Silly David Brooks. In his Times column today, Brooks condemns Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings for being so childish as to print illuminating, on-the-record words from Stanley McChrystal and his aides. Why can't Hastings be as cautious as David Brooks?
Brooks spends most of his column "being David Brooks" — making offhand generalizations about cultural shifts in the '60s that are still ruining America today. Generals used to be able to "kvetch" bluntly on-the-record about current events, but then these young hot-shot reporters started printing their words for people to read! Blasphemy! Thanks a lot, hippies.
And into this world walks Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
General McChrystal was excellent at his job. He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond. He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise.
But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.
Did David Brooks even read this magazine article? Because it was very clear, through these published comments, that McChrystal did not have good relationships with Joe Biden, Middle East envoy Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, and John Kerry, to name a few. And he wasn't pulling anecdotes and overexaggerating their importance, either — it has been known for some time that McChrystal and his civilian partners didn't have the best relationships and in many ways were rivals for presidential face-time.
And does he know how magazine articles work? Michael Hastings didn't make the "kvetching the center of his magazine profile." They were moments of color — mostly in the piece's first half — surrounded by the much larger and well-reported center of the piece: that "the war in Afghanistan" is a hazy concept with little chance of improving by mid-2011, when troops are set to start withdrawing, but probably won't.
By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.
No, David Brooks! It was other media figures who who were stunned by the general's comments and "turned [them] into a direct challenge to presidential authority." Barack Obama did not have to do anything because of a magazine reporter writing down words that were on-the-record. Good lord.