So let’s be clear: it’s really impossible to know what General McChrystal was thinking. It’s hard to imagine that anyone with the discipline required to become a general could be sloppy enough to talk so openly to a reporter. My immediate thought is that he wanted to get fired. Though surely there are easier ways to do that.
In any event, it does present a great opportunity to discuss a few media basics. Here are what I think are the three key takeaways:
1. Reporters are not your friends. Even if the reporter is actually your friend, he or she is not your friend. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to see splashed across the front page of the newspaper. Or, as it were, in the pages of Rolling Stone.
2. Nothing is off the record. Again, even if you say “off the record” it’s probably not really off the record (and, it appears, McChrystal didn’t try to put that restriction on in this case). Again, don’t say anything you don’t want to see printed.
3. Don’t let the usual content of the publication persuade you to let down your guard. The Times piece speculates that Rolling Stone got the juicy quotes because of their reputation for only covering music and pop culture. Again, I doubt McChrystal is that naive, but it’s a good lesson nevertheless. Don’t assume any publication is going to do a puff piece.