Military Says Rolling Stone Broke Ground Rules on McChrystal Story

By MichaelJames

Jun 25, 2010 7:24pm

ABC News' Luis Martinez reports:

A senior military official tells ABC News that Rolling Stone broke journalistic ground rules established for the magazine’s profile of the general by publishing comments that occurred during what McChrystal’s aides thought were off-the-record sessions that would not be reported.  

The official said the magazine’s claim that there were no ground rules for the interview and profile was an “absurd statement.”

Reached for comment tonight, Mark Neschis, a spokesman for Rolling Stone magazine, denied the allegation that the magazine had claimed there were no ground rules and said they were followed "to the letter."

The official said a review of events has found no ground rules for the article in writing, but the official is confident that many of the attention-grabbing comments made by McChrystal staffers were made in what they thought were off-the-record discussions. 

The official said the review of events found Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings conducted “several one-on-one interviews — some of those were on background and others were on the record.”  Hastings was also allowed access to other sessions that “were off-the-record and intended to give him a sense” of how McChrystal’s team worked together. 

The official said no evidence has been found to suggest that the most “salacious political quotes were from any of these one-on-one interviews. They all appear to have been in settings that were off the record.”

In an interview conducted this afternoon by the Washington Post, Rolling Stone magazine's executive editor, Eric Bates, said no ground rules were broken.

"A lot of things were said off the record that we didn't use," Bates said. "We abided by all the ground rules in every instance. In every case in this story there were multiple times in which there were express requests for off-the-record and background or not-for-attribution, and we abided in every instance."

The miltary official said Rolling Stone is incorrect in stating that the magazine sent McChrystal’s staff an advance draft of the story, claiming the magazine instead sent a list of 30 questions compiled by a researcher who was fact-checking Hastings’ article.   Those questions, said the official, did not “come close to revealing what ended up in the final article.”  

However, magazine spokesman Neschis denied the official's statement.

"We never claimed that we gave McChrystal"s staff an advance copy of the story," Neschis said, adding that an e-mail sent by a magazine researcher fact-checking information for inclusion in the article "is just a portion of the fact-checking process."

He added, "As part of the fact-checking process, we never fact-check quotes that are given to us directly from the source." 

Magazine executive editor Bates told the Washington Post the magazine was under no obligation to check the quotes.

"If we have [remarks] on tape or said … in our presence, and we have detailed notes, it's not like we're hearing from someone else and checking, 'Hey, is this right?'" he said.

When public figures say things that are unwise, "we don't go back to the sources and say, 'Hey, did you really say that?' " he said.

A copy of the e-mail sent by the magazine researcher to McChrystal's staff and obtained by ABC News shows the submitted questions requested confirmation of details to be included in the article. 

Among the items being checked was whether McChrystal’s staff had a “full-scale operations center" set up in the Hotel Westminster during their visit to Paris this past  April. “Yes” came the reply from McChrystal press aide Duncan Boothby, who had set up the interview and resigned his post in the wake of  the controversy surrounding the article.  He added. “Not sure, I’d call it full scale, but everywhere we go we have capability for immediate comms.”

A key moment in the Rolling Stone article was when Hastings described how McChrystal and President Obama failed to connect on a personal level from the outset. Hastings went on to describe a description provided by aides of McChrystal’s first meeting with Obama where he “didn’t seem very engaged.”

Hastings description of McChrystal’s relationship with Obama began with the mention that McChrystal had voted for Obama.  According to the researcher’s questions, that information came from McChrystal himself.  In his reply, Boothby requested that piece of information not be included in the article because it would present an undue command influence.

The researcher asked, “Did Gen. McChrystal vote for President Obama? [The reporter tells me that this info originates from McChrystal himself.]”

Boothby replied: “Important – Please do not include this.  This is personal and private information and unrealtd (sic) to his job. It would be inappropriate to share.  My reason for this is it would present an undue command inflluence (sic) on junior officers or soldiers who should make their own political decisions.  There are very strict rules in the military on separating church and state on this sort of stuff – Have to keep out of political preference and personal choice.”

- Luis Martinez

* This blog entry has been revised from its original version.

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