The Rock Knew About Osama Bin Laden’s Death Before You: Who Knew What When?



In a special Monday edition of our daily media column Press Clips, we’re going to focus on the only news that anyone cares about today: the death of Osama Bin Laden. The 10-plus-year tale obviously includes endless details, angles and lessons in international diplomacy, military operations, cultural sensitivity and so on, but last night’s breaking news, an announcement from President Barack Obama that few were prepared for, demonstrated much about our current media landscape, from sources to social media, the persistent power of newspapers and institutional biases. To start, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the professional wrestler-turned-actor, seems to have known about the news as early as anyone. Seriously.

Special Sources: At 10:24 p.m. on May 1, Donald Rumsfeld’s Chief of Staff and Navy Reserve intel officer Keith Urbahn tweeted from his BlackBerry, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.” He is being credited with breaking the news “long before the networks or any other news source reported it,” and clarified in an interview, “I’m not going to reveal the source, but I do feel it is important to make clear that it was not Mr. Rumsfeld or anyone who has access to classified information.”

Also at exactly 10:24 p.m. on May 1, Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, tweeted the message pictured above: “Just got word that will shock the world – Land of the free…home of the brave DAMN PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!” Though he didn’t go as far as Urbahn in revealing the news before it was confirmed, he did tease it at exactly the same moment leaving us to wonder a few things, only half in jest:

1) Did Keith Urbahn and The Rock have the same source? Were they perhaps CCed on the same email or text message?

2) How in the hell is The Rock receiving secret government news way before anyone else in the nation?

Our best guess in reference to The Rock’s info comes from the fact that his subsequent tweets praise the Navy SEALs and he’s been known to visit troops overseas. Being an action star and all, he’s probably trained for roles with the military. The common thread between The Rock and Urbahn seems to be a SEALs connection. (Unrelated, but worth noting: The film The Rock is about Navy SEALs, but does not star The Rock.)

Additionally, The Rock’s latest film, Fast Five, had a great opening weekend at the box office, collecting $83.6 in sales. A search of Twitter also reveals that today is The Rock’s birthday. Some people get all the luck.

The Future of News: Meanwhile, plenty of people are ranting about the meaning of the news breaking on Twitter, though The Rock has been underrated in that capacity, with online media critics like Business Insider proclaiming, “Twitter Just Had Its CNN Moment.”

At Ad Age, Simon Dumenco is less convinced about claims of the social media takeover, which anyone who’s been paying attention knows occurs every time there’s international breaking news, be it protests, national disasters or assassinations. “The simple fact of the matter is that everybody on Twitter — including Keith Urbahn — was waiting for either an official confirmation or a debunking of the bin Laden rumor from the White House and the mainstream media,” writes Dumenco.

Mainstreaming: Upon actually confirming the news of Bin Laden’s death, the New York Times “literally” stopped the presses and changed its front page. Via NYT reporter Nick Bilton, we get these side-by-side images of what the cover was and what it became, along with an explanation from FishbowlNY:

And then Monday morning came the order from Times executive editor Bill Keller and managing editor Jill Abramson that the newspaper’s time-honored tradition of adding “Mr.” in front of subsequent mentions of a man’s name would be scrapped when it came to Bin Laden. Here’s the memo via Romenesko:

From: Jolly, Tom
Date: May 2, 2011 4:15:37 AM EDT
Subject: Two style decisions

At Jill and Bill’s request, we dropped the honorific for Bin Laden.

Without a “Mr.” in front of his name, it was decided that we should capitalize the “B” in Bin Laden on second references.


Tom Jolly
Associate Managing Editor / Night News
The New York Times

Gawker used it as an opportunity to call out the Times for being stodgy in their clinging to the tradition of so-called objectivity: “This is a form of editorializing. Which is something in which the NYT’s news staff is not supposed to engage.” But there’s apparently a precedent for it; Stalin and Hitler — two men evoked in the second paragraph of the Times‘ Bin Laden’s obit — don’t get the Mr. treatment either. The newpaper’s official style guide says, “Omit courtesy titles with surnames of historic or pre-eminent figures no longer living: Curie; Hitler; Lenin; …”

And that’s how media minutiae history is made.