By: Joe Strupp
Marine Maj. Megan McClung, a public affairs officer who became the highest-ranking woman killed in Iraq when she died two weeks ago, had been escorting Oliver North and a FOX News crew through Ramadi just moments before a roadside bomb took her life, a military spokesman told E&P on Monday.
When the explosion occurred on Dec. 6, McClung was in the midst of escorting a Newsweek staffer, according to Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, a public affairs officer stationed at Camp Fallujah.
“My understanding is that Newsweek was with her at the time of the explosion, in a different vehicle,” Salas said. “She had just dropped off the Fox News crew.”
A Fox News spokesperson said she could not confirm North’s involvement, while Newsweek confirmed that its correspondent, Sarah Childress, was involved.
McClung, 34, had just left North, a Fox contributor, and his crew at the Ramadi Government Center following a 10-minute escorted drive from Camp Ramadi, a U.S. Army base there, Salas said. “It was her first and only escort with him,” Salas told E&P. “He was covering the Marines in Ramadi.” Many journalists go out without any military escort, even in dangerous areas.
Salas said McClung, who has been widely praised by former embeds since her death for her efforts to help reporters and others involved in coverage of the war, offered such escorts for a wide variety of media representatives, not just the more high-profiles such as North. “It wasn’t uncommon for her to escort different types of journalists,” Salas said. “She made her own decisions on who and where and when to escort.”
But several embed veterans from Military Reporters and Editors said broadcast outlets and more well-known journalists get public affairs escorts more often than others.
“Network crews usually get a higher profile treatment,” said James Crawley, a military reporter for MediaGeneral and president of MRE. “You want to send an officer of the ‘A-Team’ when you have Katie Couric or a network correspondent.”
Sig Christenson, a four-time Iraq embed and past MRE president, agreed. “When a celebrity is around, you are more likely to find a public affairs officer around,” he said.
But Salas countered that notion, saying that public affairs officers are needed to escort journalists for numerous reasons. He pointed out that McClung also was escorting a Newsweek correspondent, indicating that a lesser-known journalist was given such help. “There are so many factors that determine who you escort and who you don’t,” he said. “Sound and cameras require more coordination, and if you go with a smaller outlet it may be something they hadn’t covered before.”
UPDATE: Michael Fumento at his blog fumento.com, points out that North wrote about the major’s death in a Dec. 8 syndicated column, not identifying her at the time as news had not yet come out. North wrote:”A proffered hot cup of coffee was gratefully accepted as the Major helped us load our backpacks, camera gear and satellite broadcast equipment aboard a dust-encrusted Humvee. Just hours later, this widely respected and much admired Marine officer and two brave U.S. Army soldiers were dead, killed by an IED — an improvised explosive device — the insidious weapon of choice for terrorists in Iraq.”
Related E&P Stories:
—Marine Officer in Iraq Killed — While Escorting Journalists
—YOUR NIGHTLY ‘E&P’ VIDEO: Tribute to Marine Officer in Iraq Who Died Helping Journalists — Music by Lennon and Petty