoke on May the 1st to address the nation and deliver the main message, and did not add a single word to this allocution (except for commemorative events matching its presidential status). Fortunately, because it would have been very counterproductive and weakening for him to get into a self-justification process.