Prince Harry and the Secret Kept by Fleet Street
It really brings about a whole new respect however, for the British media, who are known all over the world for their cutthroat approach to stories and their unrelenting pursuit of high profile subjects. But they kept quiet about Prince Harry, and effectively did him a great service, while he was doing a great service to his country overseas.
Every morning for 10 weeks, Bob Satchwell typed the words “Prince Harry” and “Afghanistan” into Google, and every morning, the top result was the same: “Prince Harry Is Forbidden To Fight Alongside Soldiers In Afghanistan.
Mr. Satchwell was relieved; as the executive director of the Society of Editors in Britain, he had brokered a top-secret agreement to keep the prince’s presence in Afghanistan out of the cutthroat British papers and off the airwaves to reduce the chances that the prince or his fellow soldiers would become special targets of enemy fighters.
On Thursday, the war zone deployment of Britain’s most prominent military man finally entered the public’s consciousness when Matt Drudge plastered the secret in an oversize font on his popular Web site, The Drudge Report. Alerted by a colleague, Mr. Satchwell immediately called Col. Ben Bathurst, a ministry spokesman, and said the press blackout could not hold any longer. “You’ve now got a matter of minutes — not hours — to get a statement ready and look after the security issues,” Mr. Satchwell recalled telling Colonel Bathurst.
The Defense Ministry announced Friday that Prince Harry, the third in line to the British throne, would have to come home from Afghanistan because it was too risky for him to stay there.
In a statement, the ministry said that although Prince Harry had been expected to remain in Afghanistan for a few more weeks with his unit from the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, “the situation has now clearly changed.”
Today’s media are widely perceived to be cutthroat, sensationalistic and anti-authoritarian, yet hundreds of journalists, including those in London’s rabid tabloid culture, kept the deployment secret for close to three months.
“Newspapers and broadcasts can behave themselves better than people think they can when a security situation is involved,” said Tony Maddox, the executive vice president and managing editor of CNN International, which observed the blackout.
Of course, now that the secret is out, the media can flex their 'Harry' muscles once more.
British reporters unleashed into the public domain all the material they had been saving for later: interviews and video scenes of him discussing his deployment, wearing fatigues and firing his machine gun.
In interviews, Prince Harry revealed that he had not washed in four days and that he was enjoying a life of semi-normalcy among regular soldiers.
Describing how he felt when he learned he was to be sent to Afghanistan, he said, “A bit of excitement, a bit of ‘phew,’ finally, get the chance to
actually do the soldiering that I wanted to do ever since I joined, really.”
Chris Horrie, an author who has written extensively about British tabloids, suggested that the British public was so supportive of the press embargo in part because Prince Harry was showing a new, more responsible side. Previously, he had been a constant source of tabloid stories involving girlfriends, partying antics and marijuana use.
“This was a fantastic publicity coup for Buckingham Palace,” Mr. Horrie said.
Given the prince’s reputation, the wily British press had built a special condition into the deal: the embargo would apply only to the prince’s military role.
“If Prince Harry had managed to find a nightclub in Kabul, that news would have been acceptable to report,” Mr. Satchwell said.