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A General Blunder: Stanley McChrystal’s PR Gaffe

June 25th, 2010

General Stanley McChrystal and his staff have succeeded in shaking up how the war in Afghanistan will be run.  It came, however, at the cost of their jobs.  Michael Hastings, a reporter from Rolling Stone Magazine got the opportunity of a lifetime when a volcano eruption grounded him in France with the general and his staff for an extended road trip to Berlin.  They granted him unprecedented access to the inner workings of the high command.  Ultimately, their sharp, uncensored rhetoric lost McChrystal his job.

The assignment, as executive editor Eric Bates laid it out, was a simple profile of the general.  Hastings goal was to give the audience a look at the strategy in Afghanistan through the eyes of its architect.  Hastings wrote that story, but for some reason, McChrystal and his staff in no way censored their average day-to-day banter when the reporter was around.  They made no stipulations as to which conversations could and could not be used in the article, and even seemed to direct their snide comments about officials towards Hastings that they may be included in the story.  What was the logic behind this?  Was there any?  Did anyone stop and say, “We could all get canned for this?”  The reporter found himself asking the very same questions.  In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Michael Hastings seemed to indicate that the general and his staff seemed to have some sort of agenda…that they wanted to shake things up a bit.

So from a PR standpoint, why and how did this happen?  Hastings posited that McChrystal’s press advisors might have accepted the request in order to expose the situation surrounding Afghanistan and the strategy therein to a new demographic.  This is a perfectly sound reasoning to have Rolling Stone come in and do a profile.  The blunder occurred in not monitoring or prepping General McChrystal on how to behave and what to say around the reporter.  One would think that a seasoned military man would know what is acceptable rhetoric and what crosses the line, but as Hastings pointed out in an interview, “When war becomes your life, it makes it difficult to create good policy.”  Perhaps it also prevents you from realizing when you are walking head first into a PR disaster and potentially the end of an otherwise illustrious career.

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Media & Journalism, Public Relations
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