Opinion: Bin Laden's death offers chance to stay informed

I initially sat down to type this column Sunday night as a call for more young folks today to read, watch and follow the news more closely.

Created the file at about 10:45 p.m. Drafted a lead. Stared at a blank page.

Jumped on Facebook for a quick writing respite.

Osama bin Laden dead, friends began to post. An hour later, President Obama confirmed that item in a press conference with other details on the U.S. combat strike.

Late into the night, I watched as Twitter and Facebook traffic reached peaks that must have been similar to the 2008 Election Night and a few recent Super Bowls. Everyone had heard the news.

There went my rant’s entire premise.

But this weekend, I had finished the first book in a line of suggested titles for my upcoming two-year graduate study in mass communications. Though a slightly dated read with its 2005 publication date, David Mindich’s “Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News” was still an engaging and quick foray into current news consumption trends.

I put it down having realized his observations from the early 2000s remained extremely relevant—about how more young people watched and cared about “Survivor” and “American Idol” than they did the disputed 2000 President Election and the early years of the War on Terror. Substitute “Dancing with the Stars” and “Jersey Shore” versus the headlines emanating in recent months from Libya, Egypt and at home with nationwide budget battles; nothing’s changed.

Most importantly, his conclusions that this trend has weakened our democracy continues today.

On Sunday night, I couldn’t help but notice how many of those social media posts revolved around “Team America” videos, shortsighted celebratory statuses (one I saw actually declared terrorism to be over) and the ever-present “USA, USA, USA.”

I was right there with them, for about 18 seconds.

But then, anyone who has followed serious news outlets with even a modicum of interest or read any books about the War on Terror during the past decade should have quickly awakened before they went to bed.

Were those uninformed citizens bombing Facebook and Twitter feeds Sunday night aware that a shortage of U.S. troops near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in October 2001 likely delayed this moment by nearly 10 years?

Aware of the fantastic irony surrounding the finality of the May 1 date in recent U.S. history? President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier exactly eight years before and declared combat operations in Iraq—a country we’d invaded in supposed retribution for its involvement in the 2001 terror attacks—to be over.

Mission accomplished?

Hardly. Nor is it now. If you briefly read or watched the news on Sunday or Monday, or even garnered what had occurred by browsing Facebook, you might have reached the false assumption that the game’s over.

Don’t be fooled. Stay tuned in. There will be news next week of more suicide bombings, more improvised explosive devices killing American or coalition troops around the world, more reports of heightened security at airports across the country.

Continue to find out why this is all happening. Ensure that President Obama uses this moment to strengthen our domestic security and global reputation. If he doesn’t, vote him out next November.

Just don’t replace him with Donald Trump because you enjoy his absurd reality show.

Mercyhurst sponsors a great campus readership program—copies of The New York Times, USA Today, the Erie Times-News and, of course, The Merciad. Take advantage of free news content while you can, and then support good journalism after you leave.

Democracy depends on our ability to become better informed. Celebrate bin Laden’s death? Absolutely. But work still needs to be done. And you need to know about it.