More on Michael Yon and British Media Operations

October 1, 2009

Apologies to those of you who are already in October but I’ve been on holiday and want to wrap a few things up from the back end of September. This is one of those things. So if you read about this last week there’s not much new here. But if you haven’t, hopefully it offers a neat summary. 

Around a month ago, I was following the saga of the end of Michael Yon’s embed with the British Army in Afghanistan from the initial much-debated nature of its "cancellation", through Yon’s explanation of the episode, to the MoD’s response and Yon’s decision to go it alone in Afghanistan.

Last week, while I was enjoying some lovely late-autumn sun elsewhere, Yon was busy writing a far more detailed post, entitled ‘Bullshit Bob’, about the end of his embed and the state of British Media Operations:

"Many soldiers in the British Media Ops are true professionals who strive constantly to improve at their tasks and work very well with correspondents.  Their professionalism and understanding of the larger mission—ultimate victory—provide an invaluable service to the war effort. But there are a few who should not be in uniform and it takes only one roach leg to spoil a perfect soup."

What followed was a scathing attack on various aspects of British Media Operations. According to Yon, those who were allegedly spoiling the soup included the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth (you may have picked up a subtle hint in the title of Yon’s post), and the spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lt Col Nick Richardson.

But Yon also homed in on an unnamed Major who he alleged had been rude to soldiers and correspondents and caused him a variety of logistical difficulties.  

Unsurprisingly, Yon’s piece sparked a not particularly satisfactory game of ‘name-the-Major’. Richard North at Defence of the Realm jumped in with this piece claiming that the Major in question was Major Ric Cole.

In the meantime other Majors were being misidentified as the Major in Yon’s piece. Paul Smyth, the Ministry of Defence’s man behind Helmand bloggers, was getting comments like this one sent to him:

"Hey Douchebag Paul Smyth, maybe you ought to take your fat head outside the wire once in a while. Actually see the fighting that’s happening rather than disparaging your countrymen who are doing the dirty work and outting themselves in harm’s way. Rear Echelon Mother F’er."

I had a similar comment submitted to me here at Frontline which I couldn’t publish because it was worse and quite probably defamatory.* As Major Smyth pointed out on the Helmand blog, Yon’s unnamed Major was unlikely to be him as he hasn’t been to Afghanistan since 2006:

"Since May last year I have been pretty busy working within Media Ops. I have served in Kosovo with 2 RIFLES and Iraq within MND(SE) and I am now a week away from a tour in Afghanistan, somewhere I have not been since 2006.

I am currently in the UK and am not the unnamed major Michael Yon refers to. With any luck I will have the chance to meet and work with Michael when he returns to Helmand."

Returning to Yon’s criticisms of British Media Operations a couple of follow up comments (which you can make your own mind up about) are worth reading at Defence of Realm including this one from ‘Psyoper’ and another from ‘Anonymous Mouse’.

I’m not sure whether this is the last we’ll hear on Yon vs MoD (and who knows, maybe they’ll be a seemingly unlikely rapprochement at some point), but expect to hear more on British Media Operations in Afghanistan, in one way or another, in the near future.

*(American commenters should note that libel law is stricter this side of the pond as this interesting BBC blog post demonstrates. And yes it does have implications for the principle of freedom of speech but it’s still me/Frontline that would be sued).