The bin Laden narrative aptly illustrates the extent to which our government institutions have used the big media and polluted the information environment. Rumor begets hearsay. Hearsay begets opinion. Opinion begets unconfirmed facts, unconfirmed facts beget disinformation begets propaganda begets intelligence, and intelligence begets nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
What makes these convoluted yarns successful is something I call the "grain of truth" factor. If one or more of the assertions in a far-fetched fable seem plausible, a certain type of person will accept some or all of the rest of the tale because "there's a grain of truth in it." There is, of course, grain in every pile of horse manure, but that doesn't make horse manure easy to swallow, does it?
Having said all that, there's a fair chance that bin Laden really is dead. If he's hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border high up in the Hindu Kush mountains where helicopters can't fly, he could have died of a nosebleed by now. And in November 2008 then CIA Director Michael Hayden said bin Laden was still alive, which adds credence to the argument that he wasn't.
It doesn't matter either way. Dead or alive, Osama bin Laden is the greatest strategist in the history of human conflict. With no navy or air force or anything that resembles a formal army, he's managed to whip the world's mightiest nation like a rented camel. Our economy is shot, the best-trained, best-equipped military in history has been proven impotent, and our moral standing in the world has gone through the sub-basement.