Week In News: The Media And McChrystal's Ouster

A Rolling Stone article led to the resignation this week of Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his post in Afghanistan. Now many Washington-based journalists are criticizing that article's author, Michael Hastings, for violating an unwritten code. Host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about the controversy.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hosting leaders from the 20 largest economies in the world this weekend in Toronto and he says the conversation at this G-20 is still heavily influenced by the financial collapse that began more than two years ago.

Prime Minister STEPHEN HARPER (Canada): That lesson from 2008 and that risk today is what overwhelmingly drives all G-20 leaders as we look at the problems we see before us.

RAZ: We are often joined on Saturdays by James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic.

Jim, hi.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (The Atlantic): Hello, Guy. Nice to talk to you.

RAZ: As we heard from our Scott Horsley in Toronto a few minutes ago, there are some crucial differences in opinion between the U.S. and most of the rest of the world's leading economies on how to handle their finances right now.

The U.S. obviously is warning European countries that spending cuts could slow down the global economic recovery, but will they listen to us, Jim? I mean, particularly when so many countries argue that it was the shenanigans on Wall Street, you know, that caused the mess in the first place.

Mr. FALLOWS: Sure. And there are some genuine differences of national interest that simple persuasiveness won't necessarily overcome. The Germans are much more deficit-averse than other countries are; the British are sort of leaning that way. The Chinese are concerned about reducing their trade surplus.

But I think you have to say the U.S. is in a better position to make a case than it would have been two or three months ago, in that with the apparent passage of its financial reform bill, the Obama administration can say, look, you're worried about Wall Street, we are, too, and we're doing something about it. So now let's move on to the next step.

RAZ: Obviously, Jim, the biggest story this week was the sacking of General McChrystal, his replacement by David Petraeus in Afghanistan.

Firstly, I want to ask you about this young reporter who wrote the profile, Michael Hastings, he is getting a lot of flack from beat reporters in Washington. They're suggesting that he violated some unspoken code. But I wonder whether it's those same reporters, Jim, who are actually violating the public trust by not reporting those things.

Mr. FALLOWS: This is a really rich episode both about military policy and also about the nature of the press. And what I've been thinking about it is it illustrates that the mores and performance of the American press are necessarily always in flux because there are disadvantages of doing things any way. If you're too close to sources, you become co-opted, as Michael Hastings would say some of the beat reporters are. If you're too far away from them, you may not be fully informed. If you burn them once, as he may have done in this case, you can't go back again, et cetera, et cetera.

Actually, I've thought of the career of Bob Woodward in this regard. You know, almost 40 years ago, he and Carl Bernstein were the classic outsiders who were able to essentially undo the Nixon administration. You could argue that Woodward, for the last 20 years, has been the classic insider.

Maybe generationally and in the ferment of the press, we're always going to be experimenting and mixing because there's no one right answer and we need both kinds of journalism.

RAZ: Jim, you'll recall that when General Petraeus was brought in to reorganize the strategy in Iraq in 2007, he was already being hailed as a sort of Ulysses Grant, obviously the man who saved the Union during the Civil War. But now, Jim, I'm wondering if it can be said that David Petraeus, even if he doesn't succeed in Afghanistan, can it be said that he has to, in some ways, be regarded as one of the most significant military officers in American history?

Mr. FALLOWS: Certainly one of. And I will say that I was impressed that President Obama had persuaded General Petraeus to take this job and impressed by General Petraeus that he did it. Because the main skepticism about him in the military where the adulation and admiration is very high is that perhaps he was too career focused and be sure to get the next star and the next star.

It's hard to see what is the sort of career upside for General Petraeus taking over what looks like a very difficult situation in Afghanistan. So that demands some real admiration. There has been a long sort of category in American public life for the scholar warrior hero. And General Petraeus, in this way, is sort of like a Maxwell Taylor.

RAZ: Oh, yes.

Mr. FALLOWS: He was a favorite - he was a hero of World War II and Korea and a favorite of John F. Kennedy's. But certainly, whatever General Petraeus does in Afghanistan, he has a very impressive record so far.

RAZ: And both of them, Jim, served in the 101st as well.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes, indeed. They were both the commanders of the Screaming Eagles.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's a national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog postings at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thank you so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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