On Sunday night when Osama bin Laden was killed, FOX News managed to make another one of their headline spelling errors. The network, upon reporting news of the terrorist mastermind’s death, flashed “Obama bin Laden” across the screen.
While it is easy to point out FOX’s misdeed, using the president’s last name instead of bin Laden’s first is a mistake than many media outlets have made in the past couple days. One such outlet, Salon, sought to look into why this mistake has become in an of itself an “idiosyncrasy of the bin Laden death story.”
Reaching out to linguists and speech pathologists, Salon attempted to figure out what was behind the mix-up. Was it a subconscious way of equating the President with one of the world’s most violent men? Was it a political low blow or was it simply an honest error?
According to Matt Goldrick, an associate professor of linguistics at Northwestern:
“When recalling the sounds of words, we also unconsciously retrieve other words that are similar in sound … Obama-Osama is a perfect storm for the mental process of word retrieval…On top of their similar sounds, it’s likely that the similar ‘roles’ Obama and Osama have played (as geopolitical figures) contribute to these mistakes. Research has shown that people tend to mis-name celebrities, they make confusions related to their social roles — for example, calling President Kennedy “President Reagan.” But this doesn’t mean that when people make these errors they think Kennedy and Reagan have similar ideas — it just means that they were both president.”
And as Adam Buchwald, an assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders at NYU told Salon:
“Names are typically odd in this respect as they don’t have any inherent meaning. Nevertheless, confusing two names that are similar sounding about people who are connected in some way can certainly arise as an honest error.”
On the one hand, it’s understandable that people would in everyday language confuse two words and substitute one for another. But frankly, to say that FOX News, one of the largest cable news networks, would mix up “Osama” with “Obama” on possibly one of the biggest stories of the decade seems like a stretch.
What’s your take on the “Osama”/ “Obama” mix-up? Honest journalistic mistake or something more? Tell us what you think Clutchettes- share your thoughts!