Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Osama bin Laden owns Citibank.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
Origins: The confluence of three factors (Osama bin Laden's fabled wealth, the average person's mystification about matters related to high finance or the stock market, and "one Arab is the same as another" confusion between bin Laden and Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal who has a 4.8% holding of Citibank's stock) fuel rumors of this nature. Similar baseless Internet scuttlebutt asserted the terrorist owned Snapple, and it's likely we'll be seeing variations on this theme for years to come, with one "Bin Laden owns [name of big company]!" trumpeting following close upon the heels of another.
One of the key aspects to the war on terrorism is cutting off the funds flowing into the
The e-mailed exhortation's premise falls flat on its face: even if it were possible for one person to own a financial entity the size of Citibank (and it isn't — see the Additional Information link below), the U.S. government wouldn't permit bin Laden to be that person. That you, the average guy, are being pressed to boycott Citibank in preference to the government's freezing some of its assets is absurd. Indeed, that you'd be hearing about this through an
Yet this rumor (and others of its ilk) will prove popular because it gives ordinary folks the sense of taking part in the struggle against terrorism and striking a telling blow on Osama bin Laden, a figure many people feel a deep personal desire to be avenged upon. It's all well and good that the war on evil is proceeding nicely and the bad guys are being rounded up, but those on the homefront are left bereft of a necessary sense of involvement. The vicarious sense of participation that comes from watching the news just isn't enough, so we make up tales like this to provide us with someone whose nose we can bloody.
But it's the wrong nose. One blameless company after another will be targeted as a legitimate outlet for the ire of the American people through various iterations of the same basic rumor. Anger turned on the wrong parties will damage companies that have no ties to terrorism and are instead owned by countless law-abiding citizens. It won't be the funding of terrorist activities that will be disrupted but the wellbeing of America, directly hurting those who work for, invest in, or distribute the goods of a shunned company, and indirectly affecting all of us as a faltering economy takes yet another wallop.
The bombing raids in Afghanistan were carefully conducted so as to ensure minimum damage to bystanders even as Taliban targets were picked off one by one. Too bad baseless Internet slanders don't operate on the same principle.
Barbara "dropped bombshells" Mikkelson
Additional Information: Citibank is part of Citigroup, a business entity formed in 1998 through the merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group. By way of attempting to explain "How large is large?," Citigroup's revenues for the quarter ended
Last updated: 8 March 2008
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