Wednesday, June 06, 2007

At war with his own paper?

A bullish piece written last Saturday by Thomas Harding in The Telegraph about the activities of our soldiers in Afghanistan went some way towards redressing the balance of media coverage, but for one thing – the "stand first" added to the report after it had been filed. This read:

In one year, the Afghanistan war has claimed the lives of 51 British soldiers - the latest this week. But as our forces secretly begin their biggest ever offensive, morale is at an all-time low. Thomas Harding, the only journalist with the troops, delivers an exclusive despatch.
Yesterday, however, the letters column carried a rebuttal from Brigadier John Lorimer, the commander of British Forces in Helmand: "…morale among my soldiers is not … 'at an all-time low'. I cannot see how anyone deduced this from your correspondent's dispatch. Quite to the contrary, morale is very high," he wrote.

Then, today, Harding comes back with a stonking piece in which he reports that, in what many officers regard as all-out war, the Anglians (with whom Harding is embedded) have accounted for 600 Taliban dead since April. He then adds:

Soldiers fighting on the front line are mostly teenagers experiencing combat for the first time. While many admitted they were initially afraid, all are now combat veterans whose morale remains high.
That is borne out by units which have returned from Afghanistan and those who are in the frame to be deployed in the theatre. There is very active competition between these units, all of whom are anxious to get out there and "get stuck in". That, after all, is why most soldiers join the Army.

It is relatively rare, however, for a newspaper to get caught out by its own correspondent. But, despite its determination to present the negative view of a campaign that is, in fact, doing better than expected, The Daily Telegraph's agenda is rather nicely exposed.

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