The fallout from the Rolling Stone article that cost General Stanley McChrystal his job has since calcified into a debate over what’s inferred when a journalist creates trust with his/her subject.
And that’s a good thing.
There’s no doubt that Gen. McChrystal is one of the few people whose arrogance actually cost him his job. More times than not arrogance bullies over objection and consequence. To be such a frat boy, giving the finger etc. trashing the Prez, McChrystal, a four star general like any CEO should have known better. But then again, whose really surprised by such boorish behavior by a general. His biggest sin was his poor gamesmanship letting the pen be mightier than the sword. So McChrystal’s behavior isn’t what stirring the pot. Instead we find ourselves deciphering the reporter Michael Hastings’ true motives and thanks to him running his mouth we’re got some clues.
He needs to learn the powerful lesson illustrated from his own Rolling Stone article and mind his words.
He starts up spewing safe journalism 101 patter that, ” I went out to try to tell the best story that I could and write what I saw, I heard and thought. And I had really no control over, you know, the aftereffects,” he told CNN’s Howard Kurtz (transcript provided). Um actually he did. He had control in choosing those volatile snippets and vignettes out of days worth notes and reams of paper. He chose to lead the article with a built up story that ends with Gen. McChrystal giving the finger, which basically set the tone for the entire article, an article that pretends to be a discussion on the counter insurgency, which apparently was why Hastings was there in the first place. For example, Hastings could have embedded himself further on the front lines of counter insurgency, capturing antidotes of the obstacles of winning “hearts and minds” as a way of converting the Afghans to US thinking.
Hastings is being disingenuous when he says, he didn’t think it was a matter of McChrystal and company letting their guard down. It’s time like these when people reduce life to a one deminsional transcript of what was said, what wasnt’; Hastings offfered this: “I mean, it’s not much of a mystery. If someone tells you something is off the record, I don’t print it.” …. but back to real 3-D life, actions speaks louder than words and if you are with a bunch of people and the conversation turns into bull session and some volatile stuff starts flying you as a reporter know right then that the quotes are verbal plastic explosives. Right there, I believe is the true test of character. Should you stash it away like a sneak and go back and try to illicit more goods from aids to brace the juicy quotes you now know will make some hot type? You know right there that your subject’s guard is down. Is this all kind of chess game, or contest where you take advantages of loop holes? Or do you inject a little bit of honor and remind the General that the record is rolling here. If the general really didn’t care than he’d just shrug him off. But Hastings didn’t say anything …. why … because he wanted to keep the good quotes flowing.
Again much is revealed in Rolling Stones actions or their non actions to include any of the damning material in their 30 fact checking questions sent to the brass, obtained by the Washington Post. In addition, Hastings reveal his philosophy in his interview with CNN when an article he penned for GQ Magazine displays his demeanor and perhaps his objectives. “You pretend to be friendly and non-threatening. And over time you build trust, which everyone knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editors calls for it, you’re supposed to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) them over.”
Wow. Editors have power but I didn’t know they called in hits on people. Actually reporters and editors are usually engaged in what is suppose to be a constructive power-play over stories. The reporter supplies the goods, which basically means ferreting through notes building a case with one quote followed by antedate making the outcome obvious even to an editor.
Definitely not all reporters don’t see building up trust as an illusion. I mean you can be friends with a cop, hang out, drink, but you might think about reminiscing about crimes gone by or buying drugs in the bathroom while he’s sitting there. The same with befriending a reporter. So in my book, the relationship isn’t an illusion, but it is dubious. A cop shouldn’t be making friends in hopes of catching someone and reporters shouldn’t be building trust so they can hang them by their own words.
This conundrum has certain been the gauntlet that divides the new bread of freelancers from Afghanistan beat reporters who look like Army Lackeys by failing to include McChrystal’s sored behavior in their dispatches. Witness the outrage spewing from CBS Chief Foreign Corespondent Lara Logan when challenged by Kurtz who says,” He’s suggesting that he did a job that the regular beat journalists have not done.” Logan responds with, ” I think that’s insulting and arrogant, myself. I really do, because there are very good beat reporters who have been covering these wars for years, year after year. ”
In fact Hastings article’s crass depiction contrasts the puff being so blatant offered in past profiles. When do you included, the negative, the awkward that seems to break from the paint by number profiles that we find even in the supposedly more critically thinking journals. The answer comes down to the central theme of the article. The Rolling Stone article at times seemed trapped between two places as illustrated by the cover. No not Lady Ga Ga. But the headline on the front: Obama’s General, Why he’s losing The War, which convays some analysis as the controversy that is blaring from the article’s title, “The Runaway General”
Yahoo’s Media writer, Michael Calderone made good hay with New York Times David Brooks’ criticism saying that “by putting [McChrystal’s] 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.”
The second part is beside the point and shouldn’t be of Hastings’s concern as he tweets, “David Brooks to young reporters: don’t report what you see or hear, or you might upset the powerful.”
But then Hastings couldn’t resist taking a self-righteous swipe, ” Question 2 to Mr. Brooks: how much time has he spent listening to the troops kvetch in a war zone, just askin.”
So the merits is defined by time spent on the lines? Then should Hastings be ranked against senior war correspondents, the same ones who would treat such Kvetching as off the record. Then how does Hasting’s real war experience, who gets to fly home and enjoy yapping about his time in the media, compare to the soldier?
This same privileged attitude, which let’s face it is one of the few vitriol thrills that journalist can lord over people, was put to Hastings by Logan. “I mean, the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious, that they deserved to end a career like McChrystal’s? I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has. ”
Being too close to the action doesn’t give you the entire story and you got to wonder how good is Hastings all access pass to the front is worth these days. Who knows he might find himself sitting back here with the rest of us grunts.