Savannah Paper Moves Controversial Iraq Column to Op-Ed Page

By: Joe Strupp The Savannah (Ga.) Morning News plans to move a guest column by an Army commander in Iraq, which had drawn some complaints from staffers for its placement on news pages, to the Op-Ed section, Editor Susan Catron said Tuesday.

A day after the Morning News ran the first of a series of columns by Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who is deployed in Iraq overseeing the Third Infantry Division from nearby Fort Stewart, the paper decided to run future columns by Lynch on the opinion pages. "You get content, you see how it looks and you find the best place for it," Catron said about the decision. "I will sit down with our editorial page editor and we just have to nail it down."

Catron said the column drew complaints from three staffers, but support from a fourth, after it first appeared. She said only one reader weighed in on the issue, leaving a phone message that appeared to oppose the column.

Another critic who has come forward is a former Morning News military reporter, Michel Fabey, who worked for the paper in 2004 and 2005, but said he left when the paper decided not to have a staffer deploy with the Third Infantry Division after he followed the unit's preparations for several months.

"We were all set to go, a new publisher came aboard and we were told it was not going to happen," says Fabey, now with Aviation Week and Aerospace Daily. "They had allowed people to go to Afghanistan and with the Iraq invasion, but this is what we were told."

Fabey said that allowing Lynch to have a column in the news pages was not ethically proper. "A column like that, by its very nature, is going to have a point of view," Fabey said. "It is a much better Op-Ed."

Catron said the column is being run, in part, to offset the paper's decision not to send a reporter to the war-torn country, despite having soldiers from a nearby base deployed there. "Not everyone is able to send a reporter to Iraq," Catron said. She declined to comment on Fabey's direct criticism, saying she was not editor when he was at the paper.

Catron said the paper has tried unsuccessfully for a fellowship that would pay embedding costs and plans to continue to pursue alternative appoaches.

Publisher Julian Miller, who took over the paper in 2005, said he had no problem running the column on a news page or in the opinion section. "That is not an issue for me," he said. "It is clearly marked commentary." He also agreed that having a reporter in Iraq would be preferable, but said it is not affordable. "I wish we could send somebody," he said.

Miller said the idea for the column arose several weeks ago when he spoke with Lynch, who complained that the paper was not giving enough of "the other side of the story." He said the major general proposed writing a column, which Miller approved.

The column, which is expected to run every two weeks, began with Lynch espousing positive events in Iraq, claiming that improvements have occurred and that there is continued progress. Lt. Col. Randy A. Martin, public affairs officer for the Third Infantry Division, told E&P that he is the one who wrote the column, but with Lynch's views and approval.

"The commanding general is the eyes, ears and the person whose thoughts are clearly articulated in the piece," Martin said. "Nothing is ever communicated from this division without his approval. It would be na?ve to say the commanding general has the time to sit down and write a two-page article on his own."

The column included a tagline that stated Martin and another military officer had contributed to the column. "He gives me a view, he articulates what his thoughts are," Martin explained. "But they are written out and approved and submitted by me." He declined to comment on the complaints the column's placement had drawn.

Miller said he had no objection to an aide writing the column on Lynch's behalf. "Books have been written by someone else," he said. "It happens all the time. These are his thoughts."


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