Monday, July 5, 2010

The Press and the Military

One of the biggest stories related to journalism lately has been General McChrystal's relief from duty and subsequent retirement after a Rolling Stone article quoted him on issues regarding his relationship to President Obama and his administration. Some argued that the General's comments were concerned "off the record." Defense Secretary Gates has revised policy that senior military officials must request approval before giving interviews but that he still wants a good relationship with the press.

Do you think the Rolling Stone reporter should have published McChrystal's comments? Apart from classified information, should the press be willing to publish any information they feel relevant. Some opposing reporters have argued that in order to build rapport and gain access, sometimes you have to hold off on reporting information that you think the public would like to know. What do you think about people telling things to journalists but then saying "this is off the record"?

28 comments:

Cornela357 said...

I do not feel that the press should print everything they feel is relevant. I learned in one of my classes that PR associates advise potential interviewees not to say something off the record. A good reporter would respect privacy of the interviewee, while still meeting the needs of the reading audience. In this situation, I do not believe the reporter was looking out neither the interviewee nor the audience. Reporting something that was not part of the agreed interview is in poor taste. It may have been a hidden agenda of the reporter. Because of the knowledge known about the policy for senior military officials giving interviews at the time of the interview, the reporter took advantage of the opportunity.
As for people telling journalist to keep something off the record, I believe that the interviewee must share some of the responsibility. An interviewee must understand that anything said is subject to admission into an article. This is like asking a jury to disregard an outburst during a trial. Even though a jury is not to factor the outburst when trying to reach a verdict, it still factors the direction of their vote. When someone divulges information then request only part of the information to be submitted, they trust the reporter to honor that request. I find it very naïve of the interviewee to place such a high level of trust into someone that may not respect the reason for the request. I hope this example will cause both parties of an interview to respect the process that is involved.

Dixonville said...

I agree with Cornela. The press has a bad reputation now (stereotyping as is might be..as a whole, they do) and it is because of situations like this. If he said something "off the record" then it should have been kept "off the record." I know in our Public Relations classes they tell us to never assume anything is "off the record", so McChrystal should have been more careful with what he said. However, if he said it "off the record", the especially considering what was said, the Rolling Stone should have had the decency to keep it off the record.

Another thing we learned in Public Relations is that, as a journalist, just because you CAN say something doesn't mean you SHOULD say it. I think sometimes what the press doesn't "get" is that not only Americans read what they print. Now, before I say this, I'm not saying we need a "feel good all positive unified press", but printing what The Rolling Stone magazine printed was not relavent news. Obviously there are people who do not agree with Obama, just like there were those that did not agree with Clinton, either of the Bushes, or with any president in our history, but to print something just because you think it will raise controversy or draw attention to youself does not mean you should do it. Honestly, our country is in bad enough shape and when other countries see the media printing damaging quotes from high ranking officials about our government or the president, it weakens us even further. I have always felt this way, and I think the media needs to take a step back and decide "is this newsworthy...is it relavent...and will it actually make a difference if I print it" because prior to printing that statement, if The Rolling Stone magazine had thought about it...that quote really did NOT need to be printed. If the media wants to know why they are shrouded by a dark shadow, they need to do a little soul searching and find out what their true objective is!

Have a great week everyone!!
Robin Dixon

Dixonville said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dixonville said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dixonville said...

sorry...not sure why it posted my remark 3 times....i only pressed it once...crazy computers!!!

gwendolyn said...

I do not think that Rolling Stone should have published McChrystal's comments. As one of the students posted, reporters should be respectful of what an interviewee tells them, if they do not want something published and they tell that reporter in a between you and me situation then the reporter should keep it that way. I understand that some reporters may look at it as (this will be a good story or this will potentially help my career if I publish this bit of info.) but that may not necessarilly be the case. Reporters need to respect who they interview and find a way to please the interviewee and the public. Respect is in the code of ethics that I learned about in a previous PR class. Also one should not even say "off the record" I think that this exposes whoever is being interviewed to situations where something is published that could harm the interviewee or someone else and cause trouble.

As a reporter I think he/she would want respect and credibility. I personally think it is bad business if a reporter published something that I did not give permission or express that I wanted it published. Word gets out and before you know it that reporter is not getting interviews because of a previous bad experience. So a reporter should be careful with what they publish and the interviewee should be careful with what they SAY!

Gabe Browning said...

In this situation the responsibility to remain professional and loyal, falls on the military member. General McChrystal has every right to feel the way he feels about his leadership; however, he needs to keep it to himself or at least within his circle of friends/leadership. By the time an officer makes it to the rank of 4-star General, they have been through all the training and established all the "handling" skills needed to speak publicly.

The Rollingstone reporter had every right to print those stories. He/She should also understand that with the decision to print these words, they also run the risk of not being given as liberal "access" to important leaders in the future. I do believe the press has the repsonsibility and freedom to print what they choose. As the watch dog that they're called to be, they have a responsibiblity to do so. But again it sometimes comes with a cost.

As for things being expressed "off the record" as long as it's established in the beginnning of the relationship and both parites agree, then it's fully acceptable. My intention is to not contrast my former statement of responsibility and freedom. If the "access" is built on that accord, then it applies.

As for specifics in this situation, considering the very limited info I've read from the article, it all sounds like stuff I've heard before within the military ranks. We don't always agree with the decisions being made by our leaders. Heck, at times we might not like their personalities, ethics, morals, or anything about them (to include decision making abilities.) Those conversations do and should happen. There are certain forums those conversations should be held in, and it should be peer to peer or complaining/informing up the chain to at least address mission related concerns (and personaility issues too if strong enough to degrade mission focus), and I've done so. The only difference is, when I've heard it or taken part in it before, the guy from Rollingstone magazine wasn't sitting in the room taking notes.

JoycieW. said...

Do you think the Rolling Stone reporter should have published McChrystal's comments?

Yes, I think the Rolling Stone reporter should have published McChrystal’s comments. I was in the military for 4 years, and you learn from basic training to be “respectful” to the commander in chief and certainly you don’t agree to sit down and talk with a reporter and speak negatively about him. That would be like me sitting down with a reporter discussing my boss!!!!!

Apart from classified information, should the press be willing to publish any information they feel relevant. Some opposing reporters have argued that in order to build rapport and gain access, sometimes you have to hold off on reporting information that you think the public would like to know.

No the press should not be willing to publish any information they feel relevant, but some reporters feel in order to sell the story there is no limit to the information they use. I all honestly, we want the reporters to write the stories and give us the facts, not make up the stories.

What do you think about people telling things to journalists but then saying "this is off the record"?

There is no such thing as “off the record”. When you sit down with a reporter, if you speak it, they report it.

Kevin M Romero said...

Do you think the Rolling Stone reporter should have published McChrystal's comments?
I do not think that the Rolling Stone reporter should have published McChrystal's comments. If the reporter agreed not to report the comments then the reporter should have lived up to his word and not reported. This is a trust issue, and I believe this reporter just lost the trust of everyone that he will interview in the future. I also don't feel that you should say something to someone that you don't want everyone to know. You have to know when to keep your mouth shut. McChrystal should have never said what he said out of respect for the chain of command.

Apart from classified information, should the press be willing to publish any information they feel relevant.
I do believe that the press should be willing to publish any information they feel relevant as long as the information is accurate and truthful.

Some opposing reporters have argued that in order to build rapport and gain access, sometimes you have to hold off on reporting information that you think the public would like to know. What do you think about people telling things to journalists but then saying "this is off the record"?
I think that some reporters hold imformation to build trust, rapport, and this allows the interviewee to speak more freeley. If I were a person being interviewed by someone that I barley know, I would never say anything "off the record". Unless you know someone very well and trust them wholeheartedly, never tell them your deepest secerets unless you want it to be released.

Kevin M Romero

Devonte Gardner said...

As a journalist, if someone asks to keep his comments off the record than I have to honor his request. It would be an issue, though, if he made a controversial comment and than realised it a few moments later and asked for it to be off record. He'd need to lay the guidelines for the interview down before he began talking. I don't know why anyone would want to be chatty with a journalist. The press is a medium between the source and the people. Anything anyone says has the potential to be made public. Again, I would honor an off the record request, but I think it's risky to do an interview with a Rolling Stone journalist and discuss serious matters unless it's something the person has explicitly thought-out first.

On a personal level, I think it's low to allow your staff to insult the commander-in-chief, someone who is considered your boss if you're in the military. I think insubordination of that kind warrants suspension or, in this case, a need for someone to resign. I will admit, though, I haven't read the actual article and as a journalist I should have read the original source. But my opinion in the matter wouldn't be taken into consideration when I decide what to report and what not to report. No matter how controversial a statement, unless it's a threat on someone's life or a comment that warrants calling the police, I would have to withhold the statement if it's off the record. I have to maintain integrity as a journalist. I shouldn't be an attack dog either or give the impression that I'm out to get people. I wouldn't want that reputation. I wouldn't want the organization I represent to have that reputation either.

As for reporting what McChrystal's staff said, if a request for information to be put off the record was not made before hand, I would publish the information. It would be hard to look my source in the eye again, because apparently he trusted me enough to pour out his heart, but it would ultimately be my job as a journalist to report what's been said. I would try to let the source know before hand that everything is on the table. Maybe that would give me peace and remove my guilt.

Corey Wheeler said...

I find myself conflicted with this topic. In fact, I find myself conflicted with many issues of policy or the propriety of journalistic conduct. Though, I do feel that I am leaning toward the thought that the press should be able to publish anything they feel is relevant, assuming it’s the truth. I think the Rolling Stone reporter was justified in reporting McChrystal’s comments. How else are we to know the whole truth if reporters are unable to report on things that are important, especially if they are reporting on things that involve corruption or criminal activity? It also seems to me that when there is a reporter present, one would want to watch what they say. I agree with the student that equated it to talking bad about your boss. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t vent about a superior until I knew I was in a more secure area to talk about that kind of stuff.

To play devils advocate, I sort of see the point of people who think “off the record” should be honored. For one thing, it will probably be hard for that guy to do much war correspondence now, I assume. Also, having the option of “off the record” probably gives sources more confidence to make statements, which otherwise they might not have. The additional information gives journalist better context and background on the story they are reporting on.

trinam24 said...

Yes, I do think that the reporter should have reported General McChrystal's comments. I say this because as a professional individiual or any individual who agrees to sit down with a journalist and participate in an interview, you should not say anything "off the record" or anything that you would not like to be published. The interviewee has total control over what he or she says to a reporter and its his/her responsibility to make good judement calls on what he/she should say.

The press should be willing to report or publish any information that they feel is relevant. If a reporter has verified information that he thinks the public should be aware of, I do think that information should be reported. Whether its an army general, President of the U.S., a Congressman, educator, or a regular everyday citizen, we should be conscience of what we choose to speak.

Scott Stewart said...

I look at this situation in two ways.

First, I don't think it is right for a reporter/journalist to write and publish a story with information that was considered to be off the record. It's just plain dishonest if the reporter clearly stated that part or all of the conversation was off the record and still ends up running with it in his article. It's unethical and wrong and damages the reputation of the media in general.

However, I also blame the General for being careless with his words. He should know better than anyone that "loose lips sink ships," and he sunk his own ship with sharing his thoughts with the wrong person. Regardless of whether he thought it was off or on the record, it was a mistake. I can't help feeling that he wanted to get his opinions out there anyway, even if it was subconsciencely. Common sense and a desire to keep your job would have deterred him from opening up to a reporter. Maybe the General knew exactly what he was doing.

Priscilla Davis said...

I do not feel that the Rolling Stone reporter should have published McChrystal’s comments. The press should not print every single thing they think is relevant. On the other hand, people should learn to not say things “off the record.” They should either answer the question squarely or ask to research answer and get back with them. Quality reporters with a good heart will respect the privacy of the other person. Reporters can still write a good report and still meet the needs of the readers. He used very poor judgment to print something that was not part of the agreed interview. I think the reporter was only looking out for himself. He knew about the policy for senior military officials giving interviews at the time of the interviews. He just took the opportunity and ran with it. If it was not originally a part of interview, he should not have reported it. In my opinion, it was bad and poor judgment.
The interviewee must understand that he should only say things that are okay to say. Generally saying things and thinking they won’t be printed or reported was not a good decision on his part. Most people can’t be trusted. I am sure we have learned this before, most times if it best to not say anything that should probably be stated in a private setting with trusted people. However, we should all learn to respect one another at all times, and not be so greedy for a quick juicy storyline. It’s just bad business and extremely unprofessional.

glenda kees said...
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glenda kees said...

Maybe not because this was just he own personal opinion and I’m sure he didn’t want it published. McChrystal took a chance of them reporting it when he made the statement. He knew what the Rolling Stone was doing and that they were looking for information to report. He should have been careful about what he talked about.
Even if the information is not classified, I do not think everything the press hears should be reported. If they know the information will be harmful they should wait till they get more information before reporting it.

The reporter is right that sometimes you have to hold off on reporting to build rapport and gain access to get information. The reason is if you are trusted you will more than likely get a better news story and be the first person called for the story. Sometimes a reporter is tested for their trustworthiness.
Telling something to a reporter and saying it is off the record is a dangerous thing to do because you say that doesn’t mean they will keep it off the record and not report it. I have heard of so many things being reported and the person saying that was off the record. I think if they don’t want it to be known they should just keep quiet and not say I am telling you this off the record. They should report it if it is understood it’s off the record but that doesn’t always happen.

ChandraWalker said...

I think the media has a hard enough time presenting stories and having controversy over whether its for the good of society or just to boost ratings or sales. This act by Rolling Stone is just another self inflicted shot in the foot to mass media. As journalists, there are certain codes of ethics that should be applied in situations such as this.I feel that Rolling Stone is wrong for publishing information that was deemed off the record.
One might also argue that McChrystal should have just kept his "off the record" feelings..just that off the record. Just maybe McChrystal thought he could give some insight off the record to give the journalist a better basis of where he was coming from to help paint a better picture for the readers. If so, I'm most certainly sure when he said he wanted his extra comments off the record..he meant just that.

Angela Williams said...

No, I don't think the Rolling Stone Reporter should have reported McChrystal's comments, although I am not going to say that I blame the reporter
for publishing the comment. I blame McChrystal more than I do the reporter. McChrystal foolishly took a risk on his own of making a negative comment. He had to know this could leak out. That is just common sense.

I don't think it should be up to the press to publish any information they feel is relevant. I think that decision should be made by the person or persons the press or the reporter is interviewing. They should have a say in what should and shouldn't be said.

As far as comments being "off the record", there really is no such thing. One should automatically assume that when they say something to a journalist, it is that journalist's job to publish what you say, and the more you say, the more they have to report on. Telling a journalist that something is off the record is just inviting them to leak the information out. I agree with Cornela when she said a good reporter will respect the privacy of the person they are interviewing. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. A good example is the interview of Martin Bashir with deceased pop icon Michael Jackson. It was in the news that by the time this interview hit the press, the story was twisted and some of the things discussed in the documentary were untrue. There were some things that Michael Jackson simply did not say. Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson put his trust in Mr. Bashir and was abused in the process. I also like the jury example Cornela gave. There couldn't have been a more perfect example. I also agree that you have to be responsible for what you say, and once it is said, you can't take it back. I wholeheartedly agree with Gates' plan to try to eliminate embarrassing situations such as this by sending interview requests through a central office at the Pentagon. This is definitely one good step towards getting a handle on the out of control press and preventing these types of things from happening.

TiffanyS said...

I don't feel that the press should publish everything that they feel is relevant. Sometimes, I feel like they want recognition and to have their name become famous. If a person says "off the record", they should keep that information out of an article.
If a person doesn't want something to be printed they should clarify first that it is confidential, or see where the reporter stands on keeping information off the record. Also, if there are things that they don't want others to know, then maybe they shouldn't even bring it up in the interview. 
Therefore, I don't think reporters should publish eveything they think is relevant, and keep some of the interviewer's remarks private.

Joy said...

In my career I have learned one very important lesson. If you have a complaint or are unhappy with something, you should take your complaint UP the chain, not DOWN the chain or off the chain for that matter. I have seen many a person get bit by forgetting this very important rule. General McCrystal is no exception. The simple truth is that so many people are trying to make a mark or make a name for themselves that they will sacrifice anyone in order to do that. The Rolling Stone journalist was able to get a great story out of the deal and General McCrystal lost his job. If McCrystal had followed the rule of only complaining up, this never would have happened.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think what the Rolling Stone journalist did was right, but he was doing what he thought was his job and what he thought would advance his career. Now one could question whether or not he truly did that because now everyone knows him as the kid who sold out a U.S. General. He might be hard pressed to find someone who will open up to him while he is researching for future articles.
So I guess I have two thoughts on this particular topic: 1) Don't be stupid and complain to anyone who has ears. Complain to people who can do something to correct the problem. 2) Integrity is all any of us have in the world. Lose your integrity and you have lost the respect of all the people around you. The journalist may have gotten a great story, but I would argue that it cost him his integrity.
-Elizabeth

Kate said...

If General McChrystal did not say “this is off the record,” the reporter should definitely print the comments if they fit into the story. The job of the press is to report information and facts from people, and I think it is very relevant when the commanding officer of Afghanistan is having issues with the President. If the general had said, this is “off the record,” the journalist is compromising his/her integrity and will jeopardize future interviews. There’s part of me that thinks McChrystal may have wanted to express his frustration publicly, and being at the level he was at, he knew the consequences, but he also knew it would make a big impact.

“Off the record” is a really important tool for journalists and public relations people. Oftentimes, I can give a reporter information and point them to direct sources they may not have known otherwise in an “off the record” situation, but since I am not the spokesperson for the organization, I cannot give official quotes. More often than not, they just want the information, and they'll use the other sources I have suggested. However, my motto is still not to say anything “off the record” that I would not wanted printed or attributed to me.

S.Webb said...

In regards to General McChrystal’s comments about President Obama and his administration which were supposedly made “off the record”, I do not think Rolling Stone should have published McChrystal’s statements. Although the comments contained information that the public would have liked to have known, the reporter should have maintained the privacy and respect of McChrystal and kept his statements in confidence. I do not feel that the press should publish any unclassified information they feel is relevant without first giving regard to the interviewee. Although the scores of press and national attention that Rolling Stone has gained from publishing McCrystal’s comments has most assuredly boosted their magazine sales and name recognition, Rolling Stone reporters and reporters from all media outlets will now be confronted with more difficulties when attempting to interview military professionals in the future because access will be restricted. Although publishing the comments may have benefited the magazine in the short run, it probably damaged their ability and the ability of the press as a whole to gain information from the military in the long term scope of things.

This being said, I do believe there should be allowances made for off the record comments, however I will agree with prior posters that the groundwork and guidelines for the comments should be laid out ahead of time when possible to prevent confusion and set clear boundaries. The interviewee should maintain a certain level of responsibility and try to refrain from saying things – even off the record – that they do not wish to have published, but we’re all human. We have all from time to time let our emotions – anger, frustration, sadness, joy – get the better of us and done or said something that we soon wished we hadn’t. Although we might not have done something like this in the presence of a Rolling Stone reporter, there should remain to be a level of protection against publishing a comment or a statement against an interviewee’s wishes. At the same time, the interviewee who is making off the record comments should be aware that although the press is bound by a code of ethics, bad ethical decisions are made each and every day, so he or she should be overly cautious about making comments they do not wish to have reported.

Ageyer said...

In our twenty-four hour media cycle society wants information instantly. Reporters are under pressure to provide an angle of a story that no one else has broadcast. They compete with satellite t.v. which offers twenty around the clock news channels, multiple news websites, and countless news blogs. Every reporter needs to uncover something new that no other source has reported. Top officials in any line of work must understand this. There is no such thing anymore as “off the record.” New information to a reporter is like cocaine to an addict. I don’t blame the Rolling Stone reporter for publishing General McChrystal’s “off the record,” comments. He had information nobody else had. This helped his employer sell more magazines. He did his job.

I also agree with Secretary Gates’s decision for top officials to obtain permission before speaking to the media. The department of Defense is entrusted with top secret information. Its officials should never share anything that would be considered “off the record.” They must remain professional at all times especially with the media.

-Aaron Geyer

Neal Squires (nds79) said...

The press should be able to report any information that is relevant, due to the First Amendment of the US Constitution granting free speech. However, material that is deemed off the record is irrelevant and should be considered off limits. A reporter who commits to keeping certain conversations off the record, out of professionalism should do just that.

The reporter who interviewed General McChrystal, Michael Hastings, insisted afterwards that no wrong doing occurred and that everything reported was within lines of the verbal ground rules that the two has agreed upon. What is interesting is the admission that many of the most controversial quotes came from a wedding anniversary party for Gen. McChrystal in Paris where heavy drinking occurred. Even if Mr. Hastings thought this was an acceptable setting to report on military conversation, the situation was a party amongst friends where conversations are personal. This is not a professional setting were quality, insightful quotes should be derived. This would be the academic equivalent of writing a research paper based on what I heard in a private conversation between two professors in the commons versus writing about what I learned from their lectures or academic journal writings. It just doesn’t fit and it wouldn’t be relevant information. I don’t think it takes an expert to figure that out.

In my opinion Rolling Stone, widely known as a far-left, war-protesting magazine crossed a line of professionalism and justified their actions on VERBALLY accepted ground rules which can easily be broken without concrete evidence of wrong doing. I have no problem with certain things being off the record, but out of integrity and professionalism they should stay that way!

H. Michelle Awtry said...

I hate it when people say, "this is off the record". Know why? Because if it's so off the record, then keep your mouth shut. Apparently, people think that just by saying these magical words that someone is going to forget what they heard and not pass it on to the public.
Did this General really think that a magazine would have thought twice about publishing his words? A magazine that needs readers and those readers money to stay "alive".
Even though I understand why this General (and others) would be upset at the publishing of this classified information, I almost think he was asking for it to happen by providing private information and then saying "off the record". Just my opinion though.

Kim Long said...

I learned in some of my Public Relations classes, that even though you say "off the record", you never assume that it is going to stay that way. Unfortunately, the media does not always have our best interest at heart, even when they are trying to help us out. If McChrystal said something and told the reporter that it was "off the record", the reporter should have had the common decency to respect his wishes and not publish it, but McChrystal should have also known to be more careful with what he says, knowing what type of position he is in.
There are going to be people that do not always agree with the president, or whatever public official is currently in office, but a reporter does not have the right to take their words and plaster them out there for the world to see and judge, just so they can make a buck and cause controversy. We have too much stuff going on in the world to be focusing on and worried about how someone feels about particular issues. I do feel that the Rolling Stones reporter was justified in his printing what McChrystal said, because that is his job and how else are we the people supposed to know what is really going on and how his staff really feels about how he is handling certain issues. The General is partly to blaim, because he should have been more careful in the way he said things and should not have said it if he did not want it published. Saying that you want something "off the record" does not mean it is going to happen and he should have known that. Unfortunately in this day and time, everyone is out to make a buck and cause controversy instead of respecting someone else's wishes.

Chintan Desai said...

I think the rolling stone reporter was correct in reporting the comments made by General McChrystal. From what I have seen reported, the reporter was given unrestricted access. This type of access usually entitles that all comments heard by a reporter will be put on the record. Also, the public has the right to know if there is a rift between the Commander in Chief and his general on the front line of a major war. The rift between the two could be a big deterrent to the success of the war.

I think reporters have to build a rapport with their constituents to build a base. Once a reporter has built a base and gained experience, the information they seek will come to the reporter on a automated basis. The reporter might have to sacrifice reporting some relevant information to be successful. This is just part of the job of a reporter.

"Off the record" comments by individuals should be respected by journalists. But some reporters will report the comments anyway to sell the news to consumers.

Tina Perryman said...

I honestly feel like the Rolling Stones reporter was doing his job. There was no reason for him not to publish the information because McChrystal knew he was going to do an interview and he should have kept some comments to himself. It is easy to look back and say the reporter was wrong, however, the comments made should have been more planned out knowing that your speaking to someone who will quote your every word.
I think that people should be aware of the things they say and do in front of other people. It is already enough for someone to misunderstand a statement but if you are quoted as saying this particular thing then that is your fault. I work at a newspaper and people always say "this is off the record" but why give a statement if you didn't want other people to here them. Everything that we say and do people are watching and when you have a top position and you can give orders you should watch what you say and the things you do. No one is to blame for what happened but him. Knowing that you are going to talk with one of the worlds greatest magazines and give your thoughts and feelings out you have to thoughtful of how you say things.