The Situation and the Story: Press Corps Parties While White House Makes History

The next morning, the weather was nice in Pakistan–nice enough that Operation Geronimo received another green light. In Washington, it rained, but President Obama was reported to have played nine holes of golf.

Just after mid-day in the Hay-Adams Hotel Penthouse , the Reuters-McLaughlin Group Brunch was filling up; on the terrace, attendees noted a spectacular view of the White House. Inside, a caterer spilled an entire dish of butter onto The McLaughlin Group‘s Eleanor Clift.

Around 2 p.m., the president met with the core Operation Geronimo team before the final “go” order was given.

A few minutes before at the brunch, the Financial Times New York editor Gillian Tett was cornered by anti-tax lobbyist Mark A. Bloomfield, the president and CEO of the American Council for Capital Formation. Post-business-card exchange with Mr. Bloomfield, she talked to The Observer about her table’s guests: “We had both the chairman of the S.E.C. and the chairman of the F.D.I.C. We weren’t expecting to get both and they both said yes immediately. You know what’s brilliant about the whole evening? Most of the time all these people would be at loggerheads, and at this, they’re all relaxed.”

“When you put them all in a room together and it’s 3,000 people and it’s all the show-business stuff, it looks kind of icky,” said FT columnist John Gapper. “But actually, the reality is: How am I not supposed to not ever have lunch or talk with these people? You get a story out of it.”

But the story was happening elsewhere. At 3:45 p.m. EST/12:45 a.m. PKT, explosions were heard by locals in Bilal Town, a suburb of Abbotabad.

An IT guy Abbotabad noted over Twitter: “A huge window shaking band here in Abbotabad Cantt. I hope it’s not the start of something nasty :-S”

At 3:50 p.m.: Osama Bin Laden was “tentatively identified as dead.”

At 7:01 p.m.: Osama Bin Laden was positively identified.

At 8:30 p.m.: President Barack Obama was given a final briefing on the operation.

And at 9:45 p.m., every major television network interrupted its broadcast with an update that the president would be briefing the nation. The Apprentice was cut short before America could find out who had been fired.

11:35 p.m.: News of the operation had already leaked out through unofficial outlets on Twitter feeds, some of which had been formerly sprinkled with the Correspondents Dinner’s preferred cutesy moniker for itself: “#nerdprom.” At 10:24 p.m., Donald Rumsfeld’s Chief of Staff and Navy Reserve intel officer Keith Urbahn tweeted, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn.”

Then the president addressed the nation. Nearly ten years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden was dead.

The biggest story of 2011–the behind-the-scenes workings of which had happened within single-digit miles of the elite of the nation’s press corps, in closer mass proximity to the president than they are at nearly any other time of the year–had broken.

And it had not leaked. Except perhaps at 10:24 to Urbahn, and via Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock. “Just got word that will shock the world – Land of the free… home of the brave DAMN PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!”

Mr. Johnson did not attend the dinner. 

kstoffel@observer.com, fkamer@observer.com