DoD has released the results of its latest official inquiry into last year’s Rolling Stone profile that terminated the career of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal — you can read it yourself online here. (pdf) Not surprisingly, the headline is that DoD’s Inspector General couldn’t substantiate many of the events and quotes from the Rolling Stone story. The response of reporter Michael Hastings will probably be: Of course not. Why would my super high-powered mega-sources admit saying those unflattering things to their own chain of command? This was a pre-stalemate even before the investigation hit the ground.
Hastings is widely loathed inside the Pentagon and divisive among reporters on the defense beat. When he spoke to a military journalists’ conference in Washington last year, it was a very tense session; he was by turns condescending, defensive, nervous and aggressive when questioned by some of the top players in the game. Hastings believes that Washington reporters are lapdogs, afraid to endanger their cozy relationships with officialdom, and as such they were jealous an outsider like him could drop such a bombshell as the McChrystal story. For their part, some reporters believe Hastings makes stuff up, or at least plays fast and loose, and has so poisoned the reputation of all reporters in the eyes of military officials that he makes things harder for responsible journalists.
Monday’s DoD report isn’t first time the Pentagon has officially contradicted a Hastings story. When he wrote his profile of Gen. David Petraeus earlier this year, which portrayed Afghanistan as a chaotic lost cause where villains and scoundrels are waiting to take over, Hastings described a “draft report” that called for ending the war by splitting Afghanistan into sections run by local warlords. “Sources close to Gates say he reacted ‘positively’ to the plan,” Hastings wrote. But Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan, who also said he was the “Pentagon spokesman” quoted in Hastings story, said he knew of no such report and had recommended Hastings not include that detail because no one in DoD could confirm it.
Then there was Hastings’ most recent big splash, his outrageous report that the Army was using “psychological operations” to “brainwash” visiting VIPs in Afghanistan, based on the account of a single reservist who later denied it. Officials inside DoD fumed at the report, but by the time it came along they’d learned their lesson, and sat back as it played itself out in Washington. An investigation into the “brainwashing” story is quietly underway in Afghanistan, and as with today’s report, the Pentagon undoubtedly hopes it will damage Hastings even further.
The problem is, even though this document will make the people in the plush offices of the E-Ring feel better, there is a wide audience that will never believe anything the Pentagon says — especially if it contradicts Hastings’ narrative that Afghanistan is lost and that the only way the evil military can keep it going it is with deception and “psy-ops.” Not only that, the damage, as it were, is done: Although McChrystal is back in the good graces of the Obama administration, heading up a new panel, he nonetheless lost his command in disgrace and left the Army.
Should the White House have waited for an investigation like this before taking action against McChrystal?