By: Joe Strupp
The Savannah (Ga.) Morning News sparked some controversy in its newsroom today for publishing a first-person piece by a U.S. Army commander in Iraq on the front page of its Metro section. The paper’s editor says the column will run every two weeks.
Editor Susan Catron said publishing the column by Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who is deployed with the Third Infantry Division in Iraq, was “a tough call” given that some might see it as inappropriate, especially placed on the front of the Metro section. But she said the voice of a commander in the region is worth having in a paper that serves a circulation area with some 20,000 residents linked to the military through nearby Fort Stewart Army Base.
“I’m on the fence about this, my first reaction is that we need to get this man’s view in the paper,” Catron admitted. “This is a viewpoint from someone who was there and that is how we looked at it. We will start off and see where it goes. I knew it would be controversial.”
Catron said Monday that Lynch is not paid for the column, adding that at least three newsroom staffers have complained. “They were objecting to it and there is a valued argument there,” she said, noting that one of those who objected was the paper’s military reporter, who could not immediately be reached for comment. “Our military reporter is quite concerned, and we are not finished talking about it.”
Among the gripes is that the piece ran on a news page instead of an editorial or Op-Ed page. In print it is labeled “commentary,” but online it is simply labeled as “story.” It does not make clear if Lynch wrote the entire piece, or if it was ghost written by a public affairs person. The names of two other military officials, who were unreachable by phone Monday, are listed at the bottom as having contributed to the report.
“I can’t tell if they wrote it or not,” Catron said. “As long as he mentioned that he had help.”
One staffer, requesting anonymity, passed on his objection to E&P. The staff, he wrote in an e-mail, “has argued it belongs on the opinion page, if anything. Is this appropriate for a 50,000-reader newspaper that purports to be free from government influence? Staff members feel it has undermined the newspaper’s credibility and independence.”
The column offers Lynch’s assessment of how the military is doing in Iraq, where the division has been based. He, as expected, seeks to provide a positive view of the war and the U.S. chances for success.
“Like many of the troops I command, this is a return trip to Iraq for me. I just left Iraq 10 months ago. Between then and now, I see real progress. Baghdad has more lights in the night, and electrical power seems to be more abundant. In fact, a citywide nighttime curfew recently was reduced by two hours,” he writes, in part. “There are more stores open. Traffic is returning to the streets. Commercial airplanes are flying in and out of Baghdad International Airport. These are signs that the economy is improving.
“There are more Iraqi police and Iraqi soldiers. They are better equipped and trained than 10 months ago. They have courageous young leaders,” the column adds. “Many of these Iraqi Security Forces are teamed with our 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, and a large portion of their security forces are actually operating independently under the control of their government. These are signs of progress.”
The column mentions that Lynch asked the newspaper for the opportunity to write. Catron said she was not involved in the decision to allow Lynch to pen the column, but discussed the idea with Publisher Julian Miller before it ran.
Miller could not be reached by E&P for comment.
The entire column is viewable at: http://savannahnow.com/node/258031.