Week In News: McChrystal, Sherrod, Schorr

Pentagon brass offered Gen. Stanley McChrystal a bittersweet farewell at his retirement ceremony Friday — weeks after damning comments appeared in a Rolling Stone article that forced him to resign his post in Afghanistan. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about the legacy of McChrystal and some of the week's other big news stories.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

General STANLEY McCHRYSTAL (Former Commander, U.S. Forces in Afghanistan): My service did not end as I would have wished. And there are misperceptions about the loyalty and service of some dedicated professionals that will likely take some time, but I believe will be corrected.

CORNISH: That's General Stanley McChrystal at his retirement ceremony yesterday. The general, of course, was ousted as the chief U.S. commander in Afghanistan after that ill-fated interview in Rolling Stone magazine.

With me to discuss this and the week's other biggest news stories is James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic.

Jim, welcome.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (News Analyst, The Atlantic): Audie, thanks very much. Nice to talk to you.

CORNISH: Let's start with Afghanistan. General McChrystal leaves a pretty difficult situation there. We just learned today that five more U.S. troops have died. July is already becoming the deadliest month of the war. What kind of coda was that retirement ceremony for McChrystal's career and to this chapter of the war?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, obviously, a difficult one. It must be said in General McChrystal's credit and to his lasting honor that he, by his personal bearing over the last month or so, has turned what was a potential crisis in civil-military relations into - he's removed that by being so dignified about what has happened to him.

However, his retirement ceremony must have been really difficult for him personally because he'd gone so short a time from being so successful to being the object of this great controversy, even more in terms of the policy.

General McChrystal has been the embodiment of the Obama administration's bargain, which was if they bore down hard enough for a limited period of time in Afghanistan, that would make the difference, and the U.S. will be able to start withdrawing next year.

The trend of news - including this latest, tragic news for American troops out of Afghanistan - suggests that politically, militarily, economically and in terms of a civil society, the trends do not look good in Afghanistan. And I'm sure General McChrystal is as aware of that as anybody.

CORNISH: Now, the other story that dominated the Obama administration's time this week was the curious case of Shirley Sherrod. In the space of 48 hours, she was fired after a conservative website posted what seemed to be an incriminating video. And after the full video was released, she was exonerated and then got an apology, and then a new job offer - all in the space of a couple of days. When's the last time we saw a story move this fast?

Mr. FALLOWS: Boy, I would have to say, basically, never. If you go back a dozen-plus years ago to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandals, that took, you know, a week or more of gestation before it got into the mainstream press. And so, too, with George W. Bush and his National Guard dispute.

I think what's happened now is that the rise of alternative media, of the blogosphere and partisan media, has made it easier for new sources of information to get around the staid mainstream media, with all their strengths and all their weaknesses. It has obvious benefits in letting more voices be heard. The problem is there is a function that news organizations like yours and like mine, like newspapers have had, which is to check facts and to ask, well, what if this is not true?

And so I think if there's any benefit from this spectacle, it may be in reminding people of the advantages of some sort of break on the rush to judgment, and the importance of some kind of checking function even in the new-media environment.

CORNISH: Finally, Jim, Daniel Schorr, a venerable journalist and our friend and colleague here at NPR, died yesterday. Can you reflect a little on that loss, I mean, especially in light of the media failings this week.

Mr. FALLOWS: I know that there has been, and will be, a lot of deserved discussion on NPR about Daniel Schorr. Let me just say something about him personally. I think if he were, ironically, discussing his own passing, he might reflect on his great fortune as a human being. He lived much longer than most people are allowed to live. He had full control of his faculties until the very end.

I saw him just two or three weeks ago, and he was using a walker. He was as sharp as ever. And most important, he was able to remain engaged through the entirety of his life, thanks largely to NPR through this last quarter-century or so. And so - is an example of living your life for a long time well, doing day by day and month by month and year by year things you think matter. I think it's an inspiration to people in journalism and lots of other fields, too.

CORNISH: James Fallows is national correspondent for The Atlantic, and our regular news analyst. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thanks so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Audie.

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