Bob Franken

McChrystal, Geraldo, and Me: Full Disclosure

Don’t you just love all the writers, like me, who find it necessary to add a “Full Disclosure”, which is supposed to provide absolute honesty about a potential conflict-of-interest?

Of course, a really FULL disclosure would go something like this: “Full disclosure, this reporter is advocating this point of view because it will make him a ton of money”. Or “…because he is being blackmailed into saying it by someone who has pictures of him with a hooker”. Or my personal favorite” “Full disclosure. I have no earthly idea what I’m talking about”

This one will fall short of that (I hope, anyway) but it may surprise you: “Full disclosure: Geraldo Rivera and I are friends of long standing”. At least we have been until now, because I want to take issue with his Fox News appearance where he strongly criticized Michael Hastings for repeating the incendiary comments by General Stanley McChrystal and his aides that got Gen. McChrystal fired.

Geraldo contends Hastings and the magazine were out of line, that, given his access, there should have been “a cone of privilege (Geraldo’s words) that kept the bitter snarkiness about the President and the chain-of-command confidential. “If it’s not on the record”, Rivera continued, “It’s off the record”, meaning, I suppose, that these defiant statements should have been kept confidential because the smart alecks didn’t know better.

There’s something to be said for that, when you’re embedded with a unit on a battlefield, as Geraldo proudly points out he has been. So have I and so do I, although I never broke the agreement to not reveal the troops’ position, like he did. The point is that the foot soldiers cannot be expected to be sophisticated about all the media rules. Fair play requires they need to be warned ahead of time that what they say can harm them.

But we’re not talking about grunts. We’re talking about the commander of Afghanistan forces…a four star general, and the people clustered around him at the top. They didn’t get there immediately after falling off a turnip truck, although their dumbass remarks sure made it look like they had.

There’s also another Geraldo quote from the same interview that bears examination: Making the point, I suppose, that we journalists, who are US citizens “…want America to win the war”, he only makes half a point. Of course, we all want our country to win. And our contribution is holding the feet of our leaders to the fire.

We serve an important purpose when we expose, as Hastings’ article did, the huge breaks in the chain of command and the distracting infighting that most likely has caused the Afghanistan war to go badly. The piece makes it very clear that the military guys were not doing what they’re supposed to do, which is to “salute smartly and follow orders”, unless, of course, you mean the one-fingered salute.

The story also validly raises questions about President Obama’s leadership as Commander-in-Chief, and whether he’s running a loose ship which is sinking. So contrary to what Geraldo says that “This is a terrible thing this reporter did”, it was actually quite the opposite…a mighty good thing, in the best reporter tradition.

What we need when it comes to the faltering Afghanistan is a more complete picture of the reasons why. In other words, what we need is even more full disclosure.

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