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Radio beams news to the global village

If you had a thousand ears, each one trained on a different radio outlet, you couldn't have heard all the great radio on offer yesterday. On the day after Osama bin Laden died, the full spectacle of radio was on display.

If you had a thousand ears, each one trained on a different radio outlet, you couldn't have heard all the great radio on offer yesterday. On the day after Osama bin Laden died, the full spectacle of radio was on display.

From local talkers to Radio France International, the venerable mass medium showed its stuff, pulling together memorable, mind-changing facts, viewpoints, and you-are-there vignettes to explore the complexities of an incredibly rich story.

All radio today is global. Whether on radio, laptop, or mobile, it remains a powerful, evocative medium. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out, you can't see the images, so the sounds prompt you, powerfully, to imagine them.

We heard the whoops of celebrants in Times Square, and the "U.S.A.!" chants from the crowd in front of the White House - or the extra-innings Phillies game. KYW announced that Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey ordered police to patrol mosques and synagogues hourly, to circumvent terror attacks - and instantly there surfaced too-familiar images of violence against religious targets.

Radio everywhere ran Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, from Kabul, saying bin Laden's death in Pakistan proved that Afghanistan was "not the place of terrorism." It ran U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from Washington, telling the Taliban, "You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us." Radio everywhere interviewed Pakistanis, Egyptians, Muslims, people who lost friends and family in the Twin Towers attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and, of course, the mouthy legions of experts on the Middle East, Islam, terrorism, veterans' affairs, Navy SEALs, Pakistan, helicopters, or U.S. politics.

Cokie Roberts of National Public Radio said the mission "is likely to be seen as a triumph for the president. . . . You have a score here for President Obama." WHYY-FM (90.9) one of the stations that carry NPR in Philadelphia, continued its fund-raising drive but scaled it back.

KYW's Michelle Durham spoke to Jamal J. Elias of the University of Pennsylvania on the decision to bury bin Laden at sea. "If at all possible, the body is supposed to be interred within 24 hours," Elias said, but this was impossible because "no country was willing to take the body." Durham explained that, traditionally, "the body is wrapped in unbleached cotton with nothing that would prevent its rapid deterioration."

La Salle University's Edward Turzanski told KYW that al-Qaeda "recruits very strongly both when we've been brought low, and conversely, when they suffer a defeat." He gave the bin Laden mission an A-plus, except an independent confirmation of death "would have been nice."

The shock of authoritative, startling opinion hit again and again. ABC chief foreign correspondent Martha Radditz declared that bin Laden's death "vindicates" the controversial Obama "attack drone" policy because it had driven bin Laden out of the mountains into the city. CBS reporter Lara Logan noted sharply that "the Pakistanis . . . have to explain how Osama bin Laden was living right in the middle of one of their main cities. . . . Everybody that you can talk to says, 'There's no way the Pakistanis didn't know about this.' "

Global radio today is local. Radio France International marveled at the secrecy with which the United States pursued the mission, and Obama, dubbed in French, praised the "courage et . . . savoir-faire exceptionnels" of U.S. troops. BBC, Canada's CBC, and Al Jazeera English took the internationalist outlook, probing the impact in Pakistan, the Muslim world, and the Middle East.

BBC's Washington correspondent, Paul Adams, thought the Obama administration would face pressure to show direct evidence of the kill, "to bury conspiracy theories before they take hold." On CBC, Pakistani journalist Ali K. Chisti went against the grain, insisting Pakistan must have known about the strike because the area around Abbottabad, Pakistan, "was a no-fly area, and Pakistan would never have let helicopters fly there" without notice. Robert Fisk of The Independent told CBC that the "Arab Spring" uprisings had made al-Qaeda irrelevant: "It turned out . . . people didn't want a caliphate - they wanted freedom. . . . The earthquake in the Arab world has thrown al-Qaeda in the shadows."

Best of all coverage, perhaps, was that on Al Jazeera English, on which host Rida Ghafry, clearly moved, called bin Laden "the man responsible for those shocking attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11." In a special panel discussion, Egyptian analyst Diaa Rashwan said, "Osama was an inspiration for new recruits, and his death is a real catastrophe for them." But Phil Rees said that "the manner of his death will only enhance his martyrdom status" to a whole new generation of jihadis.

As the global is local, so, too, the local is global. The world heard a command performance from Rush Limbaugh. "This is an occasion about which to declare victory," he said, "and it is a victory brought about by the Bush and Cheney administrations, policies that Obama saw fit to continue." Bin Laden's death was no big deal, Limbaugh said, because "he had long since stopped being a key commander." And Limbaugh indignantly smacked Obama for having said, in his midnight address, "I assembled a team." Said Limbaugh: "That team, that organization has been assembled and operating in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost 10 years."

On WPHT-AM (1210) talk-show host Michael Smerconish followed Limbaugh, and his take could not have been more different. For years, he has been critical of the apparently fruitless search for bin Laden. He confessed he was at the Neil Young concert at the Tower Theater, "and at 10:40, I looked down at my iPhone to see what time it was . . . and I had a [Huffington Post] tweet alert that said the president was going to speak . . . and then all of a sudden, my Twitter feed was phenomenal . . . and it became very clear that Osama was dead. . . . I was hoping it was exactly what it turned out to be: a bullet to the head from American forces. . . . If you had to script it, it could not have come out any better."

Smerconish (who also writes a column for The Inquirer) added: "I'm giving credit to the SEALs who took him out, the intelligence team, the CIA, the FBI, and I'm giving credit to the president of the United States. . . . Last night was a night to celebrate the fact that we got it done. We got it done."