Friday, June 25, 2010


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

Oh so many times we have seen cases like this, but rarely with a seasoned media communicator, not to mention the staffers who were with him when it all went down. General Stanley McChrystal was the commander of the U.S. military in Afghanistan – until this week. The fallout from his unguarded – and, apparently, well-lubricated – interviews with Rolling Stone magazine in which he was openly critical of U.S. President Barack Obama earned him a quick trip to the White House to explain himself. The Commander In Chief was steamed, and was more than happy to accept the resignation McChrystal offered, telling reporters afterward that “I welcome debate among my team, but I won’t tolerate division.” But here’s the back-story on the whole thing: freelancer Michael Hastings (who has also written for Newsweek) had been granted some face time with McChrystal in Paris to write the profile, with some follow-up time back in Afghanistan to follow. But the journalist, the General and his entourage ended up stranded together in Europe for 10 days because of the volcanic ash which disrupted air travel several weeks ago. On a road trip by bus from Paris to Berlin, Hastings says McChrystal and his aides were “drinking the whole way.” “They let loose,” he said. “I don’t blame them; they have a hard job.” True, but we all saw the end result – and the end of McChrystal’s career arc – which followed publication this week. Hastings says he wasn’t trying to set the General up, noting that McChrystal knew their conversations were for the purpose of the profile article. “Most of the time I had a tape recorder in his face or a notebook in my hand.” And that’s the whole point: even without those tools being wielded, any conversation between a spokesperson and a journalist can be fair game for reporting. Candour isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you forget that you’re always on the record and don’t choose your words accordingly, that interview could well be your last.

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