Even Rolling Stone's editor agreed with Gen.Stanley McChrystal that the Afghan war's U.S. commander showed poorjudgment in airing complaints about the Obama administration in themagazine.
But Eric Bates said it was in keeping with McChrystal'scharacter that he didn't try to waffle about what was said in thearticle, which exploded into a political controversy thatthreatened the general's job. Bates said the piece accuratelyreflected what McChrystal and his team feel about the job they'vebeen given in Afghanistan.
The inside view of the country's command in Afghanistan was acoup for the magazine. While best known for its coverage of rock'n' roll, Rolling Stone has a provocative history covering politicsand government that dates back to the Vietnam War and Hunter S.Thompson's irreverent trips on the presidential campaign trail.
The article, "The Runaway General," was posted on themagazine's website Tuesday, a day earlier than planned because ofthe attention it was receiving. McChrystal is quoted as saying he"found that time painful" when President Barack Obama took threemonths to review the Afghan war strategy. The story quoted anunnamed aide to the general as saying his boss was disappointedthat Obama "didn't seem very engaged" about the war.
It also depicted McChrystal as not wanting to open an e-mailfrom Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative forAfghanistan and Pakistan.
"I think that they know that this is a fair representation oftheir perspective," Bates said.
He said he wasn't surprised that McChrystal took responsibilityfor the article and publicly apologized for the interviews.
"When questioned about the piece itself, he said this was poorjudgment, which I think is indisputable, and took the bullet, whichis very much in keeping with the kind of soldier he sees himselfas," Bates said.
He said the article's author, Michael Hastings, was assigned apiece on what the U.S. was doing in Afghanistan, seen through theeyes of the military leaders. Bates said he knew upon seeing afirst draft a month ago that Hastings gathered some importantmaterial.
Hastings also had a stroke of luck: After joining McChrystal andhis team in Paris for an appearance, the general's plane to Berlinwas grounded by the Icelandic volcano. "They had to take a bus,"Bates said. "So it turned into a bit of a road trip."
Some of the article's most biting comments came from McChrystalaides who were granted anonymity in Hasting's piece. But Bates saidMcChrystal was present when many of the comments were made. "Eventhe quotes that he wasn't in the room for clearly reflect histhinking and were clearly given with his blessing," he said.
The military leaders knew they were speaking to a workingreporter, Bates said.
"I had a tape recorder and notepad out the entire time,"Hastings told CNN on Tuesday, "so it was all very clear that itwas on the record."
Hastings said most of the material he gathered from McChrystaland his team came within the first day or two of arriving in Paris,so it wasn't as if he spent months building a relationship withthem.
The article describes a night out at an Irish pub, where much ofMcChrystal's team got drunk.
Rolling Stone's fact checkers discussed the substance of some ofthe quotations with the sources before the article was printed,Bates said. But the magazine did not give any of them a chance toread the piece ahead of time or revise quotes, he said.
Bates dismissed any suggestion that McChrystal was deliberatelytrying to torpedo his own command with the article. McChrystal hasa history of speaking his mind, sometimes to his detriment, such aswhen he was quoted last fall criticizing a strategy being pushed byVice President Joe Biden.
"There are far easier ways of doing that, if that's what youwant to do, and more dignified ways," Bates said.
The article was reminiscent of an Atlantic Monthly piece in theearly days of President Ronald Reagan's administration, when hisbudget director David Stockman was quoted questioning some of whathis boss was trying to do. Stockman said later he was "taken tothe woodshed" for his comments.
Bates said he hoped legitimate questions about what the U.S. isdoing in Afghanistan aren't overshadowed by questions over thewisdom of what McChrystal did in granting access to Rolling Stone'sreporter. Bates wouldn't comment on what the article might do forthe general's career.
"That's all above my pay grade," he said. "We've done ourpart of the job."
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