Prince Harry in Afghanistan
British Media Kept Quiet

Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 29, 2008 11:00 AM

Prince Harry will be immediately brought home from Afghanistan, where he has spent the last 10 weeks quietly fighting on the front lines, the British defense ministry said Friday.

Video: Prince Harry in Afghanistan (AP, Feb. 29)

Washington Post foreign correspondent Kevin Sullivan will be online Friday, Feb. 29, at 11 a.m. ET from London to discuss the young royal's deployment and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to keep the story from being reported.

His presence there had been kept secret from the public in a remarkable deal between the British military and media. But the secret was revealed in two little-noticed articles in an Australian tabloid magazine, and then blasted into the global media spotlight Thursday by the Drudge Report Web site. Harry's deployment immediately became sensational news in London, rekindling an emotional debate about whether the red-haired second son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana should be risking his life in war.

A transcript follows.


Kevin Sullivan: Hello from London. The Ministry of Defense officially called Prince Harry back to the UK this morning, saying all the publicity has jeopardized his safety and the safety of the soldiers serving with him. Lots to talk about, so fire away....


NW, DC: Why in 2008 do we as humans place a higher value on this man's life moreso than others?

His death in combat would be no more of a feather in the Taliban's cap, if we did not treat him as such. If he has elected to serve let him serve just as any other enlisted soldier. If not, just admit he followed this course and served in this capacity strictly for show on behalf of the royal family. Don't they have something comparable to the Coast Guard or civil defense in Britain?

Kevin Sullivan: This question goes to the heart of the matter here. I don't think anyone believes Harry's life is worth more than another person's. There is a feeling, though, that he is something of a symbol of Britain, and that is compounded by the tragic death of his mother. Many people here have told us that Harry's death would be a blow for Britain. So why let him serve? Partly it's tradition--the royal family has a long history of military service. And partly I think it's just the desire to let this young man do what he clearly wants to do. However there are those who do see this as little more than a publicity stunt--they do seem to be the minority, though.


Alexandria, Va.: I've seen no criticism of Drudge for putting Harry and his fellow soldiers at risk? Why?

Kevin Sullivan: Stay tuned. Mr. Drudge is getting beaten up pretty badly in the British blogosphere and on the talk radio today. I'm sure there will be more.


Bethesda, Md.: Kevin,

What do you say about the irresponsible reporting by both the Australian tabloids and the Drudge Report for needlessly putting at greater risk the lives of Prince Harry as well as his comrades fighting in Afghanistan? I'm disgusted these outlets would see fit to expose these fine men and women, serving their country in Afghanistan, to further danger for the sake of selling a few more papers or in Drudge's case promoting advertisers on his site.

Kevin Sullivan: I can't speak for them, of course. But the Australian magazine that first published this story, called New Idea, issued a statement saying it had no idea there was any kind of an embargo and apologizing for any problems they might have caused. That hasn't stopped people from criticizing their decision.


Baltimore, Md.: I hope whoever leaked this story to an Australian tabloid is found out. If it was someone in the British forces, I am sure his mates will punish him accordingly.

One cannot help being struck by the contrast between, for example, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said that his five strapping sons were serving America by helping in their father's campaign, and Prince Harry, who not only went through Britain's West Point, Sandhurst, but worked diligently to then get into the fighting. His grandmother vetoed deployment to Iraq, so he went to Afghanistan -- and to one of the deadliest areas, Helmand province.

It makes me think we Americans were foolish to abandon the monarchy.

Kevin Sullivan: I don't think you'd get too many takers for bringing back the monarchy.


Washington, D.C.: Your report, as with the AP one, begins with the Prince serving on the "front line." The AP video shows him shooting a machine gun presumably on the "front line." I am unaware of this type of warfare in Afghanistan. I can understand why the British media might use this illusory metaphor to embolden the royal family's image, but I see no reason for an American journalist to do so.

Kevin Sullivan: They way it has been explained, one of Harry's roles there was to call down airstrikes on suspected Taliban targets. He was also out on foot patrols regularly, apparently. Having spent time reporting in Afghanistan myself, the whole place feels like a front line. I understand your point, but I would imagine that anyone who has served in the military in Afghanistan would regard it as dangerous duty, no matter where they were based.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Kevin

Thanks for your insights on this matter, but why should we really care about this whole story, other than this is a young guy trying to be "normal" while making himself and his mates a more valued potential target ? Is this still Americans' fascination with the Royals?

Kevin Sullivan: We wrestle with this all the time. For better or worse, there does seem to be a huge appetite for news about the royal family in the States, certainly among our readers. The response we get to stories about the royals is consistently huge. Partly it's the Diana Factor. We don't write about Fergie's kids, but William and Harry do seem to have the world's attention.


Pennsylvania, Pa.:"Stay tuned. Mr. Drudge is getting beaten up pretty badly in the British blogosphere and on the talk radio today. I'm sure there will be more."

Your story says that this was first reported in an Australian tabloid -- were countries such as Australia and Canada included in this news blackout or was it restricted to the U.K.?

Kevin Sullivan: Almost exclusively UK, although I'm pretty sure the Associated Press reported yesterday that they were part of the deal, and they are U.S. based. (Just for the record, they didn't invite us 'round for tea.)


I think the British media did well...: in today's culture, Harry's presense in a unit does make it an extra target, but he is continuing a long line of royal military service, which is still considered the most honorable way to serve one's country. I am stunned and dismayed that the details of his deployment were published and then blasted all over the media. Just as U.S. journalists are asked to keep specific details regarding impending operations secret, so was the British media and they get points from me for understanding and respecting that.

Kevin Sullivan: This is the predominant sentiment in Britain today, although some people have argued that the media, already so unpopular with so many people, undercuts its credibility anytime it makes a deal like this. It makes some people wonder what else the government can get the press to bury. I think that's probably unfair, but that's a line of argument here.


Virginia: The Prince has SAS bodyguards. He is quite safe...

Kevin Sullivan: The SAS is good, but not perfect (but please don't tell them I said that.)


Washington, D.C.: So, were you aware of Harry's presence in Afghanistan before today?

Kevin Sullivan: No, as I said, we weren't part of the deal. But as I look back on it now, what was I thinking? Ten weeks without one picture of Harry stumbling out of a club at 4 a.m., and I wasn't suspicious? Some reporter I am.


Winnipeg, Canada: As a follow-up to Baltimore, I think it says something about American leaders and the way the class system operates in America that the third in line to the British throne is on the front lines, while the offspring of Bush, Cheney, Clinton, Romney and a host of others take a pass.

If the war is as important as the chicken hawks say it is, why couldn't they impress on thier children the importance of serving? And if they can't make a case across the breakfast table, how can they expect to make it to the nation?

Kevin Sullivan: Britain, like America, has a volunteer Army. Harry and William both signed up. The class question is fascinating and one that the British debate all the time--many people here argue that the British system is much more egalitarian than the American. Others think they're nuts. That's a whole different question....


Oxford, England : Kevin, Do you have a conscience? The reason for the blackout was obvious for anybody with half a brain. Obviously you have never put your life on the line otherwise you would have understood why the British media agreed to a blackout. If any British serviceman is killed either as a direct or indirect result of your action I personally hope it haunts you for the rest of your days.

Kevin Sullivan: I'm so glad you wrote. I've been getting stuff like this all day......


Chaumont, N.Y.: To: Kevin Sullivan & the editors: How do you feel about putting Prince Harry's life as well as his comrades' lives at risk for the sake of a headline?

Kevin Sullivan: see above.


Washington, D.C.: I can't understand why people don't understand that Prince Harry shouldn't be in a shooting war if the enemy knows about it (I'm not sure he should be there at all). It's not only his life that would be endangered, but those of his mates. Britain has obviously done the right thing by bringing him home when his cover was blown.

I also think the story has been overblown, but imagine it was our president's offspring. Actually, I can't imagine our president's offspring being in a shooting war, and that's not restricted to the current president.

Kevin Sullivan: That's the point, yes. It's something equivalent to a U.S. president's child being at war. Certainly there would be immense caution about reporting his whereabouts...


Washington, D.C.: Kevin,

Has Harry made any statements since it was announced he was being recalled. Speaking plainly, I assume he's pretty pissed off.

Kevin Sullivan: He hasn't had a chance yet. And being a good royal soldier, I doubt he'll ever fully express--publicly--how he feels about all this. But he did say he considered leaving the military last year when he couldn't go to Iraq. This kid clearly wants to serve. His laments about never being able to be "normal" certainly ring true, and being a solider seems to give him that chance.


Am I missing something?: What is it with the Sullivan and Washington Post haters?

You guys didn't break the story -- the Australian newspaper and the Drudge Report did! After that, what does it matter if you guys write about it? That didn't put Harry in anymore danger. Send your hate mail to right people!

Seriously, sometimes I just don't understand people.

Kevin Sullivan: Thanks, Mom.


Re Symbols: Pat Tillman wasn't royal, but his death in Afghanistan affected this country. Like Harry Windsor, he shunned the idea that he was entitled to step aside from danger. That said, because we in the U.S. and the U.K. DO, whether we believe in a monarchy or not, assign symbolic significance to the person, they do become a greater target for those who seek to make symobilic points where true military gains are more difficult. In other words, terrorists would indeed make him a priority target. The fact that he was able to do what he clearly felt his duty is admirable; all the more so since he could easily have begged off, unlike other members of the military. Once his presence was known, in this age of instant messaging, he and his fellows were at even higher risk than before. In that regard it would not be unreasonable to suggest that Drudge and the Australian paper, might be considered endangering the lives of others. As you point out though, it is hard to imagine any place in Afghanistan being truly free of risk.

Kevin Sullivan: Pat Tillman is an excellent parallel. Everyone remembers those pictures of him. If Harry were killed, it would be a major blow to millions of people here. And the bad guys have demonstrated that they understand the value of symbols.


Washington, D.C.: I have to give full credit to Drudge. He does manage to scoop other, much larger news organizations regularly. And, while I certainly wish Prince Harry no harm whatsoever, I think that he was right to disclose the fact of the prince's military service. If the young man's safety would be compromised by virtue of his birth, then he should not have sent to his assignment in the first place, press embargo or not.

Kevin Sullivan: This is a minority view in Britain, but there are those here who absolutely agree with you. The argument is that while nobody wants Harry--or anybody else--to get hurt, the damage done to press credibility is just as bad. Again, most people here disagree with you (except for the part about Drudge being a scoop machine), but you have a point.


Rhode Island: Slightly off the Harry track . . . doesn't John McCain have at least one son in the service? If he is the Republican nominee, and/or became president, do you see the same caution applying if his son were to be deployed?

Kevin Sullivan: Greetings to my old home state. On McCain's son, caution, absolutely. But some kind of nationwide media embargo that he's been assigned to Iraq? That's a stretch. I think partly it's the difference between a nation of 60 million people and one of 300 million. Britain's relative smaller size makes something like this more possible.


Arlington, Va.: Drudge really doesn't seem at fault here. If someone else broke the story, it's out there. If the Australian paper wasn't aware of the embargo, they're really not at fault, either.

This seems like a win for all -- Harry did get service and credibly used his military training, and the MoD was right to pull him so he wouldn't be a "trophy" for the Taliban.

Kevin Sullivan: The thing about Drudge is that he is publishing right into the heart of the world's biggest media machinery. I don't think a gossip item in an Australian celeb sheet has the same impact as Mr. Drudge at the height of a huge U.S. campaign season. And yes, it has been pointed out here that everybody wins: Harry served, the MOD made it happen and the press, at least in Britain, is seen to have put its own narrow interests second.


Capitol Hill: Not much fighting on the front lines. Is there?

Kevin Sullivan: Really? Who were those guys the Red Sox were visiting this week at Walter Reed?


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: I read an article online this morning that said that Harry's service in Afghanistan will put a bullseye on him back in the U.K. Do you see this as a viable threat on Prince Harry and the rest of the Royal Family?

Kevin Sullivan: No, while lots of people don't like the monarchy as a concept, people love the Queen, and I think Harry and William are also quite well-liked characters here.


Anon:"Kevin Sullivan and the editors: How do you feel about putting Prince Harry's life as well as his comrades' lives at risk for the sake of a headline?"

Come on, people. That's not fair. Their lives were already in danger, headlines or no headlines. You might as well blame Prince Harry himself for putting his own life and the lives of his comrades at risk. But he chose to go and his superior officers and his unit accepted his presence there. He did his job and now that the story is broken, he's leaving (if that hasn't happened already).

The problem here is not the reporters who reported a story --it's the fact that war exists and innocent people are killed and people accept it because this is the way we have always behaved. Put your criticism in the right place.

Kevin Sullivan: It is true that Harry knew exactly what he was getting into.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you think the outrage would be different if the N.Y. Times had outed Harry? I thought the conservative press and their supporters "supported" the troops?

Kevin Sullivan: There is already a sense here that it was the Americans who blew Harry's cover. Not a great day for the Special Relationship.


Kevin Sullivan: I think that's all we have time for. Thanks very much for all the great questions.


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