Public officials must watch their mouths
When Rolling Stone Magazine posted a story called “The Runaway General” to its Web site on Tuesday morning, editors at the rock’n’roll publication likely had no idea that by Tuesday night, Stanley McChrystal — the runaway general himself — would be contemplating his resignation as Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.
In the article, McChrystal and his aides are quoted as making incendiary statements not only about the war in Afghanistan, but also officials in the Obama administration. Some of the statements address war tactics, but others are simply personal jabs at White House officials, showing a severe lack of respect.
Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings writes: “’Are you asking about Vice President Biden?’ McChrystal says with a laugh. ‘Who’s that?’”
The article paints McChrystal as a firebrand general, unafraid to speak his mind and take swift action. The tagline of the story sums it well: “Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”
According to the Washington Post, President Obama first caught wind of the article late Monday evening, when Vice President Biden informed him that McChrystal was already flying to Washington to apologize. After reading the article, Obama told aides that McChrystal should, in fact, sit in on his monthly Situation Room meeting, which was held Wednesday.
“I want to make sure I talk to him before I make any final decision,” as to whether McChrystal would be fired, Obama stated. Less than 6 hours later, Obama dismissed McChrystal, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus.
The situation bears stark resemblance to the Helen Thomas incident, in which the former White House correspondent was videotaped saying that Jews in Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Poland and Germany. It was only about 48 hours before the heat generated by her statements brought about her resignation after a five-decade career.
In an age where media technology brings us news as it happens, thoughts and statements that, only a decade ago, might have been withheld from the public, or at least filtered, become watercooler conversation in minutes. Public officials are now, more than ever before, held accountable for their actions and statements.
This transparency and immediacy serves the public well. Officials must effectively adapt to better represent the people. They’re forced to learn that running one’s mouth with incendiary, unprofessional, often offensive statements just won’t cut it.
It’s one example of the media holding a microscope to our leaders, for the better of everyone.