Friday, June 25, 2010

Kvetch a Falling Star

David Brooks contemplates the fall of General 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.

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.

The reticent ethos had its flaws. But the exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important.

So it’s the fault of Michael Hastings, the reporter for Rolling Stone, who’s to blame for General McChrystal granting him unfettered and unguarded access to him and his staff? It’s the reporter’s fault that these people suddenly became incredibly garrulous about their true feelings about their bosses and the bosses who boss them? Mr. Hastings must have some awesome powers of persuasion.

Or perhaps Gen. McChrystal and his staff exercised really poor judgment or never learned that most basic lesson you’re taught when you get into a position of power: always assume the microphone is on and that what you say will be repeated in some way or another. It doesn’t matter if the reporter is from Rolling Stone or Stars and Stripes.

And instead of being shocked and saddened by the vulture culture in Washington — or anywhere powerful people gather — Mr. Brooks ought to remember that it’s called “reporting” for a reason.