Sunday, December 08, 2013

Mark Leibovich Hit the Nail on the Head with this Tale

I've been reading Mark Leibovich's new book, This Town, about the interrelationships of the Washington "Villagers"--that collection of politicians, lobbyists, and media celebrities that have turned our nation's capital into an ongoing fraternity party. Leibovich presents case after case of Villagers working hard, in some cases desperately, to be "insiders," or members of the clique of Very Important People That Are Talked About And Invited To Parties and Dinner--And Talk Shows.

I'm finding the book pretty dull as a reader who is not excited by politicians and details of their behavior; I'm aware that Washington is crammed with panderers, egotists, and power-wielder-wannabes. But one anecdote struck me as more impressive than it was meant when written.

This tale involved the profile of General Stanley McChrystal that appeared in Rolling Stone in 2010, written by Michael Hastings. You may recall that McChrystal (then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan) criticized certain members of the Obama administration undiplomatically; as Hastings put it 

But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama's top people on the diplomatic side.
For his indiscretion, McChrystal fell on his sword was fired and condemned to start up a consulting outfit, sign a book deal, join a couple of boards of directors, teach a graduate seminar at Yale, and accept $60,000 per speech to talk about stuff.

Leibovich describes how the Villagers rushed to McChrystal's defense and condemned Hastings for daring to engage in real journalism (as opposed to head-bobbing). But the real howler comes when Leibovich describes the reaction of now-disgraced former journalist Lara Logan:

But the harshest criticism came from inside the pack. CBS's chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan was brutal, saying that Hastings had violated an "unspoken agreement" between reporters and military officials. It is understood, she said, that journalists should not embarrass troops "by reporting insults and banter." She implied that Hastings had disingenuously gained the trust of his subjects and even that Hastings made up the offending material [bold added]--or at the very least burned the military leaders on an off-the-record agreement.
Who'da thought that a couple years later, Lara Logan would present a hard-hitting, troubling analysis of the attack on the American diplomatic compound at Benghazi, based primarily on an interview with some dude who made shit up? Leibovich concludes the tale 
The biggest point in this case concerns the place of the "reputable journalist" in the Washington Club--or lifetime banishment from it.

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