Military Says Rolling Stone Broke Ground Rules on McChrystal Story

ABC News' Luis Martinez reports:

A senior military official tells ABC News that Rolling Stone broke journalistic ground rules established for the magazine’s profile of the general by publishing comments that occurred during what McChrystal’s aides thought were off-the-record sessions that would not be reported. The official said the magazine’s claim that there were no ground rules for the interview and profile was an “absurd statement.”

The official says a review of events has found no ground rules for the article in writing, but the official is confident that many of the attention-grabbing comments made by McChrystal staffers were made in what they thought were off-the-record discussions.

The review found Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings conducted “several one-on-one interviews -- some of those were on background and others were on the record.” Hastings also was allowed access to other sessions that “were off-the-record and intended to give him a sense” of how McChrystal’s team worked together.

The official says no evidence has been found to suggest that the most “salacious political quotes were from any of these one-on-one interviews. They all appear to have been in settings that were off the record.”

The official adds that Rolling Stone is incorrect in stating that the magazine sent McChrystal’s staff an advance draft of the story, sending instead a list of 30 questions compiled by a researcher who was fact-checking Hastings' article. Those questions, says the official, did not “come close to revealing what ended up in the final article.”

A copy of that e-mail obtained by ABC News shows the submitted questions requested confirmation of details such as whether McChrystal’s staff had a “full-scale operations center" set up in the Hotel Westminster during their visit to Paris this past April. “Yes” came the reply from McChrystal press aide Duncan Boothby, who had set up the interview and resigned his post in the wake of the controversy surrounding the article. He added. “Not sure, I’d call it full scale, but everywhere we go we have capability for immediate comms.”

A key moment in the Rolling Stone article is when Hastings described how McChrystal and President Obama had failed to connect on a personal level from the outset. Hastings went on to describe a description provided by aides of McChrystal’s first meeting with Obama where he “didn’t seem very engaged.”

Hastings' description of McChrystal’s relationship with Obama begins with the mention that McChrystal had voted for Obama. According to the researcher’s questions, that information came from McChrystal himself. In his reply, Boothby requests that piece of information not be included in the article because it would present an undue command influence. The researcher asks, “Did Gen. McChrystal vote for President Obama? [The reporter tells me that this info originates from McChrystal himself.]”

Boothby replies: “Important – Please do not include this. This is personal and private information and unrealtd (sic) to his job. It would be inappropriate to share. My reason for this is it would present an undue command inflluence (sic) on junior officers or soldiers who should make their own political decisions. There are very strict rules in the military on separating church and state on this sort of stuff – Have to keep out of political preference and personal choice.”

- Luis Martinez

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