McChrystal, Michael Hastings and the future of war reporting

Last week, General Stanley McChrystal was fired from his position in charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan after comments he made in a magazine article. As I write it looks as though he will retire from the military altogether.

In the article written by journalist Michael Hastings for Rolling Stone, McChrystal and (in particular) his staff made a number of disparaging comments about civilian colleagues involved in the Afghan mission. More generally the article highlighted a number of contradictions and difficulties facing NATO and U.S. forces.

The story has sparked debate around a range of issues including: 

1. The coherence of the strategy in Afghanistan.

"Every aspect of the war—which is approaching its tenth year, having just superseded Vietnam as the longest in American history—is going badly. Team McChrystal’s casual insubordination reflected a war effort working against itself". George Packer, New Yorker

2. The extent to which the Rolling Stone article was incidental to the problems facing McChrystal in Afghanistan.

"Sacked US General Stanley McChrystal issued a devastatingly critical assessment of the war against a "resilient and growing insurgency" just days before being forced out. Using confidential military documents copies of which have been seen by the IoS, the "runaway general" briefed defence ministers from Nato and the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) earlier this month, and warned them not to expect any progress in the next six months." Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady, Independent on Sunday.

3. The impact on the relationship between the military and the media.

From the optimistic…

"[Admiral Mike] Mullen, told military and civilian audiences that he hopes that the episode won’t lead the military to hunker down. He told a gathering of U.S. embassy staffers: "We need to tell our story. It needs to be done well. It needs to be told smartly. We need to learn the right lessons, not the wrong ones." In a video-conference from Kabul with military and civilian officials around Afghanistan, Mullen cautioned: "Don’t overreact; don’t over-adjust. Don’t shy away from the press."" David Ignatius, Washington Post.

To the less so…

"The DoD has not officially changed agency rules with regards to the media. But it seems clear that informal military culture, which had long kept reporters at arm’s reach but had opened up considerably under Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, is quickly closing itself off in the wake of McChrystal’s downfall. That closing off, and the unusual circumstances that led to it, could be bad for the military, the media, and the Americans that both institutions are meant to serve." Max Fisher, The Atlantic.

And similar…

"The general clearly went too far. But a broader problem with incidents like these is that they encourage people in power to bite their tongues." The Economist

4. The role of military media advisors.

"Duncan Boothby, a civilian media adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was identified as the first casualty of a Rolling Stone article that portrayed the general and his advisers as mocking senior administration officials. Boothby, who reportedly helped broker access to McChrystal for the Rolling Stone magazine reporter, resigned Tuesday." Sharon Weinberger, AOL News.

5. Journalism

Including how not to break a news story (Talking Points Memo)…

…and the role of Michael Hastings himself, interviewed here on CNN: