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McChrystal's Press Aide Becomes First to Fall on His Own Sword

The media consultant who arranged the interview that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal summoned to the White House has become the first casualty of the general’s candor.

Duncan Boothby submitted his letter of resignation to the International Security and Assistance Force in Kabul early Tuesday morning. The civilian senior adviser played a critical role in arranging the interview Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings conducted with McChrystal, America’s top commander in Afghanistan, and his staff. 

In the magazine story, “The Runaway General,” McChrystal and members of his staff were highly critical of President Obama and his key military aides in Washington. The president has ordered McChrystal to meet with him in Washington on Wednesday, and there is widespread speculation that he will be severely reprimanded or even relieved of duty for his remarks, which many observers say amount to insubordination.

Boothby’s resignation, which came after McChrystal apologized “for using poor judgment” in the interview, puts a spotlight not only on himself but on the “new media types” the military is employing to serve as key media advisers to America’s top brass. Before managing McChrystal, Boothby was a key media adviser to Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who headed the Combined Arms Center (CAC) in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. 

While at the CAC, Caldwell became a proponent of using "new media" to communicate with targeted audiences, and he began collecting civilian public affairs specialists, including Boothby, to expand the work of the military's rigid public affairs system and to maximize the "strategic impact of new media" through a program called CAC Stratcomms. "He wanted to use media as a weapon," one officer explained. 

Yet for a major media manager, Boothby has left virtually no media trail himself. Most of the new civilian advisers to the top military staff have had long careers in journalism and come from established news organizations, but Boothby has virtually no media credits to his name. In fact, the only credit that could be found for him was as an actor in North Carolina.

Those who have dealt with him say he provided a humorous counterpoint to the military men who surrounded him. 

“You had a hard time believing someone like McChrystal would pick him,” a veteran reporter in Afghanistan recalled. “He was slick, about 5-foot-8, well tailored, and you knew he could never run 20 miles. Then you would see him with the brass and he just looked out of place.” Yet reporters there say that he was the one you had to go through to get access to the generals.

“He was very glib, had a British accent and could really work a crowd. But it was clear he wasn’t military,” another said.

Col. Robert Whetstone, who worked with Boothby for a month in Kansas, said he didn’t remember much about him but he recalled that Boothby said he was an American whose parents lived in England for a time.

John Donovan, an Internet journalist who was at a briefing with Boothby, described him as “Cardinal Richelieu of strategic communications."

ISAF Public Affairs Commander Col Wayne M. Shanks declined to discuss Boothby's resignation or his background. “We're not discussing any personnel matters,’ he said.

Reached in Vermont, Boothby’s stepmother said she “knew nothing more than anyone else” about what happened and why her son had resigned.