Do you know how you can tell that Stanley McChrystal is an honorable man? Because within hours of learning about the Rolling Stone piece that ultimately sealed his fate as commander in Afghanistan, he took responsibility for what he and his aides were quoted as saying and apologized. He didn’t equivocate. He didn’t blame reporter Michael Hastings. He didn’t throw his staff under the bus. And he didn’t downplay what he had done. His first instinct was the instinct of an honorable man. That’s how you can tell, when everything is stripped away, who McChrystal is at his core.
The people around him, who jokingly refer to themselves as “Team America,” need to follow their commander’s intent. Because here they go, days after the final reckoning, to Washington Post reporters to anonymously slime Hastings as unscrupulous. It’s pathetic how flimsy their case is: I was a factchecker for two publications, and no factchecker is obliged to inform a source about the slant of a piece.
People should remember what General McChrystal did after the Rolling Stone story broke. It is incredibly rare in public life for people to screw-up, admit it and apologize. McChrystal went even further in admitting he compromised the mission. We have a sex criminal named David Vitter(R-LA) still in office – though he did fire his sex criminal aid. South Carolina Governor Sanford who billed tax payers for part of the costs to rendezvous with his mistress. Republicans who deny all responsibility for trashing the economy – even complaining about being blamed. The best thing Team America could do is let it go. They’re spoiling the memory of a class act and besides, they’re wrong on the merits – Weak, Unnamed sources in the Pentagon are going after Rolling Stone.
This is bullshit. Journalism is not a game of Red Light/Green Light. There doesn’t have to be “evidence” that the comments were made on the record because it doesn’t work that way. If someone requests something to be off the record and the reporter uses it, that’s a violation, but the subject doesn’t have to say something’s on the record for it to be used. I would say that goes double for embedded journalists.
I would also point out to the “officials” in the Pentagon that Army policy on this issue is explicit. As the Army Public Affairs Handbook puts it (pdf link):
Before beginning the interview, collect your thoughts, remind yourself of the ground rules, and remember there is no such thing as “off the record.” (Bold in the original.)
The handbook also has a message for the staffers who couldn’t keep their mouths in check.
Set the ground rules with the reporter. Tell him you can talk about what your unit does, and its mission, minus details that compromise OPSEC. Remind him not to ask you to speculate about the future or answer questions outside your area of responsibility. (Stay in your lane).
In this Ezra Klein piece about David Weigel he also speaks to the modern age of communication and assuming things about privacy. On Journolist, and Dave Weigel
But over the years, Journolist grew, and as it grew, its relative exclusivity became more infamous, and its conversations became porous. The leaks never bothered me, though. What I didn’t expect was that a member of the list, or someone given access by a member of the list, would trawl through the archives to assemble a dossier of quotes from one particular member and then release them to an interested media outlet to embarrass him. But that’s what happened to David Weigel. Private e-mails were twisted into a public story.
In a column about Stanley McChrystal today, David Brooks talks about the union of electronic text, unheralded transparency, 24/7 media and a culture that has not yet settled on new rules for what is, and isn’t, private, and what is, and isn’t, newsworthy. “The exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important,” he writes.
There’s a lot of faux-intimacy on the Web. Readers like that intimacy, or at least some of them do. But it’s dangerous. A newspaper column is public, and writers treat it as such. So too is a blog. But Twitter? It’s public, but it feels, somehow, looser, safer. Facebook is less public than Twitter, and feels even more intimate. A private e-mail list is not public, but it is electronically archived text, and it is protected only by a password field and the good will of the members. It’s easy to talk as if it’s private without considering the possibility, unlikely as it is, that it will one day become public, and that some ambitious gossip reporters will dig through it for an exposure story. And because that possibility doesn’t feel fully real, people still talk like it’s private and then get burned if it goes public.
Weigel got a bad deal, but considering that he was at WaPo and was a conservative willing to tell the truth conservatives, he had to know that the granite counter-top watchers would be out to get him. Insult Sludge Drudge? What was he thinking. Toilet Training and Jeffrey Goldberg
Dave Weigel is leaving The Washington Post over private e-mails mocking conservative figures. I find it really extraordinary that a news organization would let such a talented reporter go not because of any kind of professional misconduct but because someone leaked private correspondence in a deliberate effort to make Weigel look bad. If no one in The Washington Post newsroom has ever made a contemptuous joke about Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton, I’ll eat my laptop with mambo sauce. On second thought, never mind — calling Hillary Clinton a bitch as part of The Washington Post’s journalistic product is not grounds for firing at The Washington Post.
Of all the reactions to Weigel leaving the Post, I found Jeffrey Goldberg’s to be the most revealing:
I gave my friend the answer he already knew: The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training. This little episode today is proof of this. But it is also proof that some people at the Post (where I worked, briefly, 20 years ago) still know the difference between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, and that maybe this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.
This is an extraordinary statement from someone who touted a nonexistent link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
Weigel’s departure has given the Right the opportunity to drag out the flea ridden canard the WaPo is a hot bed of liberalism. This is the same WaPo where torture aficionado Marc Thiessen writes. He does not just do rabidly partisan, Thiessen’s lies are printed with regularity and are unchecked by any editor concerned about the paper’s veracity. Bill Kristol also camps out at WaPo. Where Bill continues the discombobulation of reality that he had perpetuated at the NYT, The Weakly Standard and Fox News.