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What a Difference a Tweet Makes: Afghan News Site Leaks Details on President's Visit, Leading to Miniature Media Frenzy


The surprise trip was a closely guarded secret, kept by White House officials and members of the White House press corps.

President Obama delivered a speech from Afghanistan tonight celebrating the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden and commending troops for combat operations. Yet before anyone knew the speech was coming, the President's arrival in Afghanistan had been leaked, leading to a brief skirmish between the administration and the press.

Buzzfeed has a good summary of the events, which started as follows:

Shortly before 9:19 a.m. this morning the Afghanistan-based 24-hour broadcast news stationTOLONews tweeted that President Barack Obama had landed in Afghanistan.

The surprise trip was a closely guarded secret, kept by White House officials and members of the White House press corps — as is customary with presidential trips to war zones. It coincides with the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, and according to the White House pool report, Obama is expected to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The tweet from TOLOnews can be seen below:

Unfortunately for everyone who read the tweet in question, the President's whereabouts weren't meant to become public knowledge just yet. As such, journalists began to wonder if there was the whiff of a story in the works. The attitude was aptly summed up by the Washington Post's Joshua Hersh, who retweeted the information from TOLOnews with a simple question:

This tweet, in turn, was retweeted by several other journalists, each wondering about the President's whereabouts.

It was at this point that the White House decided this many tweets about something that was technically supposed to still be secret would constitute a security risk. As such, fourteen minutes after the original tweet from TOLOnews was sent out, National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor began calling news organizations including Buzzfeed asking them to pull the tweets, since the information might become known to America's enemies if it kept floating around. Most such organizations complied. At the same time, the White House vigorously began publicly denying that President Obama was in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan and his eventual destination.

However, the issue became truly problematic when the New York Post published a story on the President's whereabouts based on the TOLOnews Tweet. And even though they updated the story to add the White House denial, and eventually scrubbed it from their site altogether, this came too late. The story was already a red link on the Drudge Report:

Reportedly, the White House responded to this with the equivalent of an exasperated shrug, saying "We can't do anything about Drudge." Predictably, this too ended up as a link on the Drudge Report (now removed).

The New York Post, for its part, also couldn't resist making a quick dig at the administration's caution:

The White House informed the Post today the report on its website that President Obama was in Kabul was not accurate and that, in publishing it, the paper was endangering the President’s life. With due respect to the White House and out of an abundance of caution, the Post removed the story from its website. We are impressed the White House believes the Taliban, while hiding in caves and dodging American drones, are, like millions of others, avid readers of nypost.com.

Fortunately, the story more or less ended after this point, as President Obama managed to securely arrive in Kabul around noon today, at which point his whereabouts were officially made public knowledge. Nevertheless, the story reflects the power 140 characters can hold over the news cycle.

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