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Gen. McChrystal allies, Rolling Stone disagree over article's ground rules

President Obama removes McChrystal as commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday after remarks he made in a magazine interview about top administration officials.

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By Karen DeYoung and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2010

It was 2:30 Tuesday morning in Kabul, after a busy day of travel to Kandahar and meetings with top Afghan officials, when Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was awakened by an aide with grim news.

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"There's a Rolling Stone article out," the aide told McChrystal. "It's very, very bad."

Forty hours later, McChrystal had been relieved of his command, his 34-year military career in tatters. Apart from a terse apology, McChrystal has not discussed publicly the disparaging remarks that he and his aides made about administration officials and that appeared in the article.

On Friday, however, officials close to McChrystal began trying to salvage his reputation by asserting that the author, Michael Hastings, quoted the general and his staff in conversations that he was allowed to witness but not report. The officials also challenged a statement by Rolling Stone's executive editor that the magazine had thoroughly reviewed the story with McChrystal's staff ahead of publication.

The executive editor, Eric Bates, denied that Hastings violated any ground rules when he wrote about the four weeks he spent, on and off, with McChrystal and his team. "A lot of things were said off the record that we didn't use," Bates said in an interview. "We abided by all the ground rules in every instance."

A senior military official insisted that "many of the sessions were off-the-record and intended to give [Hastings] a sense" of how the team operated. The command's own review of events, said the official, who was unwilling to speak on the record, found "no evidence to suggest" that any of the "salacious political quotes" in the article were made in situations in which ground rules permitted Hastings to use the material in his story.

'Clearly off the record'

A member of McChrystal's team who was present for a celebration of McChrystal's 33rd wedding anniversary at a Paris bar said it was "clearly off the record." Aides "made it very clear to Michael: 'This is private time. These are guys who don't get to see their wives a lot. This is us together. If you stay, you have to understand this is off the record,' " according to this source. In the story, the team members are portrayed as drinking heavily.

Bates said the contention that the night at the bar and other instances in which derisive comments were made about administration officials were off the record was "absolutely untrue." Hastings was traveling Friday, and an automated response from his e-mail account referred queries to Rolling Stone.

Neither McChrystal nor members of his staff have denied making any of the remarks quoted in the story, including a description of Obama as "uncomfortable and intimidated" in his first meeting with the general and a reference to national security adviser James L. Jones as a "clown."

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Thursday that the atmosphere of disrespect for civilian leaders that McChrystal apparently tolerated and participated in was grounds for dismissal regardless of the context in which the offensive comments were made or who made them.

A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Air Force Lt. Col. Edward T. Sholtis, acknowledged that Hastings, like other reporters who have interviewed McChrystal over the past year, was not required to sign written ground rules. "We typically manage ground rules on a verbal basis," Sholtis said. "We trust in the professionalism of the people we're working with."

McChrystal's headquarters first received a copy of the story shortly before midnight Monday from a wire service reporter seeking comment. After McChrystal read it, "he knew instantly, this was going to be very large," the source said. "But I don't think any of us realized it was going to be as large as it was."


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