The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trying to Wrap My Head Around Gen. McChrystal and Rolling Stone

In the wake of the damning publication of Michael Hasting's profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone magazine, America's top military man in Afghanistan had no choice but to tender his resignation.

Something still doesn't sit quite right with me about this situation, though. Upon reading through Hasting's "The Runaway General," I was left with more questions about the author and his work as a journalist than the leadership and candor of one of our nation’s top military minds.

Though the smoke is starting to clear and President Barack Obama has asked for Gen. David Petraeus to take over in Afghanistan, I still cannot comprehend the genesis of the Rolling Stone article.

A New York Times blog posting claims that Hastings may have inadvertently gained such in-depth access to McChrystal camp thanks to the Iceland volcano eruption that shut down the skies over Europe earlier this year, and Rolling Stone claims that all of Hastings' interactions with McChrystal were clearly on the record.

Unfortunately, even if more stringent ground rules were discussed for Hasting's profile of the general, nothing is ever really "off the record." Perhaps this is something of which McChrystal's inner circle should have been more cognizant. Nevertheless, to me, many of the frustrated quotes from "Runaway General" seemed to be water cooler chatter taken out of context and used to exemplify the author's personal feelings about counterinsurgency operations and the war in Afghanistan.

I cannot take anything away from Hastings for agreeing to cover Afghanistan, where he remains today, or from his unwillingness to pander to his subject in the interest of future access. However, I'm certainly concerned about the lens through which he's portraying the war. Vanity Fair labeled Hastings as a "a perfect specimen of the new breed of journalist-commentator," which, to me, sounds dangerous. Journalist-commentators (read: Pundits) blur the lines between objective news reporting and subjective news commentary, sullying the public discourse on critical issues like the current wars. For example, many Americans today do not differentiate between the opinionated punditry of commentators like Glenn Beck and the dispassionate reporting of anchors like Shepard Smith, consuming both as objective sources of information.

Next, McChrystal and his team chose to speak with Rolling Stone--the same mouthpiece that has used its pages over the years to stew conspiracy theories over 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush Administration, the pharmaceutical industry, and so on, seamlessly interspersed with the latest exploits of Lil Wayne and Lady Gaga. To me, it seems highly unlikely that McChrystal's public affairs staff would agree to such a no-holds-barred exposé. Was McChrystal's staff fully aware of Hastings' intentions or his past body of work?

Given my prior experience working in military public affairs, I first thought someone along the way could have been duped. After all, Hastings was a freelance writer who had yet to publish anything in Rolling Stone. Unfortunately, Hastings is an easy man on whom to do your homework. He maintains a regular blog for the Entrepreneurial News Network True/Slant, where he regularly showcases his filters as a journalist. Though quick Web searches pop up with Hastings' work for traditional, reputable publications like Newsweek and the Washington Post, readers can also easily find Hastings' musings on why he chose to move away from traditional media.

Finally, I've been asked whether this ousting is something McChrystal actually sought all along. Was he so frustrated by the constraints of his position that he welcomed the abrupt, inglorious end to his military career?

Again, it doesn't make much sense. Gen. McChrystal will probably now be reassigned until he quietly retires in the not-so-distant future, leaving the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan to his successor. But bowing out like this would be a highly uncharacteristic move for a military man who has served with valor for more than 30 years--a soldier's soldier who many say was capable of establishing a rapport with the greenest of troops and the most seasoned veterans; a man who brought credibility to his post and instilled confidence in those he was tasked to lead. He was a Ranger, a Green Beret--the man was even instrumental in tracking down and killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (I don’t really care that he closed the Burger King in Bagram). To me, it seems highly unlikely that he would ever simply quit--never mind quit so publicly and controversially.

I guess we'll see what develops in the coming days and weeks, as we learn more about Michael Hastings, the interview and Gen. McChrystal's intentions.

I remain confident in our mission in Afghanistan and I'm certain that Gen. Petreaus will be able to prosecute the war effectively. For now, though, I think I'll continue to beat my head against a brick wall asking myself how this could ever happen to a leader like Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

This is just my opinion and I'm still quite confused. What are your thoughts? Please share your comments below.

(Photo: Gen. Stanley McChrystal speaks with U.S. Army Capt. Joey Nickel during a foot patrol through Muqur District in Afghanistan's Badghis province earlier this month. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O'Donald, released.)

Bookmark and Share


  1. I must say that I agree with Ryan. Putting all my personal feelings of media aside, i think there is a very fine line in what you hear and what you report when given that type of access to a man who is literally responsible for 10's of thousands of lives. I really believe that after a certain amount of such candid time with the general and his staff that they probably just forgot to preface many statements as "off the record." I think that regardless of the portrait Hastings painted of the lifestyle these men lead, we all must remember they to are human and are working under stress most of us will never experience. Please tell me that you honestly believe that other leaders of the military and nation do not say inappropriate things about one another on occasion. We are human and can not be expected to be perfect. I wonder how much of the "real" story Hastings failed to share with this country. Access like that is few and far between and sadly I think it was wasted. I guess only time will tell.
    Just my personal opinion.