The world has changed in countless ways since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, among those ways is the invention of new communication technologies.
This change was highlighted on Sunday night when news of the death of Osama Bin Laden—the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks—broke via Twitter.
Reporters first learned that the White House planned to make a major announcement at 9:45 Eastern Time, when White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer emailed them the following announcement: “POTUS to address the nation tonight at 10:30 PM Eastern Time.”
the same message.
According to NBC News anchor Brian Williams, reporters received a three-word email on Sunday night, saying: “Get to work.”
Speculation about the reason for the address circulated quickly across Twitter as #ObamaGuesses
became a popular hashtag on Twitter.
While President Obama was preparing his remarks, a tweet at 10:25 ET confirmed the news. The New York Times
Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for the former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wrote at that time, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
Mr. Urbahn quickly added, “Don’t know if it’s true, but let’s pray it is.”
He was credited by many on the Web with breaking the news, though he did not have first-hand confirmation.
In another follow-up tweet
, Urbahn said: "Appreciate all the RTs and props, but this moment belongs to Pres. Obama and the thousands who dedicated careers & lives to this fight."
Shortly after the tweet, anonymous sources in Washington began telling reporters the same information, according to the Times
. At 10:45 p.m. Eastern Time, the major television networks interrupted their programming to report the news.
Soon after, #Osama
became a trending topic. (Someone even launched the Twitter account, @OsamaInHell
, which had nearly 5,500 followers by 1 a.m. ET. A similar account, @GhostOsama
, had grabbed more than 22,000 followers and counting.)
At nearly midnight ET, the president addressed the nation from the East Room of the White House.
Former Presidents Clinton and Bush have each issued statements
about the news. Politico
reports that Obama called the former presidents to tell them about the news before his address.
Commenting on Twitter’s role in breaking the news, The Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson
Twitter has once again proven its worth. It might not win wars or spark revolutions—that's still being debated—but its value is clear to those of us who watched their feeds fill with news and notes over the past hour. Newspapers might be dead or dying, but traditional ink-on-paper reporters were able to share this story much faster than cable news outlets by adapting to this technology.
News of Bin Laden's death comes eight years to the day after President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, in which he announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq. An announcement the world later learned was premature. The term Mission Accomplished is a trending topic on Twitter
early on Monday morning.
In an interesting side note to this story, The Los Angeles Time
said that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told mourners at a memorial service about the news. According to the L.A. Times
Feinstein said Obama was announcing it on TV as she spoke. However, she announced the news well before Obama began to speak.
Vice President Joe Biden had reportedly briefed Congress on the matter.