More on Meo and the US milbloggers
I’ve been doing some further work into ‘Nick Meo vs the milbloggers‘ to try to work out exactly what is going on. The Telegraph journalist has got in touch with me and I have also had email contact with 1Lt Amy Bonanno, the ARSIC Public Affairs Officer.
I’d like to start by setting up what I think to be the key issue here. Much has been said on various milblogs, but I think what’s important is what appears on Troy Steward’s blog here. Why? Because Steward directly quotes 1Lt Bonanno and I have email confirmation from her that this is the case.
A lot of military bloggers, and people like me, have been commenting on this story from afar – we weren’t actually there.
At the moment, unless other people come forward, Nick Meo and 1Lt Bonanno are the closest we can get to the action. They also have most to lose in all this.
I think a lot of the difficulties here arise from the age old problem that is the highly uneasy relationship between the military and media – soldiers and journalists have different agendas, mindsets, responsibilities, allegiances and goals. The nature of the embedded journalist further complicates the situation.
There are some cultural differences too which seem to have meant some things have been lost in translation. (The debate over the National Guard is one example.) And in my opinion there is some misunderstanding from this part of the Telegraph on the nature of blogging and particularly the US military blogosphere. (I say ‘this part’ because there are some very clued up social media and blogging people at the Telegraph).
But there are also some disagreements over the facts. I’d like to pick out the one I believe to be the most important, partly because it was a direct exchange between 1Lt Bonanno and Meo but also because it is about an episode that took place away from the scene of the IED detonation (where you might reasonably expect differences of opinion on what happened).
This is the section towards the end of Meo’s first report:
‘As I walked towards the terminal, not quite able to believe that I was back to safety, a young woman in army uniform introduced herself as Amy Bonnano, the Public Affairs Officer who had arranged my “embed”.
“It’s great to see you,” she said. “We had you listed as Category A.”
What did that mean? “It’s the worst scenario. It means deceased.”
Later in her office, as I was drinking tea and getting sympathy from a
procession of officers who turned up to see a rare survivor of a roadside bomb, I noticed a Post-it note on her desk.
It read: “Nick Meo, journalist. Killed in Action.”‘
When I spoke to Meo on the phone he said he stood by the story, including this part at the end. He also has the support of The Telegraph:
“The Telegraph has had no communication from the US military since I left Kandahar, and it is slightly puzzling that the bloggers are making all kinds of wild claims. Exactly why the bloggers have attacked the story with such venom has also been rather difficult to understand.”
In contrast, 1Lt Bonanno is quoted on Troy Steward’s blog as saying:
“The statement where you claimed I (the PAO) said you were deceased is an absolute lie, but I know you wanted to use that type of lie so that your claim about you, a journalist, would receive accolades from your fellow journalists, editors, and other bosses, and be seen as an absolute journalistic hero is in fact wholly false…The part about a post-it note is also just as false, but typical of the drama you were trying to create in your story.”
In an email to me she confirmed that:
“The military did have Meo listed as a Category A-wounded but that has never, ever meant that he was deceased– that’s what KIA means! I did tell Meo, when he walked himself off of the Medevac, that I was glad to see him walking unaided and clearly not wounded, as we had him listed as a Cat A-wounded. Myself and the military never, ever, ever, ever had him listed as Killed- I cannot stress that enough!”
I don’t know where the truth is here. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, maybe it’s on one side or the other. Maybe you can never get to the truth of war. But these accounts don’t seem to quite add up.
I should point out that Nick Meo is an experienced foreign correspondent. He has covered Afghanistan since before the fall of the Taliban in 2001 for The Times, The Economist, and The Telegraph.