Telegraph journalist, Nick Meo vs Milbloggers: a summary
One of the ways in which bloggers have acquitted themselves in the media space is by acting as a ‘fifth estate’ – scrutinising what the fourth estate – the mainstream media – do, challenging facts and publishing corrections, clarifications, and rebuttals.
A while ago, I collected some links on the way bloggers appeared to influence the media coverage of David Davis’s decision to resign over the 42 day detention bill in the UK.
This post is a collection of links demonstrating how bloggers got on the case of Daily Telegraph journalist Nick Meo, who was embedded with a US Police Mentor Team in Afghanistan.
21 October 2008
Nick Meo’s original Telegraph report. In his account from the 13th October, he describes how the Cougar he is travelling in is hit by an IED, which kills US soldier, Cpl Scott Dimond. Meo subsequently takes video footage of the aftermath as the Americans respond to the situation.
Milblogging Reaction 1
22 October 2008
Blackfive.net writes a piece calling for Meo to be stripped of his embed credentials and describes the article as a ‘sickening piece of garbage’.
Troy Steward, who recently made an appearance on the BBC’s World Have Your Say programme, makes a similar list of gripes to Blackfive over Meo’s reporting.
In points picked up by other blog posts he quotes the ARSIC-South Public Affairs Officer, 1Lt Amy Bonanno, who specifically mentions:
1. Meo’s comparison of the US National Guard with the British Territorial Army.
2. Criticism of Major James Becker’s Mohican hair cut.
3. Getting Specialist Chapman’s unit wrong.
4. Allegedly misquoting Specialist Chapman over his Cougar training.
5. Having a disrespectful attitude to the death of Corporal Scott Dimond.
6. Inconsistencies in the article over the provision of night vision cameras.
7. Dramatising the article.
8. Alleges that the article falsely claimed that Meo was listed as ‘Killed in Action’: “The statement where you claimed I (the PAO) said you were deceased is an absolute lie”.
9. Meo’s refusal of an offer to attend the ramp ceremony for Cpl Dimond.
‘Bill and Bob‘ says:
“Meo crossed the line in so many ways in his incredibly self-serving article, criticizing everything from the Major’s standard “high and tight” Army haircut to the fire discipline and overall professionalism of the team of men who had functioned successfully in Helmand for over six months.”
Meo Fights Back
Meo defends his article and his filming of the incident in another piece for the Telegraph:
“The US military has not challenged my reporting and the bloggersâ€™ criticism is vague. Perhaps they were disappointed that I didnâ€™t produce a straightforward tale of stirring heroism on a bad night in Kandahar.
Things got nasty even during the incident because the soldiers, clearly badly shaken, didnâ€™t want to be filmed and demanded my camera. I didnâ€™t hand it over because such footage of what happens in the aftermath of a bomb attack is rare.”
Milblogging Reaction 2
Bill and Bob again:
“No, not enough justice has been done because you [Nick Meo] are still being printed in a publication which has lost yet another notch on the scale of journalistic integrity by not following up on these complaints and Telegraph’s editors have not sought conversations with those who have thrown the bullshit flag at your feet.”
Susan Katz Keating, investigative journalist and blogger, says the Telegraph has sought PR advice about how to deal with the fall out.
British journalist Ros Prynn weighs in with her thoughts.
Susan Katz Keating speaks to ‘a seasoned British war correspondent’ who describes the article as ‘a crappy piece of work’. With regard to the death of Cpl Dimond in the incident he says:
“I read about Corporal Dimond, the man who was killed. He was a very interesting man. A good man. Meo could have written a nice tribute piece to him, with quotes from the family.”
LTC Paul Fanning writes at Bouhammer.com
“As an experienced public affairs officer, I thought I had seen it all, but I could not have imagined this. I rate this as the worse article I have ever seen”
I don’t want to wade in too much with who’s right and who’s wrong here – I’ll let you judge for yourself and don’t have any more access to the facts of the case than I have just presented. But some observations nevertheless.
1. Journalism on the Web has a global audience. This should be obvious but apparently it’s not. Meo and/or the Telegraph – because let’s remember that some journalists and Meo’s probably one of them, still have editors and subeditors who may or may not like to interfere with headlines and copy as well – seem to have forgotten. So comparing the National Guard to the Territorial Army, for example, might be a way to try to make the article more accessible to a UK audience, but this isn’t just an article to a UK audience. (May even have had more US than UK readers given the subject of the article). And it’s a bad comparison anyway. Why not just describe what the National Guard is, with a bit of craft, rather than resorting to a lazy comparison?
2. The Telegraph is probably fortunate they’re operating out of the UK where blog readership is much lower than it is in the States. But one day that might change so I’d take this as a warning to be heeded.
3. Although Meo has written a reply, neither he nor the Telegraph seem to have truly engaged with their critics. One can only ask: why? If you compare the bloggers’ articles with Meo’s response it seems that the latter is far more ‘vague’ than the former.
4. Bloggers think they are a serious force to be reckoned with if you’re at a mainstream media organisation:
“Milblogs and their readers impacted a major news outlet like the Telegraph and caused other MSM outlets to take notice.”
And they might be right.
5. Whatever you think about the quality of the journalism going on here, the episode highlights the dilemmas facing embedded journalists more generally. With such a well-connected military community, reporting ‘unpopular’ stories as an embed may be even more difficult than pre-blogging days.
6. The milblogging community has proved itself better at operating as a PR machine than the US military itself as the Public Affairs Officer of ARSIC admitted in this post:
“The letter from â€˜higherâ€™ (Army Command)â€¦.due to the fact that you guys were going over and beyond what the â€˜military letterâ€™ (official military rebuttal) would have stated. Your (all milblogs that have covered this story) words, capabilities, and pummeling of Meo, did more than the military would have been able to
accomplish. So, they felt it would be a bit redundant and less powerful than what you guys were already doing- so a huge THANK YOU from the military community.”
[Brackets in the original]
I got in contact with 1Lt Amy Bonanno to ask her if she has heard from the Telegraph or Nick Meo. She emailed me the following reply:
“Thank you for your email. I have not heard anything on this topic from either the paper or the reporter since the 26 October rebuttal. Pretty much the bloggers have covered everything, with great zeal- making the case for the military, friends, and families.”
I emailed the Telegraph myself earlier today but have yet to receive a response.
Quote from Meo and further insights in my latest post.