The Mudville Gazette
June 25, 2010
The most offensive comments appearing in the Rolling Stone article — by what I believe were a few people of relatively low rank and limited experience with reporters — were inappropriate and deserved rebuke. They should not have been made in the presence of a reporter, regardless of the ground rules in place. But no extended exposure to staffs at any level of government could have failed to produce the kinds of comments reported in the piece: comments made not out of ingrained malice toward the Constitution, but out of a kind of sour humor that emerges under conditions of intense work and constant scrutiny. That doesn’t justify the remarks, but it puts them squarely in the realm of the forgivably human — which is to say, somewhere below the level at which senior military and civilian leaders must keep up appearances.
In the end, no unanswered questions about the quality of the article or the nature of the offense impeded a rush to judgment everywhere at once, which is fairly damning evidence of how much media have conditioned us to react before we think. The article that prompted General McChrystal’s resignation did not even hit the stands before media personalities arriving on scene with promo copies of the piece in hand decided that he had to go. It did not need to happen this way. With the rapid rise of Rolling Stone and the sudden fall of General McChrystal, journalists and public servants who consider their positions a sacred trust have made it harder for themselves to hold out against the barbarians of secrecy, superficiality or sleaze. Once we stop to breathe on this story, we need to ask ourselves why.
If you’re interested in what someone from the staff has to say about events of the past week, (and there’s none more qualified to weigh in) there’s much more at the link.
I’m reminded of what it was like to be in Iraq in 2007 (something I’m increasingly reminded of these days…) living in a tent with 40 other people, working 16+ hour days (sometimes 24+ hour days) sometimes having four hours of sleep interrupted by loud explosions… and occasionally – if I had time to eat in the DFAC – catching a CNN snippet of a sound bite from a politician back home declaring the surge had failed. The things I said in between bites of food in those instances wouldn’t surprise anyone – and wouldn’t need interpretation.
Of course, the war in Afghanistan is different from the war in Iraq. For example, one thing we knew with certainty in those uncertain times was that the big decisions wouldn’t be made in the offices of Rolling Stone.
Update: Quatto Zone has disappeared (not the first milblog that ever happened to… but I’ve got to hope that Too Rolling Stoned two doesn’t now have a second meaning) so I’ll add one more quote from that now-vanished post here:
Sometimes you can be too close to something to write about it well, so I’ll encourage you to continue reading better pieces about the resignation of General McChrystal from pros who have a good grasp of the basic situation, like David Brooks or the BBC’s John Simpson.