Were Obama’s Two Big Speeches Connected?

Did President Obama time his “birther” press conference for last Wednesday only after learning that the United States was likely to kill Osama Bin Laden?

Yes, according to rampant speculation on Twitter. One theory centers on the possibility that the Administration knew the Bin Laden news would wipe the birth certificate issue off the map, therefore freeing the White House to preemptively dismiss the issue with only a few lingering days of negative press coverage.

It’s a compelling theory, and it’s almost certainly untrue.

The public often has a major misconception about the communications function – one that ascribes Machiavellian string-pulling powers to PR folks who scheme about the political gain in every event and prevail successfully upon their principals to follow along.

As a result, the media and the public often look at two unrelated events and try to determine how they’re related. That’s an appropriate question – but it often leads to flawed conclusions that assume causation when coincidence alone is at work.

One example of this flawed thinking was another bit of speculation on Twitter last night – that Mr. Obama purposely scheduled his televised statement during the final minutes of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice to knock rival Donald Trump’s show off the air. But facts have a funny way of getting in the way of a good story, and it turns out that ABC and CBS cut to news at about the same moment.

I do find one argument persuasive: During President Obama’s birther speech, he said he had “better things to do.” Perhaps that was a wry allusion to the news he hoped was coming. But that’s the only likely connection I see between the two events.

In the end, these events appear more coincidental than planned – and not part of some master public relations plan cooked up by political spin doctors.

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Related: President Obama’s Birth Certificate Press Conference