McChrystal's mystifying media ignorance
What has been most fascinating to me in the whole McChrystal implosion is the fact that he and his team thought it would be a good idea to spend days with and give unprecedented access to a writer for Rolling Stone. The article, which cost the otherwise valiant and capable soldier his job, not only showed a lack of discipline but also a stunning ignorance of the press.
In the New York Times today David Brooks has an interesting take on the cultural forces on McChrystal and Michael Hastings, the writer of the Rolling Stone profile, that led to this week's extraordinary events. There's one passage about the press that stood out.
But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.
By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.
Yes, kvetching is part of life. As Brooks points out humorously in the column, it happens all over Washington within and between institutions and their players. What I have trouble with is Brooks's intimation that McChrystal was the victim of an unscrupulous reporter bent on printing gossip and locker-room banter. When you read the entire profile, you realize that that is not the case. In fact, we learn in the Rolling Stone piece that McChrystal's history of being a little too clever goes all the way back to his days at West Point.
As any 21st century media-savvy person knows -- or ought to know -- when reporters, cameras and mics are around, measure what you say, how you say it and consider how it will be interpreted or perceived. Even people who should know make the mistake of proving that they don't. As Brooks well knows, really smart power players do their kvetching "on background" or through anonymous quotes. They'll even talk off the record if they are assured their kvetching won't end up in print.
Since at least the days of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Gen. Colin Powell during the first Gulf War, the Pentagon has groomed a cadre of military leaders wise in the ways of politics and the press. Gen. David Petraeus, tapped by President Obama to lead the flagging effort in Afghanistan, is that incredible mix of warrior and media-savvy politician. With this Rolling Stone profile, McChrystal showed one time too many that he is not.
| June 25, 2010; 8:36 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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