We Southerners are a suspicious lot at the core. For some silly reason, we always look askance when things happen in threes; and so, with General McChrystal and Rolling Stone, we have the third Four-Star seduced into a damning vanity piece. Two of them resulted in the implosion of a career, the other just survived with an insult. Let’s review.
First, something that should be in GOFO 101. From a man all Southerners love to hate as much as they respect,
“I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast.”
—- General William Tecumseh Sherman
That should be the core instinct of all Generals and Admirals, as if kept close to the heart would keep reporters at a proper distance. If kept at a proper distance, it would help mitigate the following problem.
Unless they make a special effort to remain humble and recruit a Staff that will keep them that way, a General or Admiral will find himself in an almost god like position where he can do no wrong and is surrounded by those who will remind him of that on a regular basis. That causes you to let your guard down and assume that everyone you speak with has less power than you and therefor is no threat to you.
Additionally, all men are weak. All men have a natural desire for attention and adulation. The press are often the medium through which you can get attention – have more people become aware of your name and importance. Reporters know this. They are persistent, they are persuasive, they will play what ever angle they need to in order to get a story. Though they may seem to be interested in you, they are only interested in you the same way my dog is interested in my ability to transport my cheese toast from the toaster to table. They follow closely, watch with exceptional focus – waiting for a mistake.
Reporters are not your fans. They are not your friends. They have a paycheck to earn. They have their own desire to see their names in front of millions of people. They don’t care about your goals, your plans, your Commander’s Intent. They care about getting a story.
All this is well known. Why then in the last three years have we seen Admiral Fallon, Admiral Mullen, and now General McChrystal fall into the media vanity trap? Simple. They forgot their place.
Let’s review; Admiral Fallon was taken down by a horribly written puff-piece in Esquire by someone who should know better, Thomas P.M. Barnett.
Though he came through the affair only looking silly with his “don’t look at my schedule – I believe in Life/Work Balance” mixed messages, Admiral Mullen was photoshopped by Fast Company magazine to look like Bogart’s LCDR Queeg -no mistake there.
Now we have General McChrystal taken down by – yes – Rolling Stone magazine all because he forgot who he was and what the nature of a reporter is.
What do all three mistakes have in common? Simple. Vanity. Non-mission related, non-value added vanity that degraded or destroyed the “brand” of men who gave decades of service to their nation and rose to its highest levels.
Esquire, Fast Company, Rolling Stone.
Really? A nation at war for a decade. A global war. STRATCOM & PAO guys help me out here. How do these help? Who did the risk analysis?
In the end though, that isn’t fair. It is the Admiral and the General that agree to this – and say what they say – who are responsible.
Everyone learn. More Sherman – less Fallon, Mullen, & McChrystal.
It isn’t about you. It is about the nation you serve and the service members you lead.