Prince Harry's No-Longer-Secret Afghan Tour Ended
Saturday, March 1, 2008
LONDON, Feb. 29 -- British military officials announced Friday that Prince Harry would be called home immediately from Afghanistan, amid widespread praise for the British news media for keeping Harry's combat assignment secret and anger at a U.S. Web site for disclosing it.
Stories about Harry, 23, who is third in line to the British throne, dominated headlines and airwaves Friday as his 10-week tour of duty in Afghanistan came to an abrupt end.
No one was more excited than the Sun, Britain's best-selling newspaper, which ran a dozen stories about Harry across the first nine pages of its Friday edition -- even dropping its signature topless Page 3 Girl. The paper published a full-color, pinup-style poster of Harry on patrol in Afghanistan in full combat gear.
Some bloggers and callers to talk-radio shows criticized the British media for the unprecedented deal they struck with the Defense Ministry to maintain a news blackout about Harry's presence in Afghanistan, where his unit has been fighting resurgent Taliban forces in the southern province of Helmand.
"I'm appalled by the complicity of the Guardian and other media outlets," said one posting on the newspaper's Web site. "Of course Harry's presence endangers others. That's a reason for him to stay at home, not a justification for a huge conspiracy of silence."
But far more postings praised the deal and said editors and news executives had helped protect the life of the second son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, as well as the lives of soldiers serving alongside Harry, who described himself as a "bullet magnet."
"I'm just impressed that they managed to keep it quiet for 10 weeks," said Janet Balmforth, 70, a London resident. "Good for the British press, because usually they can't keep anything quiet."
British news media tore up their deal with the military Thursday, after the U.S. Drudge Report Web site posted what it called a "world exclusive" on Harry's Afghan tour. Although references to the possibility of Harry being in Afghanistan had appeared earlier in magazines in Australia and Germany, it wasn't until blogger Matt Drudge trumpeted the story that the British news media followed.
Drudge was a central topic of conversation across Britain on Friday. The Telegraph newspaper published a profile and described him as "arguably the most powerful journalist in the world." But mostly he was vilified.
"That stupid American," said a barber in north London. "If anything happens, he'll have blood on his hands."
Drudge did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Neil Wallis, executive editor of the News of the World, who helped broker the deal with the military, accused Drudge of a "cheap hit." Wallis told reporters he wondered if Drudge "would have done the same if it were George Bush's children or Hillary Clinton's child who was risking his life in Afghanistan."