Media Analysis: The Runaway General

The now infamous Rolling Stone article, The Runaway General, at first reads like a profile.  The opening line, “How’d I get screwed into going to this dinner?”, is a direct quote from Gen. McChrystal.   The quote introduces a theme of discontent and rebellion that is reinforced throughout the story.

From left, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, General Stanley McChrystal, and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai

The writer injects the first debatable opinion in the same graf when he questions the existence of U.S. allies.  He immediately backs up his opinion by citing the withdrawal of support from several countries.  This demonstrates the importance of never stating an opinion without backing it up with evidence.

On the next page, the writer shows McChrystal’s method and implementation for fighting the war in Afghanistan.  He also shows controversy behind the general’s methods by quoting his peers.  Next, Hastings takes the reader inside a bar.  He introduces the general’s “Team America” entourage.  To be blunt, the “Team America” nickname is used with devastating irony.  The pop culture term illuminates the hubris of the general and his followers.

The next two pages dive deeper into the politics affecting the war and McChrystal’s personal and professional history.  We’re given more insight into the general’s arrogant, rebellious nature and some of his recent controversies.  This information shows the reader how the general became the man currently being interviewed.  It also shows the general connecting with the men he’s in charge of.

The fifth page brings us back to the present tense.  We’re taken inside a meeting that shows the frustration of current soldiers, who have to deal with the general’s directives on a daily basis.  Juxtaposing positive and negative examples of McChrystal’s policy implementation gives the reader a balanced portrait of the situation.

Though the piece begins as a profile of a high ranking general, a theme of futility and doubt on the war in Afghanistan is implied throughout the article.  The article uses McChrystal’s interview to illuminate shortcomings of the war effort and predict future inevitable failures.

An optimist or idealist might argue that a piece like this shouldn’t be controversial, that we should always have this type of access to people who are in charge of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.  A realist might question the general’s willingness to be interviewed by Rolling Stone.  McChrystal is probably wondering how he got screwed into giving this interview.

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