Osama bin Laden’s death a double-edged PR sword for Obama

6 May

When Osama bin Laden was shot dead in Islamabad the President must have been ecstatic. The news has propelled his support in the polls, with four in 10 Americans seeing Obama in a better light.

Obama was once seen as a weak Commander in Chief; a poll by Reuters in March this year revealed that only 17 per cent of Americans saw him as a strong and decisive military leader. His action, or inaction as some see it, over the recent spate of Middle East uprisings have left many with a feeling that he lacks the hard decision-making skills necessary for the Presidency. This apparently sent Hilary Clinton over the edge!

I wonder whether his critics will be quite as harsh on him now. Probably not. This is PR win number one… Obama is no longer the most indecisive, weakest Commander in Chief in American history, but the guy who rid the world of evil.

The second PR win from this is that the killing of bin Laden will help Obama in his quest to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. These combined factors will give Obama some breathing space and a very healthy start in his election campaign.

However, a PR fail, has been the inconsistencies in information provided to the public on the circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s death. At first there was a torrid of resistance by bin Laden’s armed men and bin Laden had used one of his wives as a shield from the bullets. This made the story spectacularly more palatable to the media, allowing sensationalist headlines. Yet this information was then overruled by stories that bin Laden was in fact unarmed and the wife had run at the US military. Just a small U-turn then!

This has cast a shadow, albeit small, on the success of Obama and his military’s actions, which makes you question why they couldn’t just get their story straight from the outset? Well, social media probably played a role. The story ‘broke’ on Twitter and the power of social media spread the word thick and fast. Obama’s administration had very little time to produce their statements and when the news went public he was probably still in the middle of working out what he was going to say.

This is one of the more pertinent examples of how social media is playing a role in world news. The trend of hearing news first on twitter or facebook is not going away and organisations need to be aware of the implications of social media and plan their communications accordingly.


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