Assorted Moments From the Night Osama Bin Laden News Broke

I never really did a retrospective post on the night Osama Bin Laden was killed. So now I will, one year later.

Almost all of Sunday, May 1, 2011, was a slow news day. Painfully slow. At the time I was a home page editor at The Washington Post working Sunday night duty.

There were four or five of us working on the site that evening. We were relaxed, cracking jokes, predicting we would likely be leaving on time. I think I even remember putting my feet up at one point.

Leading was a story about dangerous drug shortages in the United States. 

There was a lot more action the night before with the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. There was also a notable — well, notable at the time — death the night before. Muammar Gaddafi’s youngest son was killed in a NATO airstrike.

But Sunday, most of it, was quiet.

I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but I remember receiving an e-mail blast from reporter Ed O’Keefe about President Obama requesting airtime to address the nation about something national security-related. I think my first inclination was that Gaddafi had been killed. But Post reporters — and Twitter, of course —  quickly began to make it clear that the news was regarding Osama bin Laden.

The rest of the night was mostly a blur. Some moments stick out though:

  • Blinking to find a mostly empty Post newsroom fill with editors and reporters from every level and topic.
  • Seeing editors who had already gone home for the night return and rush back to their desks.
  • Leaning inches from a TV to listen to Obama over the loud, constant newsroom buzz.
  • Quitting out of Tweetdeck because the volume of tweets was just too overwhelming.
  • Constantly reminding myself not to make the Obama/Osama mistake (I didn’t).

At about 4:30 a.m. I needed a break. The bin Laden news was still flowing, but it had slowed a bit. I headed over to the White House to get some fresh air and see if people were still gathered. I had looked at all of the images as they poured in and watch the live feed of people celebrating around the country.

To my surprise, as I approached the area, I noticed there was still a fairly large crowd in front of the White House.

I watched the protesters for a few minutes, shot a quick video and posted a photo to Instagram. Then I made my way back to the Post’s building.

The birds were chirping loudly in Lafayette Square. As I crossed H Street NW, I passed by television crews preparing for their live morning reports. 

After returning to my desk I worked for as long as my brain would allow. I passed by a morning reporter on my way out, which must have been about 6 a.m.

And so ended a night that began with jokes and feet on desks and ended in front of the White House as crowds cheered with flags. We didn’t, despite our predictions, leave on time that night.