The last three episodes of our weekly podcast have been outstanding. I feel like we're really getting somewhere, both in studying the mess that is the technology industry and the mess that is the news industry.
One topic deserves a call-out here -- the mess that was uncovered in the firing of Stanley McChrystal as chief of our military presence in Afghanistan. I don't mean the mess in the military, I mean the mess in the relationship between government and the press, the people who supposedly cover them.
I couldn't understand why a smart, succesful and responsible person like McChrystal, a general in our military for crying out loud, could be so incredibly reckless in what he said about his commanding officer, the President of the United States. Sure, he has freedom of speech, but if he has so little respect for his boss, what choice does he have but to resign? And of course he should tell us the truth about why he resigned. But what kind of coward says stuff like that behind someone's back and expects to have his back covered? And who is he expecting to do the covering? A reporter? A person whose responsibility is to us, the readers, to get us the information we need about our government?
(In all the talk about the reporter supposedly breaking a confidence, all done by sources who are allowed, by the press to attack anonymously, I haven't heard anyone call out the cowardice of McChrystal's back-channel trashing of the Commander In Chief. Cowards protecting cowards. What a story. That's our military.)
It's a well-known but not-often-reported fact that there's a lot of footsie going on between the reporters and the people they cover, both in government and in business. It's why you don't hear about the problems with iPhones until the users have them in their hands. It's why the reporters of the NY Times and Wall Street Journal write hard-hitting puff pieces that declare the products the Second Coming of Christ when they're actually optional and minor improvements over what came before.
Look, I get a lot of heat for not revering the press. There was a time when I did, when I was growing up. But that was probably because I didn't see inside the box, I just saw the packaging. Part of the reason I can see inside is that I grew up and the people running the news industry are my peers now. There's no mystique left for me. But another reason is that there are these new channels for information and ideas to flow, and they aren't controlled by the reporters. When the problems with iPhones hit the users, we find out within hours of the product's release. There's no where for them to hide now. If they don't see that we see that they are controlled by the people they cover, it's because they don't have the guts to look.
My colleague Jay Rosen says it's necessary for reporters to cultivate background relationships with sources, so when they need to find out what's really going on, they know who to call. But, I ask -- in our last episode -- what's an acceptable price for this? And how can they walk that fine line without falling over into the kind of sloppiness that got McChrystal to figure he could mouthe off to the reporter and not have it make it into Rolling Stone?
I'd prefer a system where people tell the truth and do it openly and without reservation. If McChrystal has no respect for our President let him resign and then say so. What kind of man feels that way about his boss and stays in his job? Is that really the kind of person we want running a crucial and costly military operation? I think not.
PS: It's great to see Rolling Stone stand up to the bullshitters.