You’ve seen instances of it in every form of media – be it newsprint, television, or online – and you probably see it every single day. The concept has become so widely used that it has been given a moniker online: click bait.
Yet in 1993 the concept of click bait didn’t really exist. Of course, sensationalized journalism did though. But the full reputation of Osama bin Laden and that fateful day in September 2001 had not yet come to fruition.
In 1993, Bill Clinton was inaugurated into office, Cesar Chavez passed away, the Great Flood of ’93 overtook the Midwest, gasoline averaged at $1.16, and the World Trade Center was bombed by men who would later by charged and linked to Al-Qaeda (1).
It wasn’t until later that Bin Laden would be linked as a co-conspirator in the 93 Bombing at the World Trade Center.
Though his reputation had not fully evolved, Bin Laden was linked to jihadist action as early as 1979, shortly after graduating from King Abdul Aziz University. He landed in Afghanistan to join the holy war. During his ten-year stay, Bin Laden would utilize construction equipment from his family’s business to help Muslim forces create shelters and roads (2).
From this early stage his hatred for the United States became well established. In 1990, he is outraged by U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia. In 1992, he trained Somalian warlords to fight the United States (2). This is followed only shortly after by the arranged bombing at the WTC towers.
Meanwhile, the Independent, a British daily newspaper, was painting Osama bin Laden in a much different light. In an article published on December 6, 1993, award-winning journalist Robert Fisk described Bin Laden as a peacemaker – that is, if you read only the sensationalized title (3).
It was his first interview with Osama bin Laden, and would prove to be the first of three. As a resident of Beirut and one of the few Western journalists granted access to the al-Qaeda leader, Fisk knew to tread lightly.
While other reporters were sharing stories from a third party perspective, Fisk was able to capture a firsthand account of his encounter – one that was denied to many journalists, particularly those of the Western World (4).
Fisk reported on a road Bin Laden was constructing in Sudan. Much like the road built in Afghanistan, Bin Laden was able to utilize his family’s construction equipment (4).
Fisk paid homage to Bin Laden’s endeavors for the Khartoum, where Bin Laden himself had a home. He described the setting of the interview and even the “gold-fringed robe” worn by Bin Laden. Fisk is careful not to provoke him but does manage to ask a number of questions about jihadist missions.
Details Emerge about Terrorist Leader
During the interview, Bin Laden speaks of his crusades against the Soviets in Afghanistan, but also of the many men who constructed roads and tunnels there. Bin Laden refers to himself as “a construction engineer and an agriculturalist,” denying his involvement in training camps in Sudan.
For all intents and purposes, Bin Laden was in fact a construction engineer and agriculturalist. While Fisk’s account of the man tells the story of a philanthropist road builder, it’s clear his intentions to find out more about his holy war endeavors will not be entertained.
When Fisk asked Bin Laden about Algeria, the interview was abruptly cut short by a Sudanese security officer (4).
Somehow, during an interview at which so little was discussed, Robert Fisk had managed to still convey a strong narrative about a well-known terrorist leader. His ability to maintain journalistic integrity without upsetting Bin Laden allowed him to conduct interviews again in 1996 and 1997.