Drudge Breaks Media Silence on Prince’s Mission
At 12:20 Eastern yesterday, I got a CNN Breaking News alert that read, in its entirety, “Britain’s Prince Harry has been serving on the front line in Afghanistan, CNN confirms.” I found it mildly interesting, in that his superiors had previously decided the security risk in sending him to Iraq was too high, but didn’t have anything significant to say about the matter and had plenty of other work to do.
The Independent‘s Terry Judd, though, adds a twist: “Prince’s cover in Afghanistan blown by Drudge Report.”
An American website, the Drudge Report, broke a news blackout yesterday by revealing that Prince Harry has been serving in Afghanistan for more than two months.
To the fury of the Ministry of Defence and condemnation from the head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the website announced a “world exclusive” and proclaimed: “They’re calling him ‘Harry the Hero!”.
The article brought to an end an agreement with the media that the Prince’s deployment to Helmand be kept quiet in the interests of his safety and that of the soldiers with him.
The decision to send Prince Harry, 23, to Afghanistan under a cloak of secrecy came after the furore that followed the revelation of his proposed deployment to Iraq. Much to the Prince’s frustration, General Dannatt announced in May last year that it would be too risky, fearing the Prince and his comrades in the Household Cavalry would become top priority targets for insurgents.
Immediately, officers decided the only way the third-in-line to the throne could continue to do his duty without creating an additional security risk was to send him secretly, calling on the media to co-operate in a news blackout. By July, editors of key newspapers and broadcasting organisations were sounded out to see if such assistance would be forthcoming. Without dissent, all agreed that it was the only sensible and safe solution. In December, days before Cornet Wales — as the Prince is known in The Blues and Royals — deployed to Helmand, editors met MoD officials and signed an understanding setting out the terms of the news blackout. While not a legally binding document, it was a statement of faith from the British press.
It is thought the source for the Drudge Report article was a story printed last month in an Australian women’s magazine, New Idea. The Drudge Report is most famous for breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal after Newsweek decided not to publish the story.
At 3.30pm yesterday the MoD received a call, confirming fears that a foreign news organisation would break the silence. A decision was taken to make a formal statement confirming the Prince had been in Afghanistan. “I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us. This is in stark contrast to the highly responsible attitude that the whole of the UK print and broadcast media, along with a small number of overseas outlets, who have entered into an understanding with us over the coverage of Prince Harry on operations,” General Dannatt said. “The editors took the commendable attitude to restrain their coverage. I would like to thank them for that.”
Presumably, Matt Drudge was not a signatory to said agreement and had no duty to abide by it. And, contrary to what John Aravosis, Logan Murphy, and Keith Olbermann are saying, it’s not as if he was revealing secret troop movements; the existence of British patrols in Helmand province was well known.
Still, one longs for the old days when gentlemen’s agreements like this were honored for their own sake. Indeed, it’s somewhat surprising that the news blackout on this story was as successful as it has been. Allowing Harry to do his duty outside the spotlight and without creating a high profile target for the Taliban is a noble gesture and far outweighs whatever “public right to know” that would have justified breaking the embargo.
That, of course, is over. The decision has naturally been made to cut his tour short.
A formal decision will be announced within the next hour to confirm the 23-year-old officer’s war has come to an end.
Harry is still out on operations in the Helmand desert with his troop of Household Cavalry – where he is considered safe for the time being. But top brass have accepted Taliban fighters will now be doing their all to find him. And Harry has agreed that he will leave the war torn country within the next 72-hours for a flight home to the UK. But the precise extraction plan will be kept a closely guarded secret to protect his safety.
The news comes after Taliban fanatics were feared to be hunting down Harry after he secretly fought in the Afghan badlands for ten weeks.
The young lieutenant killed up to 30 of the enemy on his frontline tour by directing at least THREE air strikes.
One suspects that his services as a forward air controller can be easily replaced. His especial value was the symbolism of having a prince in harm’s way. To some extent, it could be argued, the publicity value is heightened now that the secret’s out of the bag and that’s not entirely a bad thing as NATO is scrambling to support the Afghanistan mission. But one would have preferred that he be permitted to finish his tour as just another lieutenant.
Photo credit: The Guardian/John Stillwell/PA
UPDATE: Alex Massie passes on word that several British bloggers, and even celeb gossip site Popbitch, had knowledge of Harry’s whereabouts and sat on the story despite the sacrifice of traffic (and presumably, ad revenue) that this entailed. Good for them.