Portraits in Courage

By lex, on October 24th, 2008

Read this gripping tale of a UK Telegraph journalist caught in the middle of an ambush in Afghanistan:

We’ll get shot at, I guarantee you 100 per cent,” Becker, a prison officer back in the United States, had said when I had joined his unit half an hour earlier. He had a dreadful Mohican-style army haircut that made me think of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver…

There was a boom. The huge vehicle seemed to roll over and I found myself hanging upside down in the harness, with screams in my headphones and small-arms fire outside…

Crouching between the vehicles, I watched as infantrymen poured fire into the night. They had no night-vision goggles or flares, and some were standing in the beams from their vehicle headlights. Heavy machine-guns and grenade-launchers were hammering furiously in what the Americans call suppressive fire, to keep the enemy’s heads down.

The British would have regarded this level of fire as excessive, and perhaps even trigger-happy. Thousands of rounds must have been used…

“We need help out here,” one of (the National Guardsmen) told the controller in a nice safe office back at Kandahar airfield, where I wished I was. His voice was tense and once or twice he sounded on the verge of panic, although he kept it together. He snapped at the controller: “This is Easyrider. We’ve been hit. We need help…”

A sergeant switched on a night-vision camera and saw what he decided was a bunker, although God knows what it really was. He directed one of the heavy guns to fire at it. I hoped it wasn’t an Afghan family’s house…

Later in (the Public Affairs Officer’s) office, as I was drinking tea and getting sympathy from a procession of officers who turned up to see a rare survivor of a roadside bomb, I noticed a Post-it note on her desk.

It read: “Nick Meo, journalist. Killed in Action.”

Gripping stuff, wot? Edge of your seat. Orta get a Pulizter out of it.


On a dark night in the “Indian Country” of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, a small group of Americans experienced the ultimate nightmare; they lost one of their own. One man rode with them; an outsider, a “journalist” whose safety they took responsibility for and whom they delivered back to Kandahar unscathed by the event that took one of their lives and left two others injured. The work that these men do and have done for over six months has been unheralded, dirty, frustrating and dangerous. No one knows of their daily struggles, grinds, disappointments, or successes. Now this one self-important blow-hard takes it upon himself to trash their names and their actions after riding away on a helicopter meant for the wounded and dead, refusing to honor the man who gave his life that night, and congratulating himself for having been spared the emotional pain of having had even one conversation with the honored dead while he stood on earth. 

All, apparently, to cover for his own cowardice in hopping uninjured onto a MEDEVAC helicopter when he lost his nerve to stay on the ground and continue doing his job. 

“First draft of history”, indeed.

You know, journalists – whatever they may think of themselves – didn’t sign up to get shot at. There’s no particular dishonor in non-combatants bugging out when the rounds start to fly. But you’d think they’d have the common sense and humility to be just a little less condescending and sneering about those who’ve volunteered to turn to the sound of the guns, rather than flee from them.

I guess every man is the hero of his own tale.

Update: In case you think this sort of thing only happens in POME – although I know you didn’t – take a gander at this little bit ** of internally directed criticism at what passes for current journalistic ethics:

I watched with disbelief as the nation’s leading newspapers, many of whom I’d written for in the past, slowly let opinion pieces creep into the news section, and from there onto the front page.  Personal opinions and comments that, had they appeared in my stories in 1979, would have gotten my butt kicked by the nearest copy editor, were now standard operating procedure at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and soon after in almost every small town paper in the U.S…

(Nothing), nothing I’ve seen has matched the media bias on display in the current Presidential campaign.  Republicans are justifiably foaming at the mouth over the sheer one-sidedness of the press coverage of the two candidates and their running mates.  But in the last few days, even Democrats, who have been gloating over the pass – no, make that shameless support – they’ve gotten from the press, are starting to get uncomfortable as they realize that no one wins in the long run when we don’t have a free and fair press.  I was one of the first people in the traditional media to call for the firing of Dan Rather – not because of his phony story, but because he refused to admit his mistake – but, bless him, even Gunga Dan thinks the media is one-sided in this election.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not one of those people who think the media has been too hard on, say, Gov. Palin, by rushing reportorial SWAT teams to Alaska to rifle through her garbage.  This is the Big Leagues, and if she wants to suit up and take the field, then Gov. Palin better be ready to play.  The few instances where I think the press has gone too far – such as the Times reporter talking to Cindy McCain’s daughter’s MySpace friends – can easily be solved with a few newsroom smackdowns and temporary repostings to the Omaha Bureau.

No, what I object to (and I think most other Americans do as well) is the lack of equivalent hardball coverage of the other side – or worse, actively serving as attack dogs for Senators Obama and Biden. 

But it’s all for the best, see? Because if we’ve learned anything at all, it’s that we just can’t count on an informed electorate to vote in their own self-interest. They have to be led.

What with all the bitter clinging, and that.

** 08-27-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.


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Filed under Afghanistan, Best of Neptunus Lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Neptunus Lex, Politics and Culture

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