Senators Pass Around Fake Picture of bin Laden on Their BlackBerrys

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This is probably the most troubling sentence you’ll read today: “While I was shown a photo by another senator of what appeared to be a deceased Osama bin Laden, I do not know if it was authentic.”

That was part of a statement issued on Wednesday by New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte clarifying that she had not, in fact, seen a picture of bin Laden’s corpse. Where did the confusion start? Who knows, but Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown was the first to start walking things back after he told a local TV channel, “Let me assure you that he is dead, that bin Laden is dead. I have seen the photos and, in fact, we’ve received the briefing, and we’ll continue to get the briefings.”

Either he was shown a fake photo in a briefing — highly unlikely considering that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein says no one on the Hill has seen the photo, and one would think she’d be among the first to get a peek if it were making the rounds through official channels — or Brown was simply unable to keep track of what he saw in a classified intelligence briefing vs. what he saw in that forwarded e-mail from Uncle Larry (or whomever). Neither possibility inspires much confidence. Nor does the fact that Brown’s first instinct was to brag about his newfound knowledge to the New England Cable News.

But what’s even worse is that an unidentified Senator, according to Ayotte, felt compelled to start passing around a bogus image to his or her lawmaker pals on an “electronic device.” (Read: cell phone.) Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss was duped by this hoax too. “I was shown a photo by an individual that was represented to be a photo of bin Laden after he’d been shot,” he said. “It appeared to be an accurate photo. It was not an official photo.” When asked why he thought it was real, Chambliss said, “Well, it looked like it was a picture of bin Laden.” Yikes. Photoshop has been around since 1988. Reckless hearsay, on the other hand, is at least as old as the Senate.

See Osama bin Laden’s death in headlines.

See pictures of bin Laden’s Pakistan hideaway.