Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Utterly gratuitous totty picture

Last week's half-baked thoughts, this weeks lead story:

PLUG: you should buy the edition of Private Eye this appears in, the rest of it is terribly good too.

General Sir Richard Dannat pronounced himself “very disappointed” at the leaking of details of Harry’s posting to Afghanistan, and the prince himself agreed on his return to Britain, saying “angry would be the wrong word to use, but I am slightly disappointed”. He described the colleagues he left behind in Helmand as “gutted”, which they presumably are – not least the ones who were hawking cameraphone footage of him in Afghanistan just after Christmas, presumably having come to the realization that seems to elude much of the British press that the Taliban tend to treat them as “bullet magnets” whether or not they have a royal among their number.

Despite the success of such “gentlemen’s agreements” in the past, Dannat would not convincingly be able to claim surprise, given the amount of material he had allowed the co-operative press to have cued up and ready for release five weeks ahead of the Prince’s planned return. PA’s chief reporter John Bingham had already conducted extensive “pool” interviews with Harry in Helmand and the agency had 11,548 words, plus video and photo packages ready to go within one hour of his deployment being confirmed by the MoD. Sky News had also had an “embed” with Harry and were sitting on tapes.

The original plan had been for material to be released following Harry’s return in three ‘tranches’ over the course of a weekend, to allow as many media outlets as possible (dailies, Sundays etc) access to new material. Lobbying from ITN had resulted in this being pushed back to a Thursday in order to guarantee them a splash for their resurrected (and ailing) News at Ten on ITV, which does not run on a Friday. By an astonishing coincidence, Matt Drudge posted his scoop – “they’re calling him ‘Harry the Hero’!” at 4.37 on a Thursday afternoon – and, as it happens, on a Thursday when ITN just happened to have a full crew and anchor Mark Austin in Kabul. Naturally, the broadcaster claims Austin’s presence, and subsequent helming of an hour-long News At Ten on the topic, was simply “exceptional good luck”, the team having been in the country for a week of special coverage under the banner “frontline live”, and denies any link to the leak to Drudge. And indeed, the wording of Drudge’s report – “CNN has debated internally on the merits of reporting Harry at war” – suggests a source on his side of the Atlantic. CNN International chief Tony Maddox denies sanctioning any leak – “it was absolutely not in CNN’s interest” he told the Canadian Press agency – and points out that his organization had only joined in with the British vow of secrecy “about a week before Harry's deployment when it was told about it by a British affiliate.” And who is CNN’s British affiliate? ITN.

2 = articles in British national press on report by US Defence Intelligence Agency that Taliban have retaken 10% of Afghanistan and government control only 30%, news of which was released on 28 February
0 = articles in British national press on US State department report that opium poppy production in Afghanistan at record high, news of which was released on 29 February
250 = articles in British national press on Prince Harry’s deployment in Afghanistan, news of which was released on 28 February

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