By: Joe Strupp
The Cincinnati Enquirer’s “Grandma in Iraq” blog, which has been posting items from a U.S. Army public affairs officer since September, has been criticized for failing to fully disclose her military ties — and now carries a detailed description of her formal title.
Most of the items posted on the blog concern views that support the U.S. occupation in Iraq and highlight what the blogger, Public Affairs Officer Suzanne Fournier, considers to be positive events there. Recent postings have cited U.S. and Iraqi efforts at improving water, electricity, and other services, as well as building a firehouse and school facilities, and even holding a Super Bowl party.
“We had a great super bowl party here Sunday, or I should say Monday morning because kickoff occurred at 2 a.m. our time and lasted until dawn,” Fournier posted on Feb. 8. “We had some die-hard fans and football enthusiasts who had our day room all decked out for the big bash.”
But until Tuesday, the site was somewhat limited in its full disclosure of Fournier’s military ties, prompting some critics to demand more transparency. Since its launch last fall and until recently, the site has described Fournier — who is a grandmother of 15 — only as being stationed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Chris Graves, the Enquirer’s assistant managing editor/online.
Graves said some readers began to complain this week about the lack of disclosure. Meanwhile, an item on the www.tpmmuckraker.com Web site posed the question, “Should a news organization have a military flack writing for it at all? If so, shouldn’t she be explicitly identified as a public affairs officer?”
Graves agreed, and changed the description of Fournier that appears atop the opening page. It now reads, “Suzanne Fournier of Alexandria, grandmother of 15, posts from Iraq. Fournier is the Public Affairs Officer for the Gulf Region Southern District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Iraq.”
“We felt we should fully describe what her job is, she never tried to hide it,” Graves said. “She has blogged about what her role is.”
Fournier, meanwhile, offered her own explanation in the blog on Monday and addressed the recent criticism.
“Let me take one minute to address a question that was raised today regarding my blog. I work for the US Army Corps of Engineers, they pay my salary and I volunteered to come over here as their employee to officially represent and communicate Iraq reconstruction work completed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“This blog is done on my own time, I’ve tried to give you a personal view of what I’ve observed here, the people, the land and reconstruction activities. Apparently some people are unhappy that I am communicating with you directly, because they are challenging that I haven’t informed you that I am a public affairs officer and my job is to work with the news media and American public.
“I’ve explained my job with the Corps several times in my blogs. If I have misled anyone, I sincerely apologize, that was clearly not my intent. I believe the American taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being invested in Iraq and I believe my current job puts me in a unique position to provide personal observations since I have traveled the Southern provinces of Iraq for the past eight months.”
Graves also opened up the blog to accept comments from any online reader. Previously, it had been limited only to those who had registered with the blog. Comments posted since then have ranged from supportive to those accusing the paper of propaganda.
“You have an EXCEPTIONALLY good blog, incredibly interesting and more in-depth reporting than anything you get on the network news,” wrote one reader, while another opined, “The fact that you didn’t disclose you worked for the U.S. military is sad, pathetic and unsurprising.”
Then there’s the reader who wrote, “The sad part is I’m not very surprised to learn that the Pentagon is planting propaganda in our newspapers.”
Graves declined to say why the blog had been started or how Fournier had been recruited for the position, noting it had started under her predecessor, Dave Heller, who is now with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Calls to Heller, Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan and James Jackson, the paper’s vice president/online, were not immediately returned. E&P also e-mailed Fournier in Iraq, but has yet to receive a response.