Rolling Stone's Afghan grenade
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; 9:43 AM
I spoke briefly to Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings on Tuesday morning, hours after his story about Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal broke, and he assured me from Kandahar that he had tried his best to be accurate -- and had much of what the general said on tape and in detailed notes.
Then he asked me what the reaction was back here. He seemed surprised when I told him that it was dominating the media coverage and that no one seemed to be talking about anything else. He had lit the fuse on one heckuva political bombshell.
When I first heard about the story (I've been on the road), it was through the snippets of inflammatory comments about President Obama, Vice President Biden, Richard C. Holbrooke and others. Rolling Stone didn't even have the article online, though Politico was all too happy to post a PDF file instead.
But when I sat down to read it, I found a serious, textured piece by an experienced war correspondent about the frustrations that McChrystal and his deputies feel in prosecuting such a difficult counterinsurgency. That, of course, has been overshadowed in the furor.
Within nanoseconds, the media's armchair generals issued their orders: whether or not the president should pull a Harry Truman and fire his general. And it seems their view of the war often influenced their judgment.
There was a collective "ooh" among journalists I was with when Robert Gibbs was asked about McChrystal's job and said "all options are on the table." And the raw nature of the insults -- such as McChrystal saying he doesn't want to open Holbrooke's e-mails and an aide referring to Biden as "Bite Me" -- was tailor-made for the tabloids. The New York Post has a "CIVIL WAR" headline, while the Daily News goes with "Shut Up and Fight, Stan."
Hastings, a former Newsweek correspondent, spoke to his old magazine:
Q. Did you expect this?
A. "I'm actually shocked by the response. Because usually we end up ignoring Afghanistan, so I'm quite surprised it's creating such a stir. I knew I had some decent material to work with, but I'm surprised at the level of involvement."
Q. You think that Afghanistan has fallen off the radar back home?
A. "I think it has. And I think that McChrystal and his staff feel that, too. That's part of the frustration that was vented in the story.
Q. You reported a lot of sentiments that are usually only expressed in private -- why were the general and his team so candid?