McChrystal, Geraldo and me: Full disclosure

This one will fall short of that (I hope, anyway), but it may surprise you: "Full disclosure: Geraldo Rivera and I are friends of long standing.” At least we have been until now, because I want to take issue with his Fox News appearance, in which he strongly criticized Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings for repeating the incendiary comments by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his aides that got McChrystal fired. Geraldo contends Hastings and the magazine were out of line, that, given his access, there should have been "a cone of privilege [Geraldo's words] that kept the bitter snarkiness about the president and the chain of command confidential.”

"If it's not on the record,” Rivera continued, "it's off the record,” meaning, I suppose, that these defiant statements should have been kept confidential because the smart-alecks didn't know better.

There's something to be said for that, when you're embedded with a unit on a battlefield, as Geraldo proudly points out he has been. So have I and so do I, although I never broke the agreement not to reveal the troops' position, like he did. The point is that the foot soldiers cannot be expected to be sophisticated about all the media rules. Fair play requires they be warned ahead of time that what they say can harm them. But we're not talking about grunts. We're talking about the commander of Afghanistan forces — a four-star general — and the people clustered around him at the top. They didn't get there immediately after falling off a turnip truck, although their dumbass remarks sure made it look like they had.

There's also another Geraldo quote from the same interview that bears examination: Making the point, I suppose, that we journalists, who are U.S. citizens “want America to win the war,” he only makes half a point. Of course, we all want our country to win. And our contribution is holding the feet of our leaders to the fire. We serve an important purpose when we expose, as Hastings's article did, the huge breaks in the chain of command and the distracting infighting that most likely has caused the Afghanistan war to go badly. The piece makes it very clear that the military guys were not doing what they're supposed to do, which is to "salute smartly and follow orders,” unless, of course, you mean the one-fingered salute.

The story also validly raises questions about President Obama's leadership as commander in chief, and whether he's running a loose ship that is sinking. So contrary to what Geraldo says — that "This is a terrible thing this reporter did” — it was actually quite the opposite: a mighty good thing, in the best reporter tradition. What we need when it comes to the faltering Afghanistan is a more complete picture of the reasons why. In other words, what we need is even more full disclosure.


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.