Controversial “Grandma In Iraq” Blog Ending, But Not Why You’d Think

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By: Joe Strupp

The Cincinannti Enquirer’s controversial “Grandma In Iraq” blog, which had drawn criticism because it was being written by a military spokeswoman who had not fully disclosed her identity until last week, will end, the paper’s Web site revealed.

Tom Callinan, Enquirer editor and a supporter of the blog, wrote in his own blog item this weekend that the Web page, which had posted items since last September, would stop. He said the recent controversy did not spark the shutdown, noting that the blogger, Public Affairs Officer Suzanne Fournier, was leaving the war zone.

“It appears Grandma in Iraq?s deployment is ending, so her blog will as well,” Callinan wrote on Saturday in a posting on his own blog at www.cincinnati.com. The posting offered no specifics on when the blog would stop, or further information on where Fournier would relocate. The editor went on to defend the blog, but agreed that the Web site’s failure to disclose Fournier’s public affairs link until last week was a mistake.

“Yes, we fumbled in not invasively disclaiming her role as a public relations officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and we fixed that when it was pointed out,” he wrote. “No, she wasn?t paid by us for her blog, which provided readers an inside look at her experiences over there. And she claims no superiors approved the work done on her time.

“No, there?s no cover-up in the questions about whom and how her blog originated. I?m not inclined to point fingers at the past. Whatever was done, by whomever, was well-intentioned,” he added. “It just wasn’t thought through completely and I wasn’t paying enough attention to the blog world. The bottom line is that since last summer we have reorganized responsibilities for Cincinnati.com and I am responsible for content on the site, along with Chris Graves, our online editor. I’ve been making news decisions — and taking shots for them — for 30 years now. It’s OK.

“And yes, I suspect the debate will continue about whether Cincinnati.com should have hosted her blog. If you care to continue to debate please make me the target of your venom, not Grandma ? or that public relations officer if you?d prefer to address her as such,” he wrote. “How about let?s look at our dabbling in citizen journalism from a broader perspective? We?re discussing the concept a lot these days. While The Enquirer has done some work with interactive voices online, most of our readers who care to share their views are limited to traditional platforms ? letters to the editor, story suggestions, and news releases. But as we look to the future, we?re exploring new territory.”

Callinan did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday, while Fournier has yet to respond to several E&P requests.

The existence of the blog had sparked mixed reactions both in and out of the newspaper. Some opponents contended that, even with a disclosure of her military ties, the blogger’s placement on the site shared by the newspaper gave the wrong impression of the paper’s editorial balance. Fournier tended to focus on positive elements coming out of Iraq, boasting about new school facilities, a new firehouse, road and sewer improvements, and even a Super Bowl party.

Supporters had said that it was one of the few places where readers could get a good report on the “positive” happenings in Iraq. Comments to the blog ran about even with supporters and opponents, according to editors.

Fournier’s last entry, posted on Thursday, described road improvements in one Iraqi village that were being overseen by U.S. officials. Since that posting, more than 70 comments have been sent in by readers and posted. They range from the message contending, “This blog is a sham,” to a supporter declaring, “I love this blog! You go girl!”

So far, however, Fournier, who had defended herself in several postings last week, has yet to write about the blog’s ending or her own future.


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