Harry, Warrior Prince

So Prince Harry here has shocked the world once again. No, it’s not another party costume, or another big drunken night out on the town. Instead, he actually made the Royal family quite proud by going and actually serving in a combat zone with his army unit.

You may remember the stories from not too long ago about how all the media hype actually stopped the Prince from serving with his unit in Iraq. The thinking is that it is much too dangerous to send him to a combat zone with a lot of publicity. If the enemy (read: Taliban/Al Qaeda) were to know that he was there, it would put him and his squadmates at considerably more risk than usual.

So, senior members of the British media met with the Ministry of Defence and worked out a deal. This article has the details

Wallis helped negotiate the deal with other senior newspaper executives including the Mail on Sunday editor, Peter Wright, and Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the Society of Editors and former Cambridge Evening News editor.
Under the news blackout deal, media organisations that signed up were given access to a series of pooled interviews, pictures and footage of the prince in Afghanistan, on condition that nothing would run until his tour ended in April.

Footage of Harry in action in Afghanistan and interviews with the prince about his deployment have now run on outlets including BBC News 24, Sky News and the BBC1 Six O’Clock News.

All the major UK news broadcasters, newspaper publishers and news agencies signed up for the deal, which meant that pooled material was planned to be released in two or three bursts to give all media a chance to write about his work in the field.

Interesting system. And I’m honestly shocked that it worked for so long. I don’t even believe that this is a traditional case of censorship or anything. Instead, I actually think it’s quite responsible journalism. These venerable institutions of British news decided that the money they’d make off a sensational story like this was not worth the risk to the Prince or his mates. I like to think there’s something noble in this because they don’t appear to be doing anything just for the sake of the sale. And this isn’t to say that they are all somehow greater than any other news source in the world. They all still take the time to report the latest boring gossip on Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. But at least we know they are capable of doing something worthwhile.

Perhaps it is a particular European sensibility, but I can’t imagine North American papers doing anything like this. Can anyone picture the New York Times holding back from running a story?

Still, after a few months of Harry serving on the front lines in Afghanistan (operating in a not-so-safe Helmand province with other British troops), the US-based Drudge Report decided to run the story. In what they call a “world exclusive”, this pile of online “news” ran the story of Harry serving in Afghanistan. This sincerely upset the British government and media, and it not exactly the pinnacle of journalistic achievement. The Report is famous for being one of the first to break the Lewinsky scandal, and also has made it’s fair share of serious errors. They once reported that Clinton had an illegitimate child with a prostitute, a story that was definitely a hoax.

What is interesting is that Newsweek is reporting that the Taliban always knew that Harry was there, but just never managed to capitalize on it.

But talking to newsweek via satellite phone from that region last week, deputy commander Mullah Abdul Karim recalled getting an urgent message from Taliban intelligence in late December or early January that “an important chicken” had joined British troops in his area of operations. Karim promptly sent his men hunting for the prince. “He is our special enemy,” says Karim. “Our first option was to capture him as a prisoner, and the second, to kill him.”

So it is possible that the Drudge Report really didn’t break anything, but it is more likely that the Taliban are lying.  The final result of this is that all of the media attention now surrounding Harry’s tour means he has to be pulled out.  For his sake and the sake of his unit, it’s best if he no longer is in Afghanistan.  As of the date of writing, he is already back in Britain safe and sound.

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