Pentagon official: “Rolling Stone” made McChrystal’s staff think they were speaking off the record

posted at 8:31 pm on June 25, 2010 by Allahpundit

For the second time today, a vivid reminder that when a scoop is big enough, nothing is truly “off the record.”

They contend that the magazine inaccurately depicted the attribution ground rules for the interviews.

“Many of the sessions were off-the-record and intended to give [reporter Michael Hastings] a sense” of how McChrystal’s team operated, according to a senior military official. The command’s own review of events, the official said, gleaned “no evidence to suggest” that any of the “salacious political quotes” in the article were made during a series of on-the-record and background interviews Hastings conducted with McChrystal and others…

In an interview with this week, Bates said that the Kabul command was forewarned about the article and offered “absolutely” no push-back…

But 30 questions that a Rolling Stone fact-checker posed in a memo e-mailed last week to McChrystal media adviser Duncan Boothby contained no hint of what became of the controversial portions of the story.

ABC’s hearing the same story, with the caveat that there was no written understanding between “Rolling Stone” and Team Mac about what was or wasn’t off the record. Here’s the list of 30 fact-checking questions that RS sent to Boothby; note his emphatic plea at the end that they not print the fact that McChrystal voted for Obama, a detail which apparently came from big Mac himself. Granted, “they thought it was off the record” is the best explanation thus far for why his staff would have been so stupid to chatter about Biden, Obama, etc, around a reporter, but that makes it only marginally less stupid. You’re going to goof on Vice President “Bite Me” with McChrystal right there and not expect someone from “Rolling Stone,” of all places, to run with it? I’m sure RS realized when they chose to print the incendiary bits that reporters from their magazine will never again be allowed within 50 feet of a soldier, but given the size of the bombshell they were sitting on and the fact that they ended up with one of the biggest scalps in the military, I’m equally sure they don’t care. Helpful rule of thumb for officers: If you’re tempted to say something “off the record” that might conceivably get your CO relieved of command, don’t say it.

Exit question one: Given the claim by RS’s managing editor that they omitted plenty of material that really was off the record, what exactly were the ground rules here? Exit question two: Should we expect any grumbling from other journalists that RS has now singlehandedly made the military afraid to talk candidly to reporters on background, or is McChrystal’s ouster a big enough score that they won’t care?

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I know I’m a bit late to this discussion but there are a few things many of you need to know. I worked with 4-stars and their staffs on both the AF and Army side for most of my 20 years. There are two types of 4-star general officers (1) complete gentlemen and (2) complete egomaniacs. The latter group tend to think that everyone they deal with is a complete idiot and will often berate those they work with in public and in the most demeaning of ways. I’ve seen it happen to others and have been the brunt of their scorn. Obviously, Gen McC is of the latter group. I have no doubt he is a brilliant man and a soldier but it is his attitude that got him in trouble. He was foolish to think that a reporter from RS would not publish anything that was said even though he held the same political views. His ego got him into trouble.
Now about a general’s staff: if you become a general staff officer (especially his aide) you are on the fast track to promotion. A generals endorsement on your effectiveness report will punch your ticket to promotion. Anything the general says, you say. Any plan the general believes in, you believe in. Therefore, the staff officers that were opening their fat mouths to the RS reporter were only repeating the General’s views. Now that Gen McC is done, their careers are over. They hitched their wagon to that star but that star has fallen from the sky.
It just astounds me that they would think a magazine that has been against the war from the beginning would allow their comments to be off the record. They got what they deserved for their stupidity.

Agent of the Cross on June 25, 2010 at 10:58 PM

This Newsweek article:

djn on June 25, 2010 at 10:26 PM


Del Dolemonte on June 25, 2010 at 10:58 PM

McChrystal deserved to get canned just for being dumb enough to trust and talk to Rolling Stone. That’s pretty freaking dumb but then he actually voted for Teleprompter Jesus.

Django on June 25, 2010 at 11:01 PM


Mason on June 25, 2010 at 11:01 PM

Do you know what depresses Obama the most about this…this came from a supporter, this is what his supporters think of him.

right2bright on June 25, 2010 at 11:39 PM

It’s like these people never saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II when they were younger.

Chief Sterns:

My record, on the record, clearly states that I have no off-the-record record. Make a record of that.

If they aren’t smart enough to know reporters aren’t to be trusted, they aren’t smart enough to run a war.

An buddy of mine who was in the Army pointed out that McChrystal’s whole organization was isolated, insular, and predicated on the “we’re special and we know best” mentality. McChrystal ran special forces, worked with special forces, and thinks he’s special. A lot of guys in those units let the Tom Clancy Rainbow Six stuff inflate their egos to the point where they’re more inept than a fatbody phase one recruit. McChrystal thought he was better than everyone else. His voting for Obama is just another indicator of that. For example, he banned FOX from TVs at his HQ – a sign he can’t tolerate ideas that disagree with his, and a sign of closed-mindedness and superiority complex that got him and his “we’re ironic hipsters calling ourselves Team America – we’re better than the stupid line troops” f*cked and out of there. Special forces don’t use the same gear, do the same job, or even bring their own gear on deployments (ask the supply Sgts who have to babysit them).

It’s elitism in the military (in this case liberal elitism), and it was killing our troops and losing the war with his political ROEs.

Good riddance.

CPL 310 on June 26, 2010 at 12:12 AM

Totally unsurprising. The things printed in that article were exactly the kind of things that a journalist might try to get people to say with a promise that he’s not looking for a quote, just wants to know your impression.

The article seemed written to put McChrystal in a bad light. Yes, it was foolish to believe juicy quotes would stay “off the record.” But it does appear that the reporter hung around the staff for an entire month, which is plenty enough time for people to get comfortable and let their guard down. It’s one thing to guard your lips during a marathon interview, another thing entirely to guard your lips for an entire month around someone who’s always around.

There Goes The Neighborhood on June 26, 2010 at 3:19 AM

…note his emphatic plea at the end that they not print the fact that McChrystal voted for Obama,

Why would they care about this unless they want to put out the idea that McChrystal was an Obama hating Tea Party Conservative.

RJL on June 26, 2010 at 4:19 AM

Is it just me or does any one else think that McChrystal actually wanted to get fired ?

These excuses about the comments being “off the record” are pretty lame.Why take a chance with some obscure interviewer from the Rolling Stones?

Is it worth the risk of openly undermining civilian leadership in public and therefore, the civilian military relationship? and that too during a war in one of the toughest terrains?

As far as AP’s exit question goes, he obviously does not understand the dynamics – India is a passive entity when it comes to Pakistan. We always “react” to terrorism from Pakistan – i have lost count of the number of terror attacks on India since the early 90’s – Bombay itself has been attacked three times by Pakistani based terrorists, during which at least hundred people died in each of the attacks.

The Bombay terrorist attacks of 2008 are all but forgotten and Obama has arm twisted Manmohan Singh into re-opening talks with Pakistan, even though the terrorist plotters in Paki military/ISI are alive and well in Pakistan and enjoy open protection.

So while Obama tries to “shore up” the civilian Government of Pakistan, the Pentagon gives the Paki military jihadi complex, billions of dollars in war machinery and aid – all of which will be used against India at a suitable time.

In short Pakistan is in a win-win situation and US is effectively encouraging this situation.

nagee76 on June 26, 2010 at 6:12 AM

I can’t really be sure why the General was fired. It seems his only crime is to have a low opinion of politicians – but surely that’s his job? He knows more than anyone that politicians are inclined to make unrealistic demands of the military, and part of his job is to acknowledge that reality and try to factor it into the planning and execution of his strategy.

If politicians were great military strategists, we wouldn’t need generals. As such, he’s at the beck and call of people who have inferior knowledge of the military situation. Given this, it behoves him to be suspicious of the people who are ordering his soldiers into harms way.

For goodness sake, would you rather he believed that all politicians are wise saints?

So lets look at the score. Rolling Stone has got him fired. They’ve undermined the President, they’ve undermined the military, and they’ve almost certainly boosted the morale of a brutal, undemocratic enemy. How has this helped make the world a better place?

DPolwarth on June 26, 2010 at 6:38 AM

Only if you’ve been living under a rock for the last 30 years would you not know that RS is about as lefty liberal as you can get. Off the record? Oh, please. If you’re that stupid, you deserve what you get.

College Prof on June 26, 2010 at 7:55 AM

McChrystal’s only fault was telling the truth about the boy king. Something the boy king simply can’t stomach. on June 26, 2010 at 8:57 AM

Could it be a fateful wonder if history records that McChrystal’s F-up allowed our military to correctly prosecute this war and ended up saving thousands of American lives?

Rovin on June 25, 2010 at 9:53 PM

Yes because Patreaus is going to have a lot more latitude to prosecute the surge now…and McChrystal’s departure highlighted the problems with the Civilian side of the equation in Afghanistan. Eikenberry and Holebrooke, and even Joe Biden need to get on the same page as the Military. They have been outed so to speak, they are being discussed in the MSM now, people are aware they are not carrying the President’s water. Obama adopted McChrystal’s strategy “The Surge” when they undermined McChrystal, they undermined Obama. There is only one Commander in Chief at a time.

This has even been called “Obama’s War” he owns it so he needs to get his civilian folks on the same page as the military, and everyone singing the same tune. Not having Joe Biden and Eikenberry going off message, and undermining the surge.

There are people on the civilian side that need replaced to SEND a message through the civilian ranks. Joe Biden just needs to butt out, and throw another super soaker party ;)

This Rolling Stone article might have actually done more good than harm for the Mission going forward…that’s weird.

Dr Evil on June 26, 2010 at 9:17 AM

I think it’s fair to say that McChrystal and his staff have never seen “ALMOST FAMOUS”.

(sing it with me!) Gonna see McChrystal on the cover… on the cover of the ROLLING STONE!

johnnyboy on June 26, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Exit question two: Should we expect any grumbling from other journalists that RS has now singlehandedly made the military afraid to talk candidly to reporters on background, or is McChrystal’s ouster a big enough score that they won’t care?

I don’t get it. Why would other journalists interested in a story on the military regard the firing of McChrystal a “big enough score” to make them happy? Anyone at any level in the military that talks to the Fifth Column Press now must be assumed to be anti-military themselves.

But I don’t disrespect all journalists enough to think that this debacle makes them all happy just because RS got a general fired. Does anyone else think that?

Jaibones on June 26, 2010 at 4:05 PM

I have a totally different take on this entire episode ! ! The rules of engagement amounted to our troops being walking targets. General McCrystal knew he was in no position to have them changed. He is a true hero and he intended his remarks to be published so as to bring this matter to light at the cost of his career and to protect the troops under his command. The new commander will not be forced to engage under the same conditions.

joeconn547 on June 26, 2010 at 4:57 PM

You know, if it means that another book like Generation Kill will never be published, I’m sorry Rolling Stone is getting a bad rap.

Black Yoshi on June 26, 2010 at 5:24 PM

It’s like these people never saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II when they were younger.

CPL 310 on June 26, 2010 at 12:12 AM

Like most other people who did, they probably spend most of their waking hours pretending they hadn’t.

Cylor on June 27, 2010 at 6:40 AM


Should we expect any grumbling from other journalists that RS has now singlehandedly made the military afraid to talk candidly to reporters on background

Hopefully ALL military should learn from this and provide “journalists” NOTHING other than official reports. If the military continues to think they can trust the media they’re stupid.

katiejane on June 27, 2010 at 1:42 PM