Today in Media History: In 2011, Twitter broke the news of Osama bin Laden’s death

May 1, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

Were you following Twitter four years ago today?

On May 1, select journalists received simple, three-word e-mails from the White House: “Get to work.” The President had an announcement to make, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said. Almost immediately, speculation of the news erupted on Twitter, and many zeroed in on a possible Osama bin Laden announcement. At 10:25 p.m. E.T., Keith Urbahn (@keithurbahn), chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was the first who seemed to confirm the suspicions. President Obama confirmed bin Laden’s death himself during a live broadcast announcement at 11:35 p.m.

Time Magazine

CNN reported:

(CNN) — As U.S. forces in Pakistan swooped in on Osama bin Laden on Sunday, at least one Twitter user was unknowingly reporting details of the raid.

Some of the first public accounts of the military operation that killed the terrorist leader came in the form of tweets from Sohaib Athar, a 33-year-old IT consultant in Abbottabad, the city where bin Laden was found.

….The first clue from Athar came after 4 p.m. ET Sunday. That was after midnight in Pakistan, but Athar was attentive because he often writes code overnight for American companies and sleeps during the day, he told CNN in an interview.

“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event),” he wrote.

His first reaction? Annoyance at the noise.

A story from Brian Stelter and the New York Times:

….Mr. Obama’s address, initially planned for 10:30 p.m., was delayed repeatedly. CNN reported that he was writing the address himself.

By 11 p.m., he still had not spoken, but the news was spreading virally around the world. At that time there were more than a dozen Facebook posts with the word “bin Laden” every single second. The New York Post’s Web site blared, “We Got Him!” The Huffington Post front page read, “Dead.” Around the country, Americans gathered around televisions to digest the news. “This ends a chapter in the global war on terrorism which has defined a generation,” the NBC correspondent Richard Engel said.

Mr. Obama confirmed Bin Laden’s death at 11:35 p.m.

See Also:
A collection of related Poynter stories (including newspaper front pages)