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And Now, The Pushback

July 7, 2010, 5:21 pm

Way late, but:

The impolitic comments that torpedoed Gen. Stan McChrystal’s career were “almost all” made by his most junior staff — men who “make tea, keep the principal on time and carry bags” — who had no reason to believe their words would end up in print, according to a staff member who was on the trip to Europe during which the comments were made.

But, boy, it’s not even all that effective as pushback. The smoking gun:

No matter who uttered the quotes, by using them, Hastings violated ground rules that public affairs personnel had established with him, said a senior military official familiar with the trip.

Aha! Excellent! I’m sure there’s evidence of this?

Neither Bates nor Hastings explained in their interviews how this squared with the fact that one of the most damaging anonymous quotes in the article, in which Jones is referred to as a “clown” by “one aide,” is preceded by the following sentence: “In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk s— about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side.” The phrase “in private” usually implies an off-the-record conversation, meaning it cannot be repeated in an article

Uh, the reporter writing “in private” is your best evidence of this? Uh, okay. No, there’s more:

“Ground rules varied as appropriate, but significant portions of the time were considered to be off the record or on background,” said Sholtis, who did not make the trip to Paris but helped coordinate Hastings’ embed with the McChrystal team when it continued in Afghanistan. “Based on my experiences in the job, I’m confident that Gen. McChrystal and his staff believed they were off the record,” Sholtis said.

So the evidence is from someone who wasn’t there and doesn’t actually know what McChrystal thought? Hmm. Anything written?

McChrystal’s traveling party of about 10 included two public affairs officials: Smith, who is ISAF’s senior public affairs officer, and Boothby. It was Boothby who was in charge of the Rolling Stone project. Smith was aware of it, but left everything up to Boothby, who did not require Hastings to sign a document covering the ground rules of his embed, as virtually all journalists who embed with ISAF units in Afghanistan must. Boothby has resigned in the wake of the Rolling Stone article.

So, no: nothing written. But there were verbal agreements! Verbal!

n Hastings’ case, all agreements were verbal. This arrangement was not unusual when reporters profiled McChrystal, said the source who was on the trip, but it appears to have left the rules open to differing interpretations, or at least to have left McChrystal’s people with no hard evidence that Hastings broke them.

Yes: no hard evidence, indeed.

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