As someone who spends time interpreting to people the relative roles played by different forms and formats of media and content distribution channels, it’s been fascinating to see the coverage of the dismissal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan.
Because Rolling Stone commissioned and published the article written by Michael Hastings, the phrase “started with an article in Rolling Stone” has been included in every report about this story. Not a newspaper. Not “the internet.” Not a whistle blower. But, “an article in Rolling Stone.”
Rolling Stone? I’m sure people wouldn’t be that surprised if the magazine dug up something controversial about, say, Lady Gaga, but do people think of that magazine producing journalism capable of bringing down a general? Rolling Stone? The fact is, Rolling Stone has a long tradition of great political and cultural writing. But, to be honest, if someone says they get Rolling Stone for its war coverage, it is about as convincing as when one says he gets Playboy for the interviews.
Here are some other quick take-aways from watching the McChrystal / Petraeus news of the past few days flow by:
1. Letting a reporter “embed” with a subject is not always a bad strategy: I’m sure lots of Monday-morning PR experts are going to lambast the decision to allow a reporter to get so “inside” as to become what every reporter dreams of being: A fly on the wall. However, it should be noted that one of the apparently many, many super powers of Gen. David Petraeus is his ability to let reporters embed and observe his omnipotent-like powers. A book example: In the company of soldiers: A chronicle of Combat, by Rick Atkinson. A magazine article example: “The Professor of War,” by Mark Bowden, Vanity Fair, May, 2010. Both the book and magazine article include extensive “embed” time with Gen. Petraeus and his staff — with lots of time for them to talk themselves into corners. Like I said, he has super powers.
2. “Pulling a McChrystal”: A term that will live for a long, long time. Means, roughly, “loose lips sinks generals and their staff.”
3. Speaking of Chuck Norris: General Petraeus eats Chuck Norris for breakfast.
4. One more note about Petraeus awesomeness with a Nashville-connection: Yesterday, when I heard President Obama was calling on General Petraeus to once more perform his military leadership magic, I immediately thought of the WSJ op-ed written three years ago by Peggy Noonan called “Get it Done”. In it, she recounts an almost unbelievable story from Gen. Petraeus career. Scroll down to the paragraph that begins, “It happened on Sept. 21, 1991, when Gen. Petraeus was commanding the Third Battalion of the 101st Airborne in Fort Campbell, Ky. He was at a live-fire training exercise. A soldier tripped on his M-16, and it discharged. The bullet hit Gen. Petraeus in the chest….”
If you haven’t heard the story, read it.
I promise you’ll never be impressed by Chuck Norris again.