The real question in Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Obama administration-dissing interview was why on earth did he do it in the first place?
Predictably, the first head to roll was the public relations adviser who cooked up the ill-fated access.
How could this public relations disaster have happened at the highest level of our country dealing with the most urgent global issue of our time?
There are only two possible explanations:
1. Gen. McChrystal and His Team are Inexplicably Stupid
This explanation strains the bonds of credulity.
The first rule of any public relations interview is to determine, “What’s in it for us?”
In the case of allowing the commanding general in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to speak to Rolling Stone magazine, the answer is “nothing.”
An interview with The New York Times or Washington Post or USA Today to discuss strategy?
But Rolling Stone? The magazine of gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson’s acid trips, Black Sabbath’s orgies and a sympathetic profile of loveable Lil Wayne on his way to Riker’s Island on a gun possession rap?
What are you, nuttttzzzz!?!
An interview in Rolling Stone by a general – any general – is a mistake from the get-go. There is absolutely no upside, i.e.,
RS: “This is Rolling Stone, may we interview General McChrystal?”
U.S. Army: “What are you, nuttttzzzz!?!”
The second rule of any public relations interview is to determine, “Who is the reporter and what is his bias?”
In the case of Rolling Stone author Michael Hastings, he is a young, aggressive freelance journalist, author of a romantic war novel from Baghdad (soon to be a reintroduced bestseller no doubt!), and a friend of MSNBC’s lollapaloozingly, liberal lady anchor Rachel Maddow.
All of which doesn’t make him a bad person nor an inferior reporter. It just makes him toxic – the last person any self-respecting public relations person would ever trust to interview his general.
So…if the P.R. guy and the general were both stupid enough -- for the glamour, exposure, celebrity, whatever -- to walk blindly into this interview, they should both be canned. And, come to think of it, the P.R. guy, Duncan Boothby, already has been.
More likely there's this...
2. Gen. McChrystal and His Team Did It on Purpose
The book on McChrystal is that he is a solid military man and a street-smart gamesman. He is knowledgeable of and comfortable with the media.
In other words, he has been around the block -- not the kind of guy to let his guard down or allow himself to get duped by some knuckleheaded reporter.
But if you read the article, you get the feeling that McChrystal and his people really don’t believe that the Obama war strategy – to kill a diabolical, no-rules enemy while rebuilding a stone age nation – has much of a chance of emerging triumphant.
Clearly from the piece, the soldiers don’t doubt their own ability to win, but rather they’re dubious of the cockamamie “military strategy” they’ve been asked to pursue.
So one could argue – or at least wonder – whether McChrystal didn’t willfully commit to this article and the unlimited access the reporter received to circuitously make the point that the U.S. war strategy must be midcourse corrected before it’s too late.
Maybe the general thought it was better to fall on his sword in this public -- and perhaps suicidal -- way in order to rescue a mission that, if he remained silent and dutiful to his commanding officer, would likely fail.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, commentator, author and teacher for 40 years. He teaches public relations at NYU and is the author of the Prentice- Hall textbook "The Practice of Public Relations," now in its eleventh edition, and co-author of "Idea Wise."
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