Jonathan Chait

Journalists Help Military Smear Rival Journalist

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In the wake of Rolling Stone's now-famous article about Stanley McChrystal, the military cast doubt on some facts in the piece, with the help of the Washington Post:

 In an interview Friday, the managing editor, Will Dana, said the reporter's notes and factual matters were exhaustively reviewed.

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But 30 questions that a Rolling Stone fact-checker posed in a memo e-mailed last week to then-McChrystal media adviser Duncan Boothby contained no hint of what became the controversial portions of the story. Boothby resigned Tuesday.

In the e-mail, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post by a military official sympathetic to McChrystal, Boothby is asked to confirm the makeup of McChrystal's traveling staff on the Paris trip and the communications equipment they brought with them on an earlier visit to London. "They don't come close to revealing what ended up in the final article," the official said.

"Does McChrystal's staff joking refer to themselves as Team America?" the fact-checker asked. "Not really," Boothby replied. "We joke that we are sometimes perceived that way by many of the NATO forces" under McChrystal's command.

In the article, Hastings wrote that McChrystal and his aides "jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority." In other passages, Hastings took what appear to be similar minor liberties with the facts as Boothby described them.

Minor liberties with the facts? Per Marc Ambinder, the "Team America" anecdote is verifiably true:

Not only is Hastings' vignette true, but the "collection" of people who identified themselves with Team America had a special patch made for their service. (It was created for them by a small company somewhere in  Missouri.)   Here, for the first time, is an image of the patch that cemented the camaraderie of Team McChrystal. I discovered it on Twitter and verified its validity.

The military is bureaucracy with political interests, just like the rest of the government. The fact that it claims a media report is false does not prove that the claim is false. News reporters should be treating its claims with the same skepticism they regard other government agencies and departments.

(via Joshua Foust)

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