On Wednesday the Sun newspaper carried a report about a British colonel passing military secrets - being civilian casualty figures - to a woman he met in Afghanistan. The article - the product of two journalists' efforts, the paper's Chief Reporter and its Defence Editor - implied a relationship between the colonel and the woman he met. It is an interesting way of seeking to blacken both the motives of the officer involved, and the morals of the woman to whom he passed the information. The article also spends much time on the 'anger' of the Americans and the sensitive nature of the information passed on.
In fact, the woman in question, one Rachel Reid, is a worker for Human Rights Watch in Afghanistan, who met he Colonel only twice. She writes a fascinating piece for the Guardian today, defending her actions, and asking why the Sun - and its informant for their article, the Ministry of Defence - should have sought to drag her reputation through the mud, concocting false allegations about her. She says,
"Living in Afghanistan, where democracy, a free media, freedom of information and freedom of expression are still a faraway dream, I have developed a deep appreciation of the freedoms I grew up believing I had in Britain. I expect better from my own government and from the British media that I used to be a part of."
It is an eye-opener of a story. A reminder, again, that too much of what appears in our newspapers - and on our television screens - is merely a partial truth, and sometimes even worse, a deliberately manufactured innuendo. For reporters, the best of whom spend huge amounts of time sifting through sources and searching for stories to illuminate the world we live in, the behaviour of the Sun's willing dupes is surely utterly reprehensible, an action that degrades what is in essence a genuinely noble calling. For the rest of us, we realise that truth comes at a premium, and that we should always have our eyes wide open. And if you think this is a one-off example of poor reporting, or perhaps deliberate bias, then go to Nick Davies' website, Flat Earth News, for more comprehensive coverage of both deliberate and accidental media distortion.