Monday, April 19, 2010

To Michael Yon: Thank you!

Thank you, Mr. Yon! There is an old saying that 'any publicity is good publicity," and today YOU have lots of publicity. YOU have become the big story on major milblogs, and honestly, I DO thank you.

I don't know you at all, unlike the writers on most of the other milblogs weighing in about you today. I also am not a military veteran nor married to, nor the parent of, anyone in the military, in this current GWOT. I have never been an embedded reporter in a war zone. I also have to confess that up until recently I was not that familiar with your work as a 'journalist' in the sandbox. I therefore had no idea of your previous history with embeds (and disembeds.) *gasp*

I have, however, been following you on FaceBook for quite some time, and I have to tell you that what I have seen you write lately has really disturbed me. Still, I thank you sincerely, because reading your posts, and watching the reactions of your readers, has caused me to examine why I do what I do.. Really.

Let me be clear: I AM a 'qualified' journalist (I have the 'training' and graduation papers from 'j' school to prove it,) although I will never work in msm. That is a choice I make, and one I do not regret.

I am a registered milblogger, although I will never have the numbers of readers that you, or any of the major milbloggers have. And I am fine with that. For me, what I do is about service to our troops - and their families.

All that preamble by way of telling you, I really DO sympathise with you. I understand how heady it is to have loyal readers waiting for your every utterance, as your readers apparently do
on FaceBook. I totally understand the pressure to produce - been there, done that - both in the msm and online. I vividly remember my first ever professional byline in the msm. I was thrilled, and basked in the positive feedback my readers sent. That is, until another piece I wrote got readers royally pissed off, and I was insulted mercilessly. Readers were ugly.

I also know how gratifying it can be to have support from around the globe. I wrote a weekly online column for over two years, and every week my work was read globally, and shared in many places; every week I got emails from readers and places I have never heard of, praising my efforts. Heady stuff, indeed.

Then I started writing on a US military blog and the rules changed, my perspective needed adjustment. No longer was it prudent for me to write everything I knew, or thought I knew. Early on, I got rude and threatening emails from readers (mostly anti-military, of course, and proving their ignorance of matters military with every threat towards me.) I was horrified at how vicious they were and, much later, when I actually shared that with a US army officer who I respect enormously (no name dropping from, his words were something along the lines of 'if you are pissing people off, you must be doing something right.'

YOU have now pissed a lot of people off - people I respect, both for their service in our military, and for what they continue to contribute in service to their countries. You, of course, can throw back my previous comment that you 'must be doing something right', but in this instance, I have to disagree. On Blackfive, here and here, these two columns have initiated a public discussion on what the role of an embed should be. One, Uncle Jimbo is, like you, a veteran. The other writer, Laughing Wolf, has done embeds with our troops. Their words carry great weight with me because they have both been there, done that. That they have issue with your recent work reinforced conclusions I had come to independently. But I thank you, because I believe this is a necessary debate, and your recent work has prompted this.

I cannot speak with the same military-based authority as B5 writers bring to the table. Nor can I even begin to match the experiences of other veterans - including here and here - who are today speaking publicly on the reasons and history behind your recent, fourth, disembed.

What I can, and do, speak from, is my own experiences, both as an observer of our military and a long time troop( and military family) supporter, and as a journalist (a fact that not too many hold against me.) I also was raised in a military environment. 'Brat' for a reason, over here.

Honestly, Michael, what were you thinking when you publicly posted a US General's email address? Were you thinking at all? Pardon me, but that was inexcusable, truly it was. Did you not think that your readers would then email that General? One of your loyal readers did, indeed, post that she had written that General to 'give him a piece of [her]mind'! I am no military strategist, as is well known, but surely that General has more important things to do in a war zone, than to deal with an inbox flooded by upset Americans, telling him how to run the war? You followed that up later by sharing the name and info about a Canadian military officer. Again, to my way of thinking, inexcusable. Why would you do these things? I don't need to rehash all the times you have shared 'up to the minute' info and opinions to keep your readers in the loop. What happened to 'need to know,' as it relates to the safety of our troops?

Early on in my miblogging I came up with a very simple philosophy that has served me well ever since. It goes something like this: Do I need to share what I know, and who does it serve? A few times, I have quoted active duty and veterans' comments to me from private conversations, but always with their expressly given permission, and NEVER with their names and locations if they are in the sandbox. I don't know what the rules are in war reporting (they didn't cover that in 'j' school,) but good grief, surely common sense and OPSEC should prevail, especially for a military veteran such as yourself.

You recently based a whole post on what I saw as casual comments from two Canadian soldiers. You used their opinions about a Canadian General to further lend credence to your public bashing of this Canadian General, and to confirm for all your readers that you were right in calling for this General's removal from his duty in the sandbox. Again, who did that serve? Did those Canadian soldiers give you permission to use words that they maybe had no idea would end up on a public forum? Surely, a world traveller also knows that within ANY organisation, there will be at least one or two who will (maybe momentarily) disagree with the superiors' views? But the way you wrote it up, we are now led to think that the Canadian troops have no faith in their commanders. I can tell you that is not the case, as I got more than a few private messages telling me the opposite. But to your regular readers, not only is the Canadian General incompetent, and should be relieved of his command, but the regular troops agree with your less than flattering portrayals of him.

And what is it with your need to continuously, and belligerently, rail against that Canadian General? Or the US' McChrystal, for that matter? Yes, we all get that you have access to General Petraeus and SecDef Gates, because you told us so. All well and good, but at least base your public rants on FACTS. It was proved, definitively enough for me, that you were/are wrong in the 'facts' as you presented them about a specific incident (involving a bridge,) and the Canadian General's part in that. Even if you had been right, who did it serve to share a blow by blow account on a public forum of your communications/demands, up and down the Canadian and American chains of command? From where I sit, mostly what it served was to really upset and worry those military families who read you, and who - because of your presentation of NON facts - now feel that their loved ones are in even graver danger because of the declared ineptitude of their commanders on the ground. Was that your goal? What were you thinking?

Someone else who knows you better than I, a mere reader of your words, also has interesting insights on how you have been conducting yourself in a war zone. In the comments on one of the B5 posts, Huntress says, in part:

Huntress said...

FINALLY someone OTHER than me has had the guts to call out Mike Yon on his BS.

I spent two weeks on twitter and wrote 3 pieces on my blog about Yon's LIES about Canadian BG General Menard and the Canadian troops.

Some of you know that Mike and I have been very close for many years, I spent time with him in Seattle, when he researching background for his first book after returning from Iraq in early 2006, prior to him leaving for AFG on a non embed trip;I spoke to Mike daily, not just during 2006 when he was stateside, but also when he was traveling in SE Asia prior to returning to Iraq in late 2006/early 2007 - he emailed me daily and also called me frequently from Iraq during 2007 and 2008, and I often edited many of his dispatches in spite of Yon having some one on his payroll who was paid to do that.

Several months ago Mike wrote me from AFG and said some ugly and disparaging things about Canadian troops, and we had a full blown email fight. Full disclosure: I am Canadian. I am also American. I have dual citizenship, and unlike Mike, I know many of the Canadian troops on a personal level.

And I know when Mike is not being intellectually honest.

He finally revealed what was really bugging him in that email "conversation". Mike Yon did NOT like that the US troops where under the command of the Canadians in that AO because Canada was not extending its commitment beyond 2011. Bear in mind, Canada extended its commitment 2 other times. Yon felt if Canada was going to be "cowardly", and abandon the mission & not extend beyond 2011 - they should go home now and leave the war to the real soldiers.

THOSE were HIS words. It effectively terminated my friendship with him.

So 2 months later when he started up on Facebook/Twitter with his LIES about BG Menard, and his INSULTS of the Canadian troops - I counter attacked by exposing his intellectual dishonesty and lies on twitter and facebook.

Yon banned me from commenting on his FB "fan page" because people started to "hear" what I was saying and wanted to know more -- some were his sycophants demanding for me to prove Mike was lying about Menard and demanded to know why he would do so - when I identified WHO was in fact the Commander responsible for "Bridge fiasco" - and began to share parts of the email conversation, and backed it up with links to dispatches on HIS site that substantiated what I was saying--- and offered more proof - he banned me and began a campaign to delete the comments I had written. Several others noticed this and began to question his integrity and he banned them.


It appears that many within the US Military & understandably the Canadian Military were angered for the same reasons as I and had expressed that to McChrystal. Trust me - it did not bode well for the US Military that someone who Petraeus had endorsed was disparaging, lying, and mercilessly attacking the Canadian military. We have been a very important part of NATO in Afghanistan and have suffered many losses. I also explained in my email to McChrystal that Mike was angered about Canadian's decision not to extend beyond 2011 and that some of this anger had prompted his vitriolic unfounded attack on BG Menard.

Several Canadian bloggers who had in fact embedded with Canadian troops were FURIOUS--- and one Canadian in particular even called Mike out on his lack of knowledge about many details in the AO Mike was reporting from - especially evident in Yon's so called "apology" to BG Menard ( it was NOT an apology at all) that appeared on Big Hollywood and Big Government.


Yon wrote that piece after all attempts failed at getting his embed reinstated throughout 2006. He figured he could bully the Military into re instating it by sending them a message " Either you're with me or against me - and if you're against me I will destroy you". Honestly - that's exactly what he told me as the purpose of "Censoring Iraq".


Yon's work used to serve the greater good - it now only serves himself.

Yon is no longer in this for the troops, he's in it for himself.

(here - and yes, I DO have her express permission to quote her.)

Pretty harsh words, and is her last comment what you really want your legacy to be? Surely, with this excerpt, and all that the major milbloggers have detailed today, it might be time, Michael, to step back, and assess what you are doing. As a writer myself, I can tell you, stepping back to regain a distance, objectivity, is a very necessary process.

When I tried on FB to question your constant harangues of Menard, I was dismissed as a defensive nationialist, upset that you were targetting a Canadian officer. As I said there, my response to your work has less than zero to do with nationalism for any country. I DO have official dual citizenship, and unofficial citizenship of the heart to a third (my regular readers know which that

Fact is, the GWOT is global, being fought by a coalition of thirty plus countries. EVERY country has their treasure committed to this fight we are all in, and for someone like you, in such a priviledged position of access, to publicly denigrate and berate ANY coalition commander, serves NOBODY, except maybe the terrorist enemies, as another commenter on B5 so rightly pointed out. I don't doubt for one minute your commitment to filling in the gaps in the information war that the msm chooses to ignore.. I do not question for one second your patriotism, nor your loyalty to our troops on the ground.

Because I don't know you, I can't be as harsh as Huntress, or as eloquent as any of the military writers.. I can ask you to please take the time to ponder what ALL of them have shared this day. Yes, if it was one dissenter, you could - perhaps - dismiss their opinions as unwarranted, but a smart man such as yourself, must surely recognise there is a larger problem, a pattern of concern.

Bottom line is, this is a long war, and we need everyone on task to see it through to victory. Yes, I WILL call for a victory, even as our current POTUS can't find that word in his lexicon.

Just as loose cannons in the sandbox are dangerous so, too, are loose cannons within the media - any form of that media. Fact is, this war is not about any one individual. It is not about you, (really, it isn't) or me, or who we know or may not know. For me, it is about how best any of us may serve the common goal of supporting our troops - no matter what flag they serve - as they fight their way to victory against a pernicious, brutal enemy.

I started off by thanking you. I thank you for the reminder that words, do indeed, have great power. As a writer, I am always aware of the huge responsibility I have. We can all write anything we please, since we do still, for now, enjoy freedom of speech. BUT I would remind you that with that freedom comes a responsibility to use our words wisely. In a war, especially, that responsibility is even more urgent. I remember my WW2 military family members constantly reminding us that "loose lips sink ships." And so it is. In this war, unlike any other with the instant access to information/facts, and opinions, grave harm can befall our troops if we do not carefully measure the impact of our words. Just as you have a loyal American readership, I am SURE that the terrorists also enjoy your work, but for very different reasons. Early on in my milblogging careeer, I was lambasted vigorously for wishing for the days of WW2 censorship of the msm. We live in different times now, and it is imperative - at least for the safety of our troops - to self censor what we feel compelled to share in the public domain.

Everybody I have read today acknowledges what excellent work you have done, and I add my thanks to the chorus. We need you, Michael, to write the stories you became famous and respected for.

Thank you, sincerely, both for your service in the military and for the important voice you are out there for the troops in the sandbox. Please listen to what your contemporaries in the military have been saying to you, and ponder the question I always ask: Who does it serve to share what I know?

Stay safe out there...

That is all.


Greta Perry said...

You are a gifted writer and I appreciated your well thought responses. Hooah!

Anonymous said...

I have been following Yon on Facebook for some time and have been sad to see him change his reporting in such a negative way. What a shame and waste of a great talent.


DangerGirl said...

Here's Michael Yon's response to your kind supportive and respectful attempt at an intervention. It's posted on his Facebook page -- of course-- in response to the love letter-- errr "Defense of Michael Yon - An Open Letter to Milbloggers" written by Herschel, which he also posted on his Facebook page.

The Captain's Journal » In Defense of Michael Yon: An Open Letter to Milbloggers
You can read Hershel's piece attacking the milblog community in its entirety but here's Yon's response:

Michael Yon
Herschel Smith sent a kind email.
Thank you, Herschel,

Bottom line questions: How many milbloggers who were not on active duty (hence sent to the war as a troop) have spent more than a year in the wars? I know of zero. Does one exist? The milblogging community is largely a hurricane of hot air.

There are some ...good and responsible writers working milblogs but most of them are LESS ACCURATE than the MSM they oppose.

Please name the top five milblogs -- and one person from each -- who has spent a year (less than 15% of the war) as a civilian journalist/writer inIraq/Afghanistan.
Start with and Blackfive.

People who are seriously tracking the war seriously don't track these guys

Michael Yon

Anonymous said...

That he can relay the experience of war with beautiful photos and narration to such an extent that the connection to his followers transports them there is a gift.

HOWEVER, his strange inability to roll with the cards life deals you (losing embed, unable to travel because of bridge, losing embed (again), asked questions at an airport, etc.) and instead reacting with anger and vengeance that has more than once painted him into a corner that he is unable to extract himself from with any integrity is disturbing. This appears to be his achilles heel. He can't seem to reel himself in despite all the words of advice written in every tone ranging from subtle to blunt. Your manner, Aunty Brat, was respectful, constructive and compelling.

Kind Regards,

Cass said...

That was a very eloquent, classy piece, nicely done. I had issues with Mike when he wrote that Afghanistan doesn't matter anymore, right after he lost the embed. I stated flat out that since he slapped us in the face, I could no longer support him. My husband is there on his perpetual tour, and I've supported Mike since he started in Iraq, I took issue with that, and have yet to receive a response from him. Sad to see this go on, and I still respect him and his work. But there really is a time to say "I'm wrong", and there's nothing wrong with that, everyone has to at times. I hope he understands this some day.