MEDIA
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Media Pimping Mythical Obama-McChrystal Rift

The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman doesn't go for a whole lot of media scolding -- a point he reiterates today in a related blog post, saying, "...nine times out of ten I will agree...that we should focus on the thing-itself, and not the bollicksed-press-coverage-of-the-thing." So when he wades into a media fight, it's well worth paying attention to, and on the matter of the mythical "McChrystal-White House rift," he has the media dead to rights. In a long and link-rich piece on the Windy, entitled "Media Pushes 'Rift' Between McChrystal and Obama", Ackerman expounds at length on the way this rift has been ginned up out of whole cloth, and provides the most singularly reality-based lede that I've seen yet on what's actually been occurring:

In a London address on Thursday, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, repeatedly defended President Obama's review of Afghan strategy; encouraged open debate on the controversial question of what to do about the bleak-looking war; recapitulated his argument that a counterinsurgency approach holds the best chance of success; and declined to answer any questions about increasing troop levels before Obama reaches a decision. Yet since then, McChrystal has been portrayed in the press as disloyal to Obama for saying anything at all, and all sides are trying to put an end to the controversy.

Ackerman goes on from there, documenting how the frenzy took shape and then spun out of control. I'll take the moment to wryly note how this whole matter began with a leak of the review that Bob Woodward idiotically distilled into his "More Forces or 'Mission Failure'" formulation, which then basically fueled a media-wide mental disturbance. The press has long been itching to get a foreign-policy rift story out there: these seeds were sown back in the honeymoon days when everyone marveled at the sight of the so-called "team of rivals" -- Obama, his Democratic primary opponent and his predecessor's SECDEF holdover? Oh, my stars and garters! How is that supposed to work? The leaked strategy review provided all the kindling that particular fire needed, and as usual, the critical ingredient seems to have been the widespread inability or unwillingness to actually read the leaked documents. Vainly, I remind, that it contained this statement:

[I]t must be made clear: new resources are not the crux. To succeed, ISAF [the NATO command in Afghanistan] requires a new approach -- with a significant magnitude of change -- in addition to a proper level of resourcing. ISAF must restore confidence in the near-term through renewed commitment, intellectual energy and visible progress.

Since then, it seems there has been a month of Sundays in which Gates and Jones and Mullen have all attempted to underscore this very point, only to get the following response from their Sunday Morning interlocutors: "But OMGZSURGEOMGZ!!"

Of course, Spencer is unique among reporters on this story, in that he actually reads the relevant documents, as opposed to relying on producers and party hacks to show up for a round of Whisper Down the Lane.

MORE:
Media Pushes 'Rift' Between McChrystal and Obama [The Washington Independent]
It's Not Just Resources: McChrystal's Message to Obama, and to the Military [The Washington Independent]

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