Ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal's locker room banter with a Rolling Stone reporter about the president and his national security staff could lead the military to end the successful program of embedding reporters with the troops.
Two public relations experts schooled in Washington's ways, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow and former NBC correspondent Fred Francis, are urging military officials not to react by staying away from the press or junking the military embedding program. On their 15-Seconds.com blog, the two long-time Washington hands say that "It is unfortunate—but likely—that many military and government officials will learn the wrong lesson from the damage done by McChrystal's Improvised Explosive Remarks. The predictable result is that senior officials will shy away from all contact with the media." [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]
But, they argue, that junking the embed program and barring reporters from talking to military officials would be a mistake. "Lengthy embeds are helpful for reporters working with military combat units on the ground—but perhaps not such a good idea for socializing with senior staff as they discuss policy matters that are above their pay grades," they wrote.
In fact, the duo suggest that the McChrystal case could become a classic case for future military leaders to use when teaching officers when and how to handle reporters. One lesson: Don't gab over beers in bars. [Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About Stanley McChrystal.]
"Some have observed that many of the comments seemed to have been made in unguarded moments at bars and restaurants. Who knew there was such a vibrant bar scene in Kabul? Some of McChrystal's views might even be accurate-but it is hard to find anyone today who thinks they are wise. The betting here is that McChrystal will have plenty more free time to visit bars and restaurants after his meeting at the White House," say Francis and Harlow.
Another lesson: See if a reporter has an angle he's chasing. They note that the Rolling Stone reporter had a track record of highlighting the troubled relations between war commanders and the administration. "That might have been an indication of where [the reporter's] mind was at," they blogged.