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Rolling Stone magazine has got into hot water, as being widely reported today, over bad, poorly researched reporting of a supposed gang rape at a college fraternity. I personally experienced such a case of Rolling Stone sloppy reporting some years back, when the magazine attacked the journalism school of one of the nation’s top colleges. They took quotes from the informal Q&A session following a guest lecture I gave on campus totally out of context to support the false premise of their reporter, who had it out for the college. Their story was widely picked up by other major national media, such as was the recent rape story they broke, and that Rolling Stone story could have had major reputational consequences for my organization, as the recent story did for college fraternities. The Rolling Stone’s bad reporting nearly cost my job, and only the intercession of the chairman of my board, who was a frequent skeptic of news stories, saved my position. Yet that badly reported Rolling Stone story has followed me for many years.
Rolling Stone has done some break-through reporting over the years, but their standards of cross-checking and journalistic integrity have often gone wanting, and other more diligent news media and magazine readership are wise to look more deeply into accusations made by Rolling Stone before taking their stories to the bank. .
Here’s a posting that brings bright new perspective to the recent accusation that General Caldwell called for Psy-Ops to target Congressmen visiting Afghanistan. The REAL issues may turn around what the contemporary roles of Psy-Ops and Public Affairs should be. Is it realistic to limit Public Affairs to informing, and not influencing, which has long been the dual function of public relations in the civilian world? And should Public Affairs role be limited to domestic audiences, and Psy-Ops to foreign ones? The answer to both, in the real world, appears to be “NO.”
Here’s the article: http://mountainrunner.us/2011/02/holmes_caldwell_and_rollingstone.html
I’m beginning to wonder whether we may have been taken in a bit by the Rolling Stone and a disgruntled psy-ops reserve officer. While the psy-ops folks in Afghanistan may well have been brought in to help prepare dossiers and background materials for VIP visits by senators and such, it may have been only to help, from a manpower standpoint, with the very normal and legitimate work along these lines by General Caldwell’s public affairs staff. Might the psy-ops lieutenant colonel just have been miffed to be asked to do this routine work, rather than the slight of hand stock in trade of brainwashing the enemy? I don’t know — we haven’t seen any specifics of any psychological manipulation, and the senators named have said they didn’t recall being manipulated out of their previously held convictions. The background information from other sources indicates that the role of psy-ops in the Afghanistan training command had already been minimized before these accused incidents took place. We need better-sourced information than the Rolling Stone has provided to date to believe ethical lines have been crossed by the military command. So, this jury remains out.
I was intrigued as to how McChrystal and Co. were roped into talking with the Rolling Stone. The attached link provides some thoughts. Even if McChrystal wasn’t played, as the piece suggests might be the case, I think it is plausible that his civilian new-media guru thought he could get McChrystal the sort of glamor piece Petraeus got in Vanity Fair. Civilian contractors like SOSi are probably part of the problem, conspiracy or not. I’d like to think that a professional, seasoned military PAO would have been more careful. As someone who’s been personally stung by the Rolling Stone (but not related to the military), I also have disdain for the approach and style of reporting the magazine supports.
I hate to give the Rolling Stone credit for anything, because I don’t relate to the publication, but as FAIR so correctly pointed out today, the McChrystal article was more a condemnation of the war strategy itself than of the recalcitrant General and his staff, and what FAIR characterizes as the mainstream “corporate media” failed to read, see and report that. Let’s hope the Congressional approval process for Petraeus brings that failed war strategy into the light of day.
Media Missing the McChrystal Point
“The media firestorm over the Rolling Stone profile (6/22/10) of General Stanley McChrystal mostly missed the real point of the article, which was a damning portrait of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
“Much of the media coverage stressed the criticism and insults hurled by McChrystal and his staff at various administration figures. Some of these remarks were more substantive than others. A joke about Joe Biden (“Bite Me”) has been overblown; McChrystal and his staff seemed to be suggesting a list of possible gaffes the general might make following a speech.
“The real significance of the piece is in the criticism–voiced by soldiers in Afghanistan and military experts–of the war itself. “Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings.”
Founded in 1968, and editorially grounded in the anti-war, music culture of the 60s and 70s, Rolling Stone magazine today succeeded in perhaps putting a big nail in the coffin of the war in Afghanistan. America’s most trusted man, Walter Cronkite, famously characterized the Vietnam war as a “stalemate” in 1968, putting a nail in that coffin, though it took 7 years more to end it. Let’s hope this one ends more quickly.
But funny thing, why did it take a feature story in a magazine, much less this flimsy magazine, to bring down a commanding general, and draw America’s attention to a war gone badly wrong? Because a reporter got a lucky break when a volcano left him holed up in Paris with McChrystal and his top team, and that team sort of bonded with the outsider, and trusted him to share their angst. Why didn’t Washington know what the McChrystal-ites were saying before the Rolling Stone published it? Why did it take a crummy, sensationalist music magazine to blow the top off? I suspect Washington knew well what the complaints of the McChrystal team were, but it was the light of day they feared. The public just couldn’t handle the truth; the troops just couldn’t handle the truth, the politicos quickly surmised.
Support for the war in Afghanistan is being held together with bailing wire, and is so fragile that a feature story by a freelancer in a magazine known as an anti-war rock’n-roll sheet could tip it over and bring down one of the country’s most respected military leaders. Who says Washington is not all about optics? The only rationale for staying in Afghanistan with the intensity we do is maintaining the optics of competence of the leadership that keeps us there. The Rolling Stone didn’t portray distorted optics, they spoke the truth. The truth that everyone except millions of our troops and citizens hadn’t yet seen. McChrystal had to go, to put those optics back together and restore the view through rose-colored glasses, a view of a strategic, well-planned and unified U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.
But the crummy magazine has done what the nation’s leading press and elected leadership can’t — they have exposed the chaos of our failed national strategy in Afghanistan.