Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal and the Media

I may torque off a few readers with this, but I'm going to agree with President Obama's decision to remove General Stanley McChrystal from command of the Afghanistan operation. The reason is simple: McChrystal was in a position of influence, which creates a higher expectation for the person in that position. To vent in front of a reporter, even in jest, is bad form and worse strategy. If he's brought up on charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for his actions, I will take no issue with McChrystal being held accountable.

Now, there's a question that I haven't seen asked by anyone else except Newsweek: Was the General on the record at the time he made the comments? This is an important question because it reveals much about the intent of the Rolling Stone reporter. If someone is on the record, that means the person being interviewed gives permission for the reporter to use his or her words in a story. If the person is off the record, the reporter is not to use the subject's words in any way, shape, or form.

Where this comes into play with the McChrystal situation is that the General should know that the UCMJ prohibits an active member in the military from criticizing the President, Vice President, and other government officials. Although it's to be assumed that unless he says otherwise, he should consider himself to be on the record, there's an expectation that the reporter use his best judgment when it comes to deciding whether something is on the record or off. Just because a source doesn't come out and say it doesn't relieve the reporter of the responsibility to use his or her best judgment.

I have to tip my hat to Newsweek for asking the question, but the response from the reporter doesn't quite address it well enough, in my opinion.

It was always clear that you were a reporter and you were, in essence, on the record? And more, the entire article was thoroughly fact-checked, yes?

Yes. It was crystal clear to me, and I was walking around with a tape recorder and a notepad in my hand three-quarters of the time. I didn’t have the Matt Drudge press hat on, but everything short of that it was pretty obvious I was a reporter writing a profile of the general for Rolling Stone. It was always very clear.

Not quite, Mr. Reporter. Just because it's clear to you doesn't mean it's clear to your subject. That's when you have to use your best judgment, even if it means your story loses some of its punch. Judging from your response, I don't get a sense that you did your job and you let your desire for a story or to push a particular point of view get in the way of being a responsible journalist.

Even if the publication you work for is Rolling Stone.

In either case, McChrystal and the reporter used bad judgment, and so far only one is losing his job, and rightly so. Now, will the other get the same punishment?

1 comment:

Cameron said...

My thought is that irregardless of whether or not I agree with substance of those remarks, there is a certain respect owed the office. It doesn't matter whether your commanding officer, or your president, or your congress critter etc is a twit or not, you attempt to have respect for the office. And in the armed forces that remains doubly so. McChrystal has every right to said opinion in private. But in public as a member of the Armed Forces in a high level position, with a reporter anywhere withing a thousand miles he was so far out of line it blows my mind! I am at the point of not trusting ANYthing that says it's a politician, I am kinda done with the whole breed. But I will attempt to remain courteous and respect the office that they do...its a thought.