The WaPo’s Very Funny Idea of Source Protection

So on the same day that WaPo accepted Dave Weigel’s resignation for the unauthorized publication of emails that were off the record, it also published an article relying on anonymous sources–with no discussion of whether these sources have a motive for their comments–claiming Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings violated journalistic rules by publishing comments that were off the record. Mind you, the article itself supports the conclusion that the Bud Lite Lime imbibing blabbermouths just assumed their comments were off the record but never asked for them to be, particularly given the several other comments which they explicitly asked to be treated as off the record.

But that’s not the weirdest thing about the WaPo’s funny treatment of sources today.

In addition to the article beating up on the Rolling Stone for what appear to be unsubstantiated anonymous charges, they also post the entirety of a fact-checking exchange between an editor at Rolling Stone and Duncan Boothby, the McChrystal press aide who was fired after the article came out. And that exchange gives a fairly detailed description of who the Bud Lite Lime-imbibing blabbermouths were.

2.) Are the following people on McChrystal’s staff, and, are these titles correct:

a. Col. Charlie Flynn, McChrystal,s chief of staff — NO,CHARLIE IS HIS ‘XO’ OR EXECUTIVE OFFICER

b. Brig. Gen. Bill Mayville, McChrystal,s chief of operations–NO, MAJOR GENERAL, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF, OPERATIONS

c. Gen. Mike Flynn, McChrystal,s second-in-command — NO, MAJOR GENERAL, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE

3.) The reporter doesn,t name the following people, but he does give a list of vague descriptions for other people on McChrystal’s team. Can the following be found on McChrystal’s team: FINE, NO NAMES PREFERED



c. An Afghan Special Forces commando (YES WHO IS HIS AIDE DE CAMP)


e. Two fighter pilots (YUP)

f. And at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. (EVERY ONE HAS COMBAT TIME AND COIN EXPERIENCE OF SOME FORM OR ANOTHER)

Now, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Flynns were involved. As Jeff Stein reported earlier this week, there were rumors that they had been fired, which were subsequently denied.

In the shock wave following Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s abrupt summons from Kabul, word raced through Washington’s special operations circles that his senior staff had been relieved of duty, too.

“They were told to pack a suitcase and get on that plane,” one veteran of McChrystal’s staff said Wednesday. “They said ‘We’ll forward the rest of your belongings, your danger pay is done.’ ”

Chief among those said to be ordered out was Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, McChrystal’s intelligence chief, who authored a controversial denunciation of U.S. spying efforts in Afghanistan early this year, and his brother, Charlie, an Army colonel who is the general’s chief of staff.

Charlie Flynn had a cameo role at the top of the infamous Rolling Stone piece that did his boss in.

But the fevered buzz was false — or at least premature — according to a McChrystal spokesman who was still on duty in Kabul as the cashiered general left the White House.

“Col. Flynn accompanied him back because he is the general’s executive officer,” Tadd Sholtis said in an e-mail. “MG Flynn remained in Afghanistan to carry out his duties as our intelligence chief.”

And, as Stein points out, Charlie Flynn was named by name in the Rolling Stone piece.

Still, after ousting its own reporter because other DC journalists had violated the expectation that JournoList would be off the record, Karen DeYoung seems to be bending over backwards to claim that the Rolling Stone violated the expectation that the Bud Lite Lime blabbermouths were off the record. And she’s doing so by granting anonymity to people without at the same time telling her readers whether these folks refuse to go on the record because they’re trying to save their jobs threatened because they were too blabby on Bud Lite Lime to make sure their comments would be treated as off the record.

And then, the WaPo is naming three of these blabbermouths, and providing fairly explicit descriptions of seven more of them–remarkably, adding up to precisely the number of staff members traveling with McChrystal on that blabby trip to Paris (though I’m guessing there was just one Navy Seal and Boothby himself was the tenth man on the traveling team).

The Rolling Stone, apparently, had protected the identity of all but Charlie Flynn in this profile (Mayville is mentioned, but not in connection with the Paris trip). But the WaPo, with its very funny idea of source protection, has taken upon itself to out them.

Update: As Nitpicker notes, the Army Public Affairs Handbook states,

Before beginning the interview, collect your thoughts, remind yourself of the ground rules, and remember there is no such thing as “off the record.” [Emphasis original]

34 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    So on the same day that WaPo accepted Dave Weigel’s resignation…

    This is what happens when you disagree that Sally Quinn gives the best blowjobs.

  2. emptywheel says:

    Mind you, the descriptions from the fact check do appear in the article:

    There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority.

    • MadDog says:

      And I find it amusing that Karen DeYoung tried to make a big deal out of this:

      …In the last question, the fact-checker asked “Did Gen. McChrystal vote for President Obama? (The reporter tells me that this info originates from McChrystal himself.)”

      Boothby replied in all capitals. “IMPORTANT — PLEASE DO NOT INCLUDE THIS — THIS IS PERSONAL AND PRIVATE INFORMATION AND UNRELATED TO HIS JOB. IT WOULD BE INAPPROPRIATE TO SHARE.” He went on to describe the “strict rules” under which military personnel keep their political views to themselves…

      (My Bold)


      Didn’t you notice that every fookin’ reply from Boothby was in capitals?

      The dummy had his Caps Lock on for all of his responses!

  3. Athenae says:

    As I always tell journalism kids, it is not off the record until they ask AND YOU AGREE. If they just say, “this is off the record” and go on to confess to goat-blowing and kitten-stomping, that’s fair frickin’ game and spare me any ethics-panel wanking when it’s powerful people who should fracking know better.

    Besides which, on- and off-the-record are journalism constructs anyway, and depend entirely on trust between the source and the reporter. No trust, no record, no on or off it. It’s not illegal to burn a source by reporting his off-the-record comments, just dickish, and your bosses may yell at you and fire you, and nobody else may talk to you again after word gets around. But it’s not like you go to jail or get your Journalism Badge taken away.

    There are no rules to this except the ones journalists themselves have made up and pretend everyone adheres to equally in all situations. Something they like to forget when they’re yobbing off about bloggers having no standards.


    • emptywheel says:

      Oh how I wish you were there in the Libby trial laughing at the number of times Fitz asked a reporter how they defined the terms. Each time, someone different in the media room would say, “But doesn’t he understand, we all define this differently.” That was shortly before Russert came on and said someone of his stature had to assume all conversations were off the record (as Novak did as well).

  4. MadDog says:

    Gonna have to shut my PCs down for a while until this severe thunderstorm passes.

    Back later…I hope. *g*

    • emptywheel says:

      You’re not sending it this way, are you? Because for some reason not long after you or Athenae complains about a Fat AL Gore thunderstorm, we get one here.

      • MadDog says:

        Got a couple of inches of rain in a local downpour in about 45 minutes, and yes btw, on its way maybe mañana, to ya’ll in Michigan.

  5. JasonLeopold says:

    How much of this do you think has to do with jealousy that a reporter, who was reporting, which the Post seems to have a difficult time doing, wrote a story that got McChrystal fired and how much is about the close relationship that the Post has with people it depends on access to. I mean I am curious as to whether Karen D sought these military officials out as a way to build her narrative or if they came to her. I mean this reeks of a reporter trying to help McChrystal clean up after himself and also an attempt to discredit Hastings. Usually, when you write profile stories where you get to shadow the subject everything you do is on the record and the person being written about knows that. So trying to hide behind “it was off the record” is bullshit. This story smacks of DeYoung kissing major ass in hopes of gaining access to something or someone. And also, I understand if people may disagree with my “everything is on the record” meme. But it really is. Particularly if you’re Gen. Stanley McChrystal doing crazy dumb shit.

  6. JasonLeopold says:

    Full disclosure: Back in 2000, during the height of the California energy crisis, Gov. Gray Davis press secretary revealed to me, off the record, that he bought stock in energy companies using inside information he obtained during a meeting he and his staffers had with energy cos that were negotiating to sell electricity contracts to California. This was potentially illegal behavior. To make a long, long, long story short, I ended up using this information in a story and the press secretary was told it was going to be used in a story several hours after he disclosed the info and he provided a statement about what he did before the story came out.

    • bmaz says:

      This is a crap headline out of TPM. Fact is, the “honest services” statute was a bogus criminal statute that was terminally overbroad and vague, and the lazy and craven DOJ has been exploiting the hell out of it for years. And they have been applying it quite selectively too. It was a statute that never should have been passed in that form and never should have been taken advantage of in the selective way it was by federal prosecutors. If some convicted defendants get out of their convictions and/or prison as a result of a bad law being struck down, good. They should. That is the way the law works boys and girls. You want prosecutions to be fair and charges to stick? Insist the DOJ do its job properly instead of relying on shit statutes because it is easy and they are lazy. This was a very bad statute that should have been overturned; the only regret is that the material support statute was not similarly struck down as it is similarly bad.

      • fatster says:

        Thanks so much for the clarification. Whew! I do hope your comment gets noted by them over at TPM. They have it as their main feature right now.

  7. fatster says:

    Another O/T. Good grief, skdad., is this true? If so, the MOTU conquest rolls on.

    Toronto gets ‘secret’ arrest powers ahead of G20 protests

    “A government changes a law to allow police to arrest people without probable cause. It does so without any legislative debate. Then it keeps the change a virtual secret, until someone is arrested under those new powers.”


    • emptywheel says:

      The borders when I drove to Syracuse last weekend were so bad I decided to drive the long way back home.

      So I think they’ve been in lockdown for over a week.

      • fatster says:

        How draconian! Everybody in what, a 300 mile radius?, has to be put through all this disruption and inconvenience because of the MOTU. Intense. Just too intense.

    • skdadl says:

      Yes, it’s true. The good thing is, the major media reacted to this very very fast this morning, which clearly rocked Chief Blair back on his heels a bit. At one point he made some silly claim that the “regulatory” change hadn’t been secret because you could google it by its formal name … *cough* It had to be explained to Chief Blair that you can’t do a Google search if you don’t know what you’re looking for, or even that you’re supposed to be looking for anything.

      It’s clearly a Charter violation, but they don’t care. No one’s going to court over the next three days, and that’s why they kept it secret. I’m sure this legal two-step is familiar to many here.

      Amy Goodman is doing excellent reporting from the city — anyone who’s interested should go to the DN! site.

      The area around the so-called exclusion zone has become a ghost town. I’m not there but I’ve seen the photos, the boarding-up as well as the fences. Ugly would be the word that springs to the lips, which I suppose is fitting for the IPPs who are meeting under the protection of 20,000 police in one of the ugliest buildings on teh planet, and who will never see Toronto as it really is.

      The rallies look very good so far though, and Democracy Now! has been great at showing how alive they are compared to the dead zone where the “leaders” are meeting. What a treasure Amy and her crew are.

      • fatster says:

        Thanks to you, too, skdadl, though I wish that report hadn’t been true, either. Chief Blair is a real virtuoso on teh google, huh? Please stay safe.

        • skdadl says:

          Heh. If you could see my wee burgh … Still, I’ve been really tempted to hop on the train. Apparently everyone is having very fast commutes right now because all real Canajuns are avoiding the place like the plague.

          From what I hear, today would have been the perfect day for Petro and me to commute into the city, sneak past the cops at Union Station, and take over the best restaurant Petro knows, where we would have been ultra-spoiled because otherwise the place would have been deserted.

          Tomorrow could be dicier. I have to finish planting the herbs.

  8. Athenae says:

    Jason, bitchy professional jealousy is completely a part of this.

    However, you’re supposed to keep your carping about how it wasn’t really a scoop anyway so fuck in the newsroom, lest you be accused of sour grapes.


    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah, as I said, Cheney’s health issues do tend to come on days when he might be worried about prison time. And those McChrystal aides are likely to have a whole heckofalotta shit on Richard Bruce Cheney. Sort of makes you wonder how hard they would fight to keep their job?

      And btw, my twitter feed shows up over there in the right hand margin now.

    • klynn says:

      What if the stressor for RBC was a hit on team B in the ME (McCrystal). EW’s thoughts are good too IRT McC folks having something on him.

      • Hmmm says:

        It’s health. Possible connections are fun, and there’s no shortage of ’em to make, but it’s health.

    • fatster says:

      O/T backatcha: Saw a suggestion a little while ago that if his heart has sprung a leak, they should just get BP on it right away.

      • Hmmm says:

        Were I of a mind to snark, I might consider formulating some reply to the general effect that your predicate, “his heart sprung a leak,” assumes facts most assuredly not in evidence.

        Given my sensitivity to the health issue, I’m so proud I refrained from going there…

  9. Spencer Ackerman says:

    If you read deeply into that factchecker exchange, you’ll see that Boothby reveals something new: that the tempo of Special Operations activities increased “three to four times” during McChrystal’s tenure.

  10. Gerald says:

    I was in the Navy over 30 years and am retired now, though I am now doing contract work on ships, some of them USS. I don’t need a job in one sense, but I do need the sea, and by the way this debacle in the Gulf just kills me. It is really killing my sister who is planning a child’s (2nd time) wedding in Pensacola next month and is having family from all over the country come and that has entailed renting some extra condos for family and friends to stay in for a month. When asked about the oil, she said sadly, “Well we will just use the pool if we have to.” I told her to come to the other side (of Florida) where I have a small place and she said she wanted it at her home.

    Now don’t consider that I am placing my sister’s or my problem, thus far(the Pensacola NAS beaches), on a par with that of a guy running or working on a boat to support his family. I am not. What I am saying is that it is very personal to me too.

    There is no identifiable good reason why they didn’t have a 2nd cut off below the BOP. None that I as an engineer, Naval, or otherwise, can see. Oh, saving money? Well how did that work out?

    But about the press. I never had a position like a Commander of a War Theater, but I was the lead guy on, or on the responsible team many a time on ship problems that were of great concern to many people including the public in large towns and ports, and on 3 occasions were of world wide interest.

    When I could talk or was actually requested to give an interview, I had a simple policy. EVERYTHING IS ON THE RECORD! Now that is out of the way, we can talk about anything you want, and I will phrase my answers accordingly. I never had a problem. Not the slightest, even with misquotes or false attributions. On the 3 world wide interest incidents, of which I will elaborate further that 2 were huge, I would put my own tape recorder on the table. I still have that little tape recorder come to think of it.

    (By the way the “interviewee having their own tape recorde” is what Paul Wolfowitz who was at the Pentagon for many years and who is probably thoroughly disliked here, used to do. It saved him many a time. His demise was when he got his girl friend a better job.)

    Alcohol and women have led many a man, good or not, to a downfall!

    • emptywheel says:

      Thanks–great point.

      We shouldn’t need off the record except for very rarely. We do so bc of excess secrecy, partly, but also because so much of what we do is a big kabuki.

  11. fatster says:

    Drone strike in N Waziristan kills 4

    This brief article contains the interesting information that 900 people have been killed in 100 drone attacks in Pakistan since August, 2008. No breakdown by age and gender, though.


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