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  1. Wealth
June 23, 2010

Collateral Damage

By Spear's

I feel sorry for him, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. I really do.

I feel sorry for him, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. I really do.

After an illustrious career spanning West Point, Special Forces and nearly every global hotspot where he never met a badass he couldn’t tame, he’s been done in by the biggest badass of them all: the media. His ill-advised interview in Rolling Stone magazine, entitled “The Runaway General,” has led to his humiliating sacking on the White House lawn within the last hour — a full two days before the magazine is even for sale. Poor Stan: the cow pat hit the fan before the article hit the newsstand. 

Of course, the commander of all US and NATO forces in Afghanistan should never have granted any interview, never mind gone on the record shredding the reputations of everyone from Obama on down, but let’s try and see it from his perspective.

Frustrated and accustomed to having people hang on his every word, Gen. McChrystal was undoubtedly flattered by a fawning and oh-so-interested Michael Hastings, the journalist who wrote the interview. Having been on both sides of the press fence, I have a pretty good idea of how hypocritical and sycophantic they can be to get what they want: a soft flank where they can publicly stick the knife and advance their own careers and publications. A friend of mine who has spent decades in the public eye told me about eleven years ago about the media: “They don’t care about the truth; they care about selling more copies.”

Well, come Friday, Rolling Stone will shift historic numbers of copies, no doubt. Its website is already touting it as “the story that made history.”

In the meantime, the Afghan war effort now has to contend with a change in command.

I personally have always found politics sexy and underrated as a popular topic, but now it seems the twin Iraq and Afghan wars and all the controversies surrounding them (including the use of predator drones, “dodgy dossiers,” and the very idea of nation-building as an interventionist goal) have everyone getting in on the act. Once the purview of serious newspapers and political magazines, now every publication from Rolling Stone to Tatler is featuring politicians. It’s the latest phase of celebrity culture, really.

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After all, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been catapulted into iconic status, alongside his colleagues Gen. “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf, Gen. Colin Powell, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who will now take his job. While I’m always thrilled to see greater political awareness by a broader public (a key to an effective democracy and one in which the US tends to fail miserably), I have to be a little concerned about politics-as-entertainment. Particularly when the consequences of the written word (here courtesy of Gen. McChrystal and Rolling Stone) will be inscribed on the bodies of young soldiers.

Michel Foucault and Franz Kafka would be riveted.

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