What McChrystral really said to Rolling Stone

David Carr, NY Times:

You could say General Stanley A. McChrystal was a victim of his own hubris – the archetypal field commander who got too intemperate with the suits back at headquarters.

Then again, you might not.

Let’s stipulate that allowing a reporter from Rolling Stone with a skeptic’s view of the war in Afghanistan unfettered access for a month was not the best career move. But those who’ve read the full piece by Michael Hastings — as opposed to just the juicy bits being tossed around cable news — might be forgiven for wondering what exactly got him whacked so quickly. Or at least, you might wonder if it has less to do with what the general said and more to do with the relentless velocity and recklessness of the modern media ecosystem.

The original piece was hijacked by other news organizations and by the end of the day Tuesday, the general was thought to have suggested that the commander-in-chief did not seem “engaged” when they met, made profane fun of the vice president’s name, called one of his fellow generals a “clown” and described the special envoy to Afghanistan as a “wounded animal.”

But if you read the piece – few people in government and media seem to have – he didn’t say those things, a bunch of unnamed and unidentified aides did, often cracking wise over cocktails with the reporter.

The general is not quoted at any length in Mr. Hasting’s piece, but from my close reading, here is what he did: said that Vice President was prone to unexpected public statements, moaned audibly when he got an incoming mail from diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and complained that the White House took a long time to review his war plan. That’s it. The rest was all atmospherics and innuendo.


David Brooks of the Times has also described the famous quotes a kevetching by his assistants, which appears to be accurate. I continue to think his biggest sin was believing there was something to be gained for the war effort and his career by allowing the Rolling Stone reporter to have a fly on the wall status. The Washington Post's Jason Horowitz says McChrystal violated Obama's sense of media management. That maybe true, but Carr has made one of the more insightful observations of the episode.


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