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Did Twitter cost McChrystal his command?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal shakes the hand of a supporter before testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal shakes the hand of a supporter before testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.
  • Author: The story tapped into latent anxiety about the war in Afghanistan
  • "Frontline troops nowadays are also online troops," writes Hendrik Hertzberg

(Wired) -- That's the argument John Timpane made in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday: that our hypermetabolic, Twitter-fueled media culture allowed the remarks from General McChrystal 's crew to spread so far and so fast, Obama had almost no choice but to relieve him. Think of it as information blitzkrieg.

"Fast, overwhelming, decisive: It's a case study in how tightly connected 21st-century media can whip a story into a full-on tsunami, with startling consequences for individual careers and national policy ... Noah Shachtman, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and a blogger at Wired magazine, says: 'The fact so many of us are networked together enabled the information to spread speed-of-light fast. That turned what might have been a slower-burning flame into an instant conflagration.' [Okay, okay. That sounds a little pretentious. But you get the idea -- ed.] How fast? The Rolling Stone article that started it all ... doesn't hits newsstands until today."

Obviously, the content of the story -- and the progress of the Afghan campaign, and the political environment back home -- mattered more than the speed of the news. The story tapped into a lot of latent anxiety and hostility about the war in Afghanistan that hadn't been given an outlet yet. Combine that with the 24-second news cycle, and ... Well, you see the results.

Update: Stars and Stripes ace and Twitter fanatic Kevin Baron doesn't buy the Inquirer's argument.

Video: Writer defends his methods

"Every reporter in the Pentagon news room, and many beyond, had a copy of the Rolling Stone article by late Monday night. I had it about 6 p.m., which from what I read is before even Obama saw it, yes? Then at about 10 p.m. I got a copy of the McChrystal apology from ISAF which was even more stunning than the article for its total lack of a denial. So before most of Twitterdom went to bed not knowing anything of it, we were already doing reporting on it, and writing -- with a few posting it, obviously. Before I finished my morning joe (lowercase) I saw NBC news' Samantha Guthrie's Tweet that the WH had summoned McC to the flagpole, which hit every cable station about a millisecond later. THEN the story went viral," he e-mails Danger Room. "I love Twitter, but it wasn't the golden goose this time."

Hendrik Hertzberg contends the troops' connectivity -- not just the civilians' -- played heavily into McChrystal's fall. "Frontline troops nowadays are also online troops. They are plugged in to the Internet, to Facebook, to blogs, to e-mail and Skype. They talk to each other in chat rooms with little or no supervision from the brass. It's all instant and it's all in their face. And that, I hasten to add, is not a bad thing. It's a good thing. But it makes the morale of the troops that much more fragile, that much more apt to be affected by relative trivialities. The fact that General McChrystal, along with his 'Team America' posse of adjutants, understood none of this was reason enough to send him packing. His 'conduct' wasn't just a disservice to his President; it was a disservice to the men and women under his command."

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Copyright 2011


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