How A Rolling Stone Profile Wrecked Stanley McChrystal’s Reputation

June 22, 2010 1:30 p.m.

It’s not every day that a magazine article takes down a four-star general.

The country woke this morning to the news of a profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone with quote after quote of the general and his aides dissing top Obama Administration officials, as well as the president himself. After a day-long media freak-out, McChrystal is set to meet with the president at the White House tomorrow with Robert Gibbs having pointedly left the door open to the general losing his job. All this comes at a time when the Afghan war is not going particularly well.So what did McChrystal say to get in so much trouble? Actually, it was mostly comments by his unnamed aides — dismissing top senators, calling Ambassador Richard Holbrooke “a wounded animal,” and describing McChrystal as unimpressed with Obama’s grasp of the Afghan War. For good measure, McChrystal also mocked Joe Biden on the record, and told Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings he felt “betrayed” by top ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

And more than just incendiary quotes, the article portrayed a climate of open disdain for civilian leadership by McChrystal and his inner circle, as Steve Clemons and others have pointed out.

McChrystal has now reportedly offered his resignation — but it’s not clear whether President Obama will accept. Defense Secretary Bob Gates, an all-important player in deciding the general’s future, released a statement Tuesday calling out McChrystal for a “significant mistake.” The reaction to McChrystal’s comments in Congress ranged from bitter condemnation — Dave Obey (D-WI) called him “reckless” and “a damn fool” — to blaming Obama for making the general frustrated (see this from Republican Eric Cantor).

No one is questioning the accuracy of Rolling Stone‘s (thoroughly fact-checked) reporting. But an entirely new set of questions were raised about McChrystal’s judgment when Hastings, the reporter, revealed that some of his interviews with the general and his team were conducted on a booze-fueled bus ride across Europe, under the cloud of ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

The drama over McChrystal dissing the administration has also overshadowed the broader, more ominous conclusions of the Rolling Stone article. McChrystal’s chief of operations, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, told the magazine of the Afghan war: “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument. This is going to end in an argument.”

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