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Mother Jones on Canada’s Afghan mission: What needs to be told?

This Magazine Staff

An article in the current issue of Mother Jones magazine, a stalwart of independent media in the United States, has created something of a stir in a rural part of Nova Scotia. The story is a Canadian military doctor’s diary of one month at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, and in it is a detailed and sad account of the fight to save the life of Corporal Kevin Megeney.
Cpl. Megeney, a Canadian, died tragically on March 6 when a roommate’s rifle went off in his tent, and as the writer, Dr. Kevin Patterson, describes it: “An accident. Ten thousand soldiers who have to carry weapons in order to be served breakfast and it is bound to happen sooner or later.”
The dust-up comes in the comments following the article, in which several readers voice their anger over what they see as disrespect for the life of Cpl. Megeney. Several indicate that they are from Cpl. Megeney’s native Pictou County and that they knew the victim. They say they can’t get on with the grieving process knowing that the details of the man’s death are being made public, and admonish both the writer and Mother Jones for exacerbating the pain of Cpl. Megeney’s family.

“I cannot believe people feel the need to print this tragic yet graphic story again and again,” writes a commenter calling him/herself Pictou County Upset. “The family must be heartbroken, and thus feeling very betrayed, and to think all the while this sits in print someone is making money off it. Being ex- military nothing surprises me anymore. God Bless.”
“PATTERSON: You’re nothing more than a crude, insensative bastard,” writes Greg, Family Friend, while another commenter who signs off as Ed MacIntosh says the details in the article are a breach of patient-doctor confidentiality and indicates that he hopes the writer gets sued.
The vitriol is enough to warrant a response from Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffery, who tries in another comment to set the record straight.

I then spoke with Mrs. Megeney by phone at length. She assured me that the family would like to see the article, and that she was a nurse and would read it before any other members of her family; she said it would help to have closure to know more about what happened. We heard from other members of the family who also wanted to read it, and some whom after they did expressed the desire to write to Dr. Patterson “to express my appreciation to him for exhausting every effort to save [him].”

Is the anger shown by these readers justified? Should journalists be expected to omit details of a grisly death in a theatre of war out of respect for the dead, or is there a duty to report on the horrors of battle? The account in question is about one-sixth of the complete article, which provides a personal perspective on a mission the public has only limited access to. I encourage all to read it.

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