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April 22, 2010

Michael Yon and the Benefit of the Doubt

Last night I linked to a song parody that indirectly satirizes what Jules Crittenden called the Yon Flap:

Lacking more information, I’m inclined to give Yon the benefit of a doubt. And might be inclined to give him the benefit of a doubt even if he turns out to be completely wrong and out of line on all of this. I hope it doesn’t result in the unraveling or sidelining of what has been to date a great freelance war correspondence. Also, I really hate blogosphere feuds, but obviously they are an inevitable part of the territory. What makes this different is that it is not just another dumb blogosphere flap, but apparently involves some serious issues potentially compromising a vital asset for anyone trying to understand these wars of ours.

I've been watching this one for more than a week now - well before Instapundit and NRO chose to link what I can only describe as grave (and to date totally unfounded) accusations of criminal malfeasance against the senior commander in Afghanistan.

Before the blog princess goes into orbit around Planet Earth, a few important disclaimers are required. Anyone who has read VC for any time at all will know of the deep respect and personal affection I have for Jules, both as a writer and as a man. His support during the last Valour IT fundraiser was an indispensable part of our success but our association goes back much farther than that. He and I talked back when he was only thinking of launching what has become one of the best run and most professional blogs out there. In a way if it weren't for Jules, VC wouldn't exist at all. So nothing I am about to say should be taken as an attempt to criticize him or single him out. We have a simple disagreement, that's all - one that our respective experiences make almost inevitable.

Over the years, I've disagreed with most of my friends at one time or another and I've never hesitated to say so. Most of us are still friends because we're talking about folks who are generous enough and confident enough not to confuse disagreement with disloyalty. They understand that blogging is a conversation, and that conversations conducted in an echo chamber are neither interesting nor enlightening. If I were asked why I blog, I'd have to cite my strong belief that we need the clash of opposing viewpoints to better understand current events. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined news is not worth blogging about.

I'd like to get away from personalities because there are some very important principles at stake here. Most of you know that over the years I've written for several widely read and well respected milblogs. Greyhawk, the Donovan, Matty O'Blackfive, Grim and yes, Jules have all been kind enough to allow me to stun their readers senseless with my random musings and I remain very grateful for the chance to give my ideas a wider exposure than they would get here at VC. But that very exposure is a big part of why I haven't taken greater advantage of their generosity.

Most of you also know that the spousal unit is a fairly senior Marine officer. At times this has made it difficult for me to comment on the top stories of the day. When in doubt I have erred on the side of over caution when writing about anything that touches his work even tangentially. But there is another way in which his rank has made blogging about the war difficult, and it touches directly on what Jules so aptly called "the Yon flap".

A big part of the milblogging mystique is the idea that milbloggers deliver the real, gritty, unvarnished truth from the folks on the front lines. As the wife of a senior officer who would no sooner blog than he would rob a bank, I have mixed feelings about this notion. For nearly 30 years I have watched the man I love rise through the ranks. I've watched him and his fellow officers (a significant number of whom were prior enlisted) grapple with the complex challenges of leading an increasingly diverse all volunteer force: a force that draws from a society that celebrates aggressive individualism and is, if anything, actively hostile to authority and rules.

The Internet has exacerbated the American tendency to reflexively suspect authority to a degree I consider unwise and unhealthy. In many ways, the Internet is an ideal vector for moral hazard: it makes activities that once required personal investment, courage, and careful thought a bit too easy. Online whistleblowing is a great example of this problem. Certainly we don't want to discourage the disclosure of criminal or unethical conduct. But when whistleblowing becomes too easy, malicious or self interested actors begin to game the system and a vital safeguard against the abuse of authority becomes a vehicle for anonymous partisan harassment of public servants who have done nothing wrong.

There's a painful paradox here because despite being an evil officer, my husband joined the Marine Corps because he's an ardent and passionate defender of liberty. He loves freedom, but at the same time he understands that without the tempering influences of responsibility and accountability, freedom morphs into license. I think we're in real danger of losing that last idea. You know, the responsibility and accountability part. We love the freedom. The accountability for our own actions, not so much.

As I've watched my husband rise through the ranks, I've watched his freedom of action and speech diminish in direct proportion to each increase in responsibility and authority. This is something I don't believe most people understand. They think a leader can do whatever he or she wants to. I suppose a bad leader will always find ways to abuse authority and power. But a good leader - and my husband is a good leader - inevitably finds that as his responsibilities grow, they begin to overwhelm his personal freedom of speech and action. In many ways this makes sense, because as he is given more responsibility his actions and words carry far more weight than they used to. A careless word can be devastating for his command and (as he increases in rank) possibly for his entire service.

This is why you don't often see senior officers blogging. People will try to tell you that senior officers don't blog because they have stars in their eyes. In some cases that may even be part of the truth, though statements like that presume a lack of integrity which ought to trouble us a bit. But the rest of the truth is that in many ways, blogging is inimical to what senior officers do. It is inimical to the very qualities that good leaders must cultivate: discretion, self restraint, self discipline, the ability to hold yourself to a higher and far more limiting standard than is demanded of those you lead. It's important to be careful here. I'm not saying that milbloggers lack these qualities. If I thought that, I would not consider myself a part of the milblogging family. What I'm trying to say is that senior leaders don't have the same freedoms as the rest of us. Not even close.

Understanding this is critical to understanding the so-called Yon flap. It is critical because a large part of Michael Yon's appeal is the notion that he delivers the "real", unvarnished truth from the front lines. And his work may well convey part of that truth.

But it's not the whole truth, and it's vitally important that we as consumers of milblogging and the work of embedded reporters understand this. It is vitally important that we understand the structural reasons why senior leaders can't just wade right into the good, milbloggy fun; why they are, in a sense, muzzled.

If you don't understand that, you are in danger of mistaking part of the truth for the whole truth.

About a month ago I had an interesting conversation with an old friend.

I had invited her and her husband over for dinner. My friend and her husband are what I'd consider moderate Democrats. During the conversation the subject of the role of women (and gays) in the military came up. This is something of a hot button topic for me, and I carefully attempted to provide some practical perspective on how diversity initiatives - whatever you think of their ultimate worth - can and do make it extremely difficult to make the trains run on time. After I finished, she fell silent for a moment and then said, "You know, I never thought of all those things and I've never read about them in the media. It really is complicated, isn't it?"

If you only have part of the truth, the truth often seems that way. It seems simple when in fact, it is not simple at all.

I doubt I changed my friend's mind, but I do believe that as a result of our conversation she gained a fuller understanding and appreciation of the very real challenges the military faces in trying to implement what amounts to a social experiment. As we saw with the folks who recently chained themselves to the White House fence, identity politics and diversity drives create perverse incentives that directly undermine the military ethos of service over self. Military training attempts to strip new recruits of their individual identity; to teach them to accept authority and follow rules: to be selfless rather than self interested. Without such training, the esprit de corps and heroism that define America's armed forces would not be possible. One Medal of Honor recipient says it better than I can:

"I truly believe that you'll never truly lead anybody, until you learn to serve. And you'll never truly serve anybody, until you learn there's something more important than yourself."

- Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch, US Army, Vietnam.

This is why I have such a problem with Jules' willingness to give Michael the benefit of the doubt even if it turns out that he is out of line and even if his accusations turn out to be factually wrong.

I think the truth ought to matter to us. Milbloggers and embeds love to flatter themselves that they and only they can convey the "real, unvarnished truth" about this war. But the real truth is that they have access to only part of this truth because senior leaders cannot speak with the same candor as the the PFC in the chow line or the much touted Strategic Corporal.

It isn't that these folks don't provide valuable perspective on how the war is going. It's that their limited perspective speaks to only a part of what goes on on the front lines. I don't think it's reasonable to assume a Lance Corporal or a Sergeant or even a Lieutenant or Captain has the same experience and knowledge as a commanding General or battalion CO. I don't think it's reasonable to assume that the view from the foxhole is the same as the view from the top; that it's more honest, more valid, or more "true". There's an important difference between the two viewpoints: one of which is on offer and the other of which is by necessity seldom seen. That battalion CO or commanding General has often done the job of a Lance Corporal, Sergeant, or Lieutenant. That's how he got to where he is today. My oldest friend in the Corps is married to a guy who came in as a PFC and retired a full Colonel. He gave this nation 35 years of heartfelt and principled service and because of him we have a better nation and a better Corps. His son is a career staff NCO who has risen through the enlisted ranks. Carrie is married to a senior Marine. Her son is enlisted. I have sat at a hail and fairwell where senior officers spoke with passion and anguish about the challenges faced by new PFCs and Corporals and Sergeants. Their love, admiration, and concern for the men they command is real and compelling.

So while the notion that senior officers are out of touch, incompetent, uncaring tyrants who make arbitrary rules simply because they can holds great emotional appeal for too many in the Milblog family, it's a cheap shot. Moreover, it's a cheap shot that responsible leaders - by definition - don't even try to refute. The whole truth is that all too often, the folks with the most knowledge about rules that are difficult to understand can't speak freely.

Journalists like Yon have an important role to play in telling the story of the war on terror. But that word "journalist", like the word "officer", implies responsibility. I have a real problem with the idea of giving the benefit of the doubt to a professional journalist even if it turns out that what he is reporting isn't the truth at all. Even if he is out of line. Even if he repeatedly makes grave, unsupported accusations about anyone who stands in his way. I have a problem with accusations like this:

... I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people trust the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched.

And this:

...McChrystal cannot be trusted to tell the truth about this war.

And this:

The disembed from McChrytal’s top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?

How's that again? Michael Yon is fired from his FOURTH embed and the only possible explanation is that the senior commander in Afghanistan is an incompetent liar who is deceiving the President of the United States and the SecDef?

Wow [swatting at the black helicopters]. That's a pretty serious allegation. Michael Yon is purportedly a professional journalist. As such, shouldn't he be held to some elementary standards of professionalism? But more importantly, how much sense does it make to extend the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Yon for what amounts to unsourced and unsupported allegations of criminal misconduct against a career soldier?

Is this where the bar should be set for professional journalists? Do they have no responsibility to back up such a serious charge with evidence?

It is not (as some have alleged) that General McChrystal cannot be challenged or criticized. It's that it's profoundly irresponsible for someone of Yon's stature to casually toss out accusations like that with no proof. As the accuser, he bears the burden of proof. And he has provided none.

Oddly, those who believe Yon should be given the benefit of the doubt appear strangely reluctant to extend that same courtesy to career soldiers doing a difficult and yes, dangerous job that for most of them has meant years of separation from their families and extraordinary personal sacrifices. Absent some concrete evidence of wrongdoing, don't they deserve the benefit of the doubt too?

My guess is that this happens because it's way too easy to snipe from the cheap seats. That's a harsh criticism, I know but there's a large element of truth there as well. For too long there has been no real cost associated with taking uninformed potshots at senior military leaders:

"Task Force Kandahar, responsible for security of the bridge that was blown up on Monday, happens to be under Canadian command," Mr. Yon wrote.

CanadianForces Lt.-Col. Danny Fortin said Mr. Yon's description was inaccurate. The bridge, which lies on Highway 4 a short distance from Kandahar Airfield, "does not fall within Canada's area of responsibility for security," he said.

Oops.

While confirming that the general watched the hockey game with some Canadian and American troops, the game "was over hours before the incident at the bridge," Mr. Fortin said.

Ah. So except for the fact that the Canadians weren't responsible for the security of that bridge (and even if they had been, the hockey game was over several hours before the attack) Mr. Yon did an admirable job of getting out the real, unvarnished truthiness from the front lines.

Not:

The Commanding General of RC-South will move 5/2 SBCT HQ from Kandahar to another location, dangerously inhibiting Stryker combat and intelligence operations for several months. (About 50% of remaining tour.) This is like watching the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, only to see the coaches snatched from the game to re-arrange the locker room. HQ will be in disarray.

Since we're all about extending the benefit of the doubt even to people who might be completely wrong and out of line, why would anyone assume an embed has anything like the knowledge or experience required to intelligently second guess the area commander? Why does he get a pass on disclosing troop movements (on Facebook of all places!) that even the family members of men in that command aren't privy to? Why has he been given a pass on disclosing information about KIA before their families had been notified?

When the blogger left Iraq for a break and then tried to return in September, the Army said no. Lt. Col. Steven Boylan wrote to Yon, telling him he had violated his embed agreement, which requires withholding photos of dead and injured soldiers until their family members had been notified.

If your answer to that question is, "Because he's Michael Yon", I have to question both your logic and your priorities. Would we extend this kind of uncritical and unthinking pass to a journalist for the NY Times who did these things?

I think not. And that's the real point here. There is no question that Mr. Yon has done admirable and important work. But his reputation - no matter how well deserved - is not more important than the truth. He's important, but I would argue that Stan McChrystal has some small role to play in the war effort, too. It's not that leaders like BG Menard and Gen. McChrystal can't be questioned. But I think that the standard for a professional journalist ought to be responsible criticism. And I question the assumption that an embedded reporter who isn't privy to all of the intel and military briefings and has never had to make life and death decisions in a complex, multinational command environment in a war zone should be given the benefit of the doubt when he repeatedly sources accusations of incompetence and criminal neglect or misconduct in nothing more compelling than his personal opinion.

I'm not asking that Michael Yon be run out of town on a rail. I think we'd all lose valuable insight into this war if that were to happen.

What I am asking is for people to understand that while Mr. Yon and milbloggers have given us unprecedented access and insight into what goes on on the front lines, they don't - and can't - have all the facts. The picture we get is by necessity an incomplete and even distorted one. It's a picture of the elephant's trunk or hind leg - not the entire elephant.

It is part of the truth, but it is nowhere near the whole truth.

But most importantly, I'd like to suggest that standards matter. The truth matters. It's always tempting to exempt the home team from the standards we expect of the other side but that's a serious mistake because to a large extent, it is precisely the military's willingness to follow rules and submit to discipline that has earned the respect of the American people.

Accountability is part and parcel of what separates the military from pretty much everyone else these days. And if the milblog community abandons responsibility and accountability, we abandon everything we claim to stand for.

*****************

Update: Privately, Mrs G. objected to this statement in my post:

Milbloggers and embeds love to flatter themselves that they and only they can convey the "real, unvarnished truth" about this war.

She believes I unjustly lumped all milblogs together and (more importantly) attributed the acts of a few to the entire community. I think that's a fair statement, and it's not what I intended to say.

Ever since I began blogging, I have worried a lot about the instant nature of the medium. My time has grown increasingly limited, and as a result I am rarely able to devote the time I should devote to my writing. If I have offended anyone, please accept my apology. I knew what I meant, but I failed to explain it in adequately. Which in a way just underscores my point that nothing we say should be exempt from honest scrutiny.

Posted by Cassandra at April 22, 2010 06:00 AM

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Comments

Bravo, Cassie! IMHO, that's a wonderfully thoughtful, reasonable, heartfelt and thought-provoking piece of writing. Thank you.

Posted by: FbL at April 22, 2010 09:57 AM

Wow, that is simply phenomenal.

Posted by: TSO at April 22, 2010 10:33 AM

Well reasoned, and well said -- as always. Thank you for an outstanding post and contribution to rational discourse in the marketplace of ideas.

Posted by: Laughing Wolf at April 22, 2010 10:33 AM

The important factor you left out ot your discussion Is TRUST.
Over the years we have grown to trust the
opinion of Michael Yon. This is not the first
time that he has questioned the judgment
of the military . In the days before the "surge"
he correctly challenged the actions of the military in "fighting" the war.
He was correct.
Yon is no rogue reporter.
Yon is responsible.
He calls it as he sees it.
And he sees more than some officers sitting
back in headquaters.
I TRUST Michael Yon.
I not only give him the benefit of the doubt
I believe in him completely.
That is more than I can say for the
Information Officers of the military.



Posted by: John Coolidge at April 22, 2010 10:38 AM

I have sat back and lurked over this issue as I read the other posts this week. I do see some problems with M.Y. and while it's very easy to sit on the chair and critique the show, he is only privy to a small part of that war. I'm sorry, but even out of uniform, I would give the respect those positions are due, good, bad or indifferent. He only needs to look at how he respects the leaders to wonder why his embeds are shut down. Maybe some time off and a review of "How to Win friends and influence people" for starters might be a good thing. I’m afraid though that he has burned those bridges and will have to look for another way to make a living.
As an 0-5, I do have to keep in mind my place and maybe that is why I stay away from the more complex issues (my choice). When I retire, that may change, but never will I ever imagine I can run hundreds of thousands of folks over there in the two front war.
Good job on this post!! You did a great job!

Posted by: Taco Bell at April 22, 2010 10:49 AM

John, I don't even know what to say to that. What it amounts to is, "We don't need no stinkin' proof".

As a certain person I'm married to likes to say, "Well, that's certainly a viewpoint" :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 10:50 AM

And thanks for the kind words, guys.

I have been wrestling with this for years and was very reluctant to weigh in - not because I'm afraid to, but because the proper balance between freedom and responsibility has always been a difficult issue with no easy answers.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 10:53 AM

I assure you that I don't, at least, take anything personal by what you've said here. Most of the boys at BLACKFIVE seem to agree with you.

If I'm in a different place, it's partially because I do want to give Yon the benefit of the doubt, in just this way: nobody who lives in a war zone keeps his cool all the time. This seems to be especially true with the hard chargers, the kind who go into special forces or achieve command rank in the regulars. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see guys like McChrystal and Yon butt heads; the important thing to remember is that we're all on the same side at the end of the day.

The other thing is: I don't read Yon as saying that McChrystal might lie to the SECDEF or the President. I read him as saying that he can't be trusted to speak the truth to the public. In that regard, he's saying -- in an angry and aggressive way -- much what you're saying here:

"They think a leader can do whatever he or she wants to. I suppose a bad leader will always find ways to abuse authority and power. But a good leader - and my husband is a good leader - inevitably finds that as his responsibilities grow, they begin to overwhelm his personal freedom of speech and action."

I trust that McChrystal is telling the President the truth, as his duty requires. For example, here, in what was intended to be a confidential report. I think that when t r u t h o u t makes the claim that he was trying to bluff the President into a lasting commitment, because the 40,000 troops he requested couldn't be deployed in the 12-month window he said was critical, they're probably misreading what he said and why.

Yet when the President granted him, not 40,000 troops but 30,000 -- and not for a year, but for six months -- he got behind the plan. Well, an officer has to do that. As you say, his freedom of speech and action are limited. He knows, among other things, that if he did anything else he'd be replaced; and even if he were entirely unconcerned about his career, that replacement would mean that someone else was having to spin up to take over at the same time as the critical window was passing.

So, of course he has no choice but to get behind the President's plan. It's going to happen either way, and if he does anything else he's objectively hurting the forces being put into the field by depriving them of an experienced commander who knows the situation.

But... is he telling us the whole truth by going to the public and assuring them that he's behind the plan and the President gave him everything he needed?

I completely understand that his responsibility and authority place him under severe restraints. I don't approve of the way that Yon conveyed his message; actually, I don't like Yon one bit, having dealt with him and seen how he treats people. That said, though, I suspect that there's a sense in which his angry words really do represent a kind of 'gritty, ground truth.' We can't rely on McChyrstal to tell us what we need to know to make an informed judgment. I don't think that's because he's dishonorable; but it's definitely the case that he's not free to speak his mind.

I'm still on McChrystal's side, because we're all on the same side. But we can help him, the general, by not taking his words at face value. If we can demonstrate that he needs resources and time that the politicians aren't giving him, perhaps we can help him get those things. That does require us to be open to the idea that he can't ask for more, and isn't free to criticize the civilian leadership. In the end, though, what matters is victory, if there is any chance it can be achieved under this President; it's making sure the sacrifices that our fighting forces have borne are not wasted.

In his way, Yon contributes to that. General McChrystal contributes to it in his way, a much greater way. We have to contribute in our way, too.

Posted by: Grim at April 22, 2010 10:57 AM

I see your point, John.

Posted by: Stevie Wonder at April 22, 2010 10:57 AM

Wow, Grim. More thought-provoking and reasonable discussion. Having read both you and Cassandra, all I can say is I'm glad I don't have the responsibilities of eithe McChrystal OR Yon. Thank you both so much for the insight and analysis.

Posted by: FbL at April 22, 2010 11:16 AM

I suspect that there's a sense in which his angry words really do represent a kind of 'gritty, ground truth.' We can't rely on McChyrstal to tell us what we need to know to make an informed judgment. I don't think that's because he's dishonorable; but it's definitely the case that he's not free to speak his mind.

I have never thought that ANYONE can be trusted to tell us everything we need to know to make informed decisions about the war, largely b/c NO ONE has a corner on all the facts, much less The Truth.

Which explains my bewilderment with comments like John's.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 11:19 AM

I'm sorry, I don't see John's point. Well... I do, I just disagree. Ya see, I left the Army and an E-5. And I certainly did have a view of what went on in day to day ops. Did I have a better view than the senior officers? Hell no. I did not. What I knew about the targets I worked was probably more detailed than any senior officer could possibly know, but what I knew about the targets the next shop over worked would fill a thimble. The senior officers in my unit had a cupful of each shop's knowledge. Sure, they didn't have the fine details I did, but they saw across the board.

Tasking decisions would piss me off. I'd be put on something that looked irrelevant to what I thought was important, but what I didn't know at the start was how it tied in with the work others were doing. So to me, from my viewpoint it looked like Mickey Mouse BS. But I didn't have the clearer view that the senior officers did.

Yon's got a fantastic view at the Company level. He probably knows more about the day to day living conditions of the E-3 on patrol, because he walked it with them. But to say he knows more about the whole situation in Afghanistan than the senior commander who gets daily (if not hourly) briefings from across the entire theater is ludicrous.

Let me put it in other terms. A Senator goes and visits a unit in Iraq for a day. Brings the press along and gladhands the soldiers for the cameras. Then they come back to DC and are "experts" on the situation "on the ground". Then, when Petreaus comes to brief them, they claim that he doesn't know what he's talking about. And no serious person would argue that they had a leg to stand on.

Yon's no Senator Clinton. He spent more time (and more meaningful time) with the troops than any Senator did (or even could, to be fair). But he's claiming the same thing in effect. He's never been to the Army War College. He never commanded so much as a battalion. He knows what it's like on the front lines, but confuses that knowledge with what the theater commander knows. He's making judgements about what McChrystal does and does not know without speaking to him directly.

Sorry, I will put my faith in the integrity and professionalism of a man who has given 25+ years of his life to service over pretty much anyone. Including my friend Cass. Until you can show me otherwise, I'm willing to believe that he has a better view of the situation in Afghanistan (as a whole) than any other single person on the planet (to include Hamid Karzai).

Posted by: MikeD at April 22, 2010 11:33 AM

The problem, from my perspective, is that describing the unfortunate implications of a leader having their hands tied as a personal failing of being "misleading" is itself misleading.

I, also, don't see how you can reconcile you statement: The other thing is: I don't read Yon as saying that McChrystal might lie to the SECDEF or the President. With Yon's statement: "This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. It's not like he's mincing words here. I just don't see how you can take that statement, which flat out says he thinks McChrystal might lie to SECDEF and POTUS, as saying "Well, he might have said SECDEF and POTUS, but what he really meant was the public". I just can't get there from here.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 22, 2010 11:33 AM

It wouldn't surprise me at all to see guys like McChrystal and Yon butt heads; the important thing to remember is that we're all on the same side at the end of the day.

This is only enforced when both sides are willingly to negotiate for a win/win, mutually beneficial, relationship.

When Yon starts talking about setting up a win/lose if there is a lose/lose scenario, there's no reason for the designated losing side (Army command) to sit there negotiating.

Nobody is on the same side until there's an actual contract, relationship, shared space, and common set of rules that are being followed.

So long as there are no outright violations. So long as negotiations continue because both sides think everybody at the table can benefit, there's still a chance. But once Yon just stakes a position in the sand and says he'll fight to the death without caring at all what McChrystal needs, then there's a problem.

I read him as saying that he can't be trusted to speak the truth to the public.

Since Yon mentioned that in relation to McChrystal kicking Yon out, that implies McChrystal was not telling the truth in relation to Yon. Whether this has anything to do with the war effort or not, depends upon your perspective of whether Yon is vital to the war effort or not, in getting accurate data to the President and SecDef.

Whether McChrystal is constrained naturally or not, may be an interesting point. But given Yon's personal relation to being kicked out, talking about McChrystal like that is not going to get him any more embeds. If Yon truly believed that McChrystal needed people like Yon, Yon would be sacrificing a shat load to get embeds. But he acts like what he is doing, is going to get what he needs. When the consequences appear to be totally inverse of those expectations.

actually, I don't like Yon one bit, having dealt with him and seen how he treats people.

You didn't mention this before, Grim. That is interesting. I thought Yon was rather popular at the grassroots, say Gates of Fire post around. When did this change?

But we can help him, the general, by not taking his words at face value.

Is that like the story you told of an honorable man opening the door to a guest, and then telling the guest that the man (himself) isn't at home?

But that would mean the stated reason for ejecting Michael Yon is wrong, or at least not the full truth. So what is the full truth. Did McChrystal eject him because Yon was proving to be a handicap to the war effort? Or was it the case, as Yon might state, that McChrystal wants to censor Yon?

In his way, Yon contributes to that. General McChrystal contributes to it in his way, a much greater way.

The question is, from Yon's perspective, he isn't getting what he needs from McChrystal. Given that his specific demands will also strip what McChrystal needs to maintain discipline amongst all embeds and certain strategic calculations of the plan, how is McChrystal going to gain from working with Yon as he is?

The question of trust is interesting. There is no real one way path for trust. It cannot be sustained when only one party is faithful. The relationship must always be two ways, if not equal then at least a relationship that ensures Yon gets what he needs to survive and the people who trust Yon, gets what they can benefit from as well. Yon needs money and support, and the people who provide that money and support are doing so in order to get a benefit.

Trust can be destroyed or sabotaged if something goes wrong here. The thing is, trust can't simply be defined as "trusting in somebody no matter what they do". Because, obviously, if Yon does something that stops his supporters from getting what they need or can benefit from, then Yon has corroded some of that trust. Because trust is something that goes both ways, either party can sabotage it or remove it from existence. Thus it isn't so that just because you trust Yon, that this trust was operating the same way as before.

Trying to believe it is so, in order to make it so, doesn't really work.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 11:34 AM

I just can't get there from here.

The word misleading isn't the same as knowing the truth while saying something that isn't true.

Yon doesn't outright say some things he probably should, if he is putting this out in the public. But then again, I'm not sure whether Yon knows what he is even saying now a days.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 11:38 AM

"The word misleading isn't the same as knowing the truth while saying something that isn't true."

From a legal standpoint, I'm sure that's absolutely accurate. I also know with 100% certainty that my Mother would still have tanned my hide for 'lying' had I tried to claim that I had just "misled her". The distinction between "lying", "lying by omission", and "allowing someone to assume something is true because you don't actually deny it" are subtle and considered (by my Mother at least) to all be lies.

Posted by: MikeD at April 22, 2010 11:41 AM

The problem, from my perspective, is that describing the unfortunate implications of a leader having their hands tied as a personal failing of being "misleading" is itself misleading.

BINGO.

The associated assumption is that someone not in that position, being free of structural reasons for bias or self interest, is necessarily telling you the unvarnished truth.

There's a logical hole in that way of thinking that's big enough to drive an MRAP through.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 11:41 AM

From a legal standpoint, I'm sure that's absolutely accurate. I also know with 100% certainty that my Mother would still have tanned my hide for 'lying' had I tried to claim that I had just "misled her".

I'm interfacing some of what Grim said and what YAN said in reply.

There is a connection between lying not being the same as misleading. We don't disagree on that.

There are also consequences that are the same, regardless of whether someone lies or misleads. The results may end up the same. In your case, that's your mother's actions. In Yon's case, that should be obvious by now. Yon doesn't get shat in terms of embed. That's what happens. And it doesn't matter who mislead or lied to whom. Once Yon pushed this out in public, it went boom.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 11:52 AM

Yon's issue is more serious than a case of Alpha personalities not backing off their territory/space.

The things he says and does, isn't going to get him what Yon has said he wants or needs. This is not rational.

Even if Yon really thought McChrystal needed to be watched. Even if Yon really thought Yon was vital to the war effort, that McChrystal is going to lose (intentionally) if Yon wasn't there.

What the F is Yon going to Do About it Without an Embed?

Rational people would get that embed, regardless of what the hell they had to sacrifice. Precisely because they would NEED it to stop McChrystal. But what does Yon actually do?

he appeals to his Facebook audience. How is his Facebook audience going to get him what he needs?

Does Yon have some kind of favor trading going on with Congress or Obama? Is he counting on that to reinstate? Yon's not a Leftist, so I don't think his personal resources extend there.

So what is he going to do to get what he says is important to him done? Does Yon even know at this time.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 11:55 AM

Cassie's post today encapsulates what happened to my blogging over the years, as I self-censored for all the reasons she lays out that senior leaders can't and don't blog - in my case because of access I have at work, or potential exposure of client or company.

But also because while I don't know what I don't know, I do know that there is releveant stuff I don't know.

Heck, around here at Leavenworth, when I did the rounds of the O6's about blogging - I told most of them not to do it - that they couldn't really truly blog, and to do so would cause far more problems than it would enhance information flow.

Posted by: John (Master of Inanity) Donovan at April 22, 2010 11:58 AM

"The word misleading isn't the same as knowing the truth while saying something that isn't true."

Lying is a subset of misleading with the additional requirement of "knowingly". Given the context: McChrystal has a history of covering up* I think it's pretty clear that the knowing qualifier is there.

*Cover-ups are intentionally and knowingly misleading. That is their purpose: to lie. So: "McChrystal has a history of lying. This causes concern that McChrystal might be honestly mistaken in the facts he presents to SecDef and President." just don't really fit together.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 22, 2010 12:03 PM

I, also, don't see how you can reconcile you statement: The other thing is: I don't read Yon as saying that McChrystal might lie to the SECDEF or the President. With Yon's statement: "This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President."

Well, that's easy: I have a terrible memory, and didn't go back and look at what Yon had said a second time. Obviously, I don't believe that GEN McChyrstal is in any way failing his duty, which means I trust he is giving an accurate picture to higher. Insofar as Yon doesn't believe that, he and I do not agree.

Posted by: Grim at April 22, 2010 12:09 PM

You didn't mention this before, Grim. That is interesting. I thought Yon was rather popular at the grassroots, say Gates of Fire post around. When did this change?

I can't speak for 'the grassroots' as a whole. I myself have seen him treat some soldiers who were trying to help him in a way that made me dislike him. That's purely personal, though, and really has no place in this debate; in any event, it's not like it adds new information given how he's behaved in this case.

Posted by: Grim at April 22, 2010 12:12 PM

I think it's pretty clear that the knowing qualifier is there.

If Grim's statement is to be true, it can't come in conflict with that qualifier.

I can't speak for Yon on whether he means McChrystal lied on this or not.

If your contention is that Michael Yon made this charge against McChrystal, then I would think it fundamentally differs from what Grim wrote here.

That said, though, I suspect that there's a sense in which his angry words really do represent a kind of 'gritty, ground truth.' We can't rely on McChyrstal to tell us what we need to know to make an informed judgment. I don't think that's because he's dishonorable; but it's definitely the case that he's not free to speak his mind.

That's not to say that there is a connection between Yon's comments about McChrystal to McChrystal simply being mistaken or honestly limited. It is just that the perception of people's reality depends upon their premises.

Yon doesn't like McChrystal's actions vis a vis Yon, so Yon is less likely to give McChrystal the benefit of the doubt. Whereas while Grim doesn't like Yon, Grim will give Yon the benefit of the doubt precisely because Grim knows that he doesn't like Yon.

This doesn't change Yon's response, but it could.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 12:14 PM

"In the days before the "surge" he correctly challenged the actions of the military in "fighting" the war."

That's certainly true. So is this: "In the days before the "surge" almost everyone on earth challenged the actions of the military in "fighting" the war." It's about as impressive as someone in a group of people walking through a rainstorm saying "hey, we're gonna get wet."

I mention that because I keep seeing variations on that claim in comment threads all over the web. I understand if you mean "I didn't believe Iraq was a war until Mike Yon said so" but that says more about whoever makes the claim than it does Mike Yon.

Posted by: Greyhawk at April 22, 2010 12:16 PM

That's purely personal, though, and really has no place in this debate; in any event, it's not like it adds new information given how he's behaved in this case.

True.

I would say, though, that if Yon couldn't protect the interests of those around him or if he rebuffed attempts at people to negotiate a win/win deal (they help him win, he helps them win), then that is really bad news. If this incident was a sort of combat fatigue issue, if Yon's personality had changed, if he normally isn't this way, then chances would be high that if given a security space, Yon can recover and start healing the rift on his part. But if he always lacked such social skills... well, that's a larger issue.

And it doesn't spell out good things in the future in my opinion.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 12:19 PM

Concerning the pre-surge, what I would be looking for is if Yon was lobbying for Petraeus, population centric COIN, or various other things of a strategic nature.

If Yon did that, then that's a credit to his vision. If all he did was talk about problems like everybody else, Right or Left, then that's nothing special. Except in so far as he was looking at problems happening in front of his face.

Around the time of the 2004 re-election, Dick Cheney and some other people somehow got hold of Petraeus' name and went to Bush to get something changed. Bush wasn't the kind of guy to change things on a whim, so it must have looked to him that his only options were to listen to a select group of those with authority on the matter. Petraeus must have offered him another choice and he took it.

But that implied that nobody had offered Bush such a choice in all the lead up to the war. maybe that wasn't so much because we didn't want to, but because Bush's requirements for a strategic re-visioning required specific things that most of us wouldn't have been aware of. And so we wouldn't have been able to get his attention by raising them.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 12:26 PM

I don't claim any special insight into his character, but I'm inclined to blame Facebook and Twitter, mostly because I'm an inveterate Luddite who thinks Twitter is the creation of Satan and his cloven hoofed minions :p

I wrote a prior post about this that I wisely deleted. In that post I characterized the Facebook postings as "online Tourette's Syndrome" - a phrase I quickly realized was not only *cough* a bit harsh, but unhelpful.

A commenter on John Donovan's parody said something I found interesting: he thought Yon's dispatches were of far higher quality than the Facebook postings.

Like email, I often think Facebook and Twitter are "too easy". That doesn't mean they're not useful, but it does mean they demand a far greater measure of self control from their users. Blogging has the same problem, but it requires more effort.

We've all had our moments of online Tourette's. I know I have. The trick is to recognize the value of venues like Facebook and Twitter. I know I do not possess the necessary degree of self control, so I stay away from them.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 12:29 PM

Cass! You're an invertebrate?

Posted by: MikeD at April 22, 2010 12:36 PM

In general, grim, I don't think your instinct to give Yon the benefit of the doubt was a bad instinct.

If we are all on the same side, then it would make sense that regardless of whom we dislike here, that we shouldn't go out of our way to impute to them impure motivations.

That doesn't mean you will be right. Yon may end up meaning exactly what people thought he meant. But giving somebody a chance, so that they aren't pushed into a corner, is usually a good idea.

Yon should know this when he talks about McChrystal. There's a certain point that once you cross, you now prevent the other guy from treating this as something they can ignore or compromise over, to something they will fight to the death to defend.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 12:40 PM

Cass! You're an invertebrate?

That's me! Spineless to the end! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 12:58 PM

Cassandra, this pogue supports your position completely. One of the reasons my 'blog' sucks so badly (aside from the fact that I have no talent) is that even at the bottom part of the food chain I inhabit there is very little I'm willing to write about concerning what we see and do here.

Posted by: Pogue at April 22, 2010 01:10 PM

Cass, thank you for this post. I've read MY's dispatches for years . . well until around last summer anyway. After seeing the postings earlier this week, I've gone through his dispatches and facebook site . .

I was sad to see the commentary, but even sadder to be reading MY and being unable to put my finger on all that made me uneasy. Biggest thing in my mind was just wishing he'd take about 5 steps back and get some needed downtime.

Now, I'm not in the service and I have huge respect for those who are and those who hold down the homefront. But one thing I do now is this . . .perspective is all in the eye of the beholder.

I hope he does take a step back and give himself some time to regroup.

Finally, this post and the comments therein have given this gal much food for thought on a number of fronts. Thanks! ;-)

Posted by: Nina Anderson at April 22, 2010 01:23 PM

Yeah, Pogue, I haven't had an idea worth writing about in over a year. But just think of all the spare time we have now to do other things, like, I dunno, ponder where all the ones & zeros go when you delete and email (anywhere? everywhere?!) Now, I happen to know for a fact that Cassandra only sleeps for 4 minutes a day, and only twice a week (Mike Yon told me). There st of the time she spends cleaning her guns, shutting down opposing points of view, and offending Wal-Mart greeters. Everybody should be very nice to her, I think.

Posted by: spd rdr at April 22, 2010 01:32 PM

Ma'am, Posts like this one are the reason why VC is a near daily stop on my quest for information and insight. I am pretty sure I don't agree with your positions all the time, but I can guarantee they will be thought provoking. I hope you continue to write, the time, effort and skull sweat are appreciated. As for Mr. Yon, I will continue to read his blog along with the many others I visit. It is but one view point and should be viewed as one pixel on the screen. The picture comes from the whole, not any single part and some of his work is very good. Some not so much.

Posted by: Barry at April 22, 2010 01:47 PM

As for Mr. Yon, I will continue to read his blog along with the many others I visit. It is but one view point and should be viewed as one pixel on the screen. The picture comes from the whole, not any single part and some of his work is very good.

That is precisely what I hoped people would take from this :)

There rest of the time she spends cleaning her guns, shutting down opposing points of view, and offending Wal-Mart greeters. Everybody should be very nice to her, I think.

spd darlin', come here...

WHACK WHACK WHACK!!!! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 01:52 PM

Q.E.D.

Posted by: spd rdr at April 22, 2010 02:00 PM

Pppphhhhhttttthhhhh :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 02:06 PM

The only time to offend a Wal-Mart greeter is at 2 am. The security they have in the store evens the odds a bit as they chase you through the produce section while you fire beets and oranges at them.

Or so I've heard.

Posted by: Cricket at April 22, 2010 02:13 PM

Thanks, Cass. I've been watching this play out and hoping that it wouldn't turn into the flaming mess that the L.G.F. - Gates of Vienna -Jihad Watch foolishness devolved into. I get the feeling that the players in the current mili-drama are more mature, most of the time.

(mili-drama: smaller than a mini-drama and does not require the presence of the drama llama.)

Posted by: LittleRed1 at April 22, 2010 02:31 PM

Doesn't take much to beat LGF on the meter.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 02:55 PM

On the meter? I thought Johnson was free verse.

Oh, wait.

*Per*verse.

Never mind.

Posted by: BillT at April 22, 2010 03:10 PM

MOM! Billy killed the thread!

Posted by: spd rdr at April 22, 2010 05:32 PM

MY made comments a couple of years ago that lead me to drop his blog from my favorites. He couldn't possibly know what he inferred plus, I'm not interested in opinions. Give me the facts.

Similar to a close business associate who was called to active service twice during the Iraq War, he came back after the second tour quite agitated about the failures of the Bush administration treating the war. He was overseeing the rebuilding of some of the country's power generating facilities. While I respect and have some friendly affection for this individual, at the end of the day he was wrong and we're seeing the results with the Iraq elections, sullied though they may be. He vented, I listened while questions came to me as to his ability to have this kind of information. It was like watching CNN during the Iraq build up only to turn to the reality of the FoxNews coverage. The truth shines through. Conjecture does not.

Thanks for this blog. Breadth was added to the shallow intuition I held.

Posted by: Mazzuchelli at April 22, 2010 05:45 PM

Cass ~ I think you nailed it. I'd write more but I am currently having a Tourette's flare and need to go find my meds.

Actually, I have to get to class. But I'll try to write more this evening. I agree with you wholeheartedly though.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at April 22, 2010 06:43 PM

Sometimes it's best to just keep your powder dry. I'm doing that, but I will note one thing: extraordianry charges requires extraordinary proof.

"...McChrystal cannot be trusted to tell the truth about this war."

Posted by: Allen at April 22, 2010 07:51 PM

A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Cassandra, and an equal reply, Grim; thank you, both.


I've followed Mr. Yon for a couple of years. Most of his writing is excellent. Some of it, he could have used an editor (as could almost all of us!) The last couple of weeks on Facebook ... it was like I was watching myself going into uproar mode, like someone was goading him on, and on, and on, and he either didn't notice or didn't care or couldn't stop. I'm starting to wonder if possibly both he and Gen. McCrystal are perhaps the mutual victims of an intentional "man in the middle attack", where what they think they're saying to each other is being subtly altered in the forwarding process. Or if there is some accidental process producing similar results.


Or maybe MY just needs a couple of months of R&R. He's been in the sandbox a long time.

Posted by: htom at April 22, 2010 08:19 PM

Deeply thought provoking,very well written & very reasoned piece.

Thank you, Cassandra.

Especially for mentioning the fact that Yon put forward unfounded allegations about BG Menard:

So except for the fact that the Canadians weren't responsible for the security of that bridge (and even if they had been, the hockey game was over several hours before the attack) Mr. Yon did an admirable job of getting out the real, unvarnished truthiness from the front lines.

NOT

Yon didn't mislead people about BG Menard, he lied then, and he continues to do so today. He still accuses Menard of being responsible for 'the bridge" even though Yon wrote that BG Ben Hodges accepted full responsibility, and Yon promised an apology to Menard would be forthcoming -- which never came.

He continues to insist Menard is about to be court-martialled, when in truth, Menard has not been relieved of command and will likely only be fined according to the Canadian Military.

So I have to wonder why Jules would give Yon a pass for fabricating lies & innuendos about two career soldiers - McChrystal & Menard. Both of whom Yon holds personal grudges against, no less.

I agree wholeheartedly when you say:

standards matter. The truth matters. It's always tempting to exempt the home team from the standards we expect of the other side

Can you imagine a reporter from the NY Times writing those same words about McChrystal or Menard? Would he receive a pass?

I'd like to ask John Coolidge - which 'truth' of Yon's regarding McChrystal should I believe?

The truth before YON got fired from his embed:

THEN
(Andrew Sullivan rounds up blog reaction to McChrystal)

Michael Yon:

In regard to Lieutenant General McChrystal his reputation is enviable. McChrystal’s reputation is as solid as that of Generals Mattis or Petraeus, but fewer people have heard of McChrystal . I know some very interesting folks in the special operations world, and McChrystal gets a five-star rating out of five stars. That comes from officers and enlisted.


Or the "truth" AFTER he got fired from his embed?

NOW

(From Michael Yon's Facebook Page)

McChrystal's crew has spoken: Embed is ended.)McChrystal cannot be trusted to tell the truth about this war. Packing my bags.

The disembed from McChrytal’s top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?

I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people trust the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched.


It's not McChyrstal who can't be trusted to tell the truth ---it's Michael Yon.

Posted by: DG at April 22, 2010 08:24 PM

An interesting 1 to 1 comparison, DG.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 22, 2010 09:56 PM

Excellent discussion, even for the ones on the wrong side of the issue.

IMHO, embeds are trouble, no matter who they are. They are always trying to get that scoop that will get them a Pulitzer or some kind of special recognition. That means they sometimes have to play fast and loose with the truth and facts. And sometimes they cross that OPSEC line, or go right up to it - maybe 3 or 4 times...and someone with a functional cerebral cortex and nefarious intent can put it together and people get hurt and/or die.

I think Yon is just PO'd he was told to pack up and leave, so now he lashes out at "The Man." I don't follow him closely enough to know his deal....but I always think of what TR said in his 1910 speech at Le Sorbonne -

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

If Yon thinks he is as good or better than the folks he writes about, I know some recruiters who would sign him up. But he'd have to take orders and do what he was told. You know, like pick up a weapon and stand a post. Or drink lattes with the REMFs and listen to the stories as they come back thru the chain.

I trust my MILITARY chain of command because they have been there, seen the truth, and know that if they fail, people die. The civilian part of the chain has not shown me that they are worthy of my trust. Hell, we can't even get the CinC to show us his college transcripts so he can show us how smart he really is compared to Bushy Mcchimphitler......but I don't have a lot of faith in him to watch my back. He prolly wouldn't even have the common decency to give a brother a reach around!!!

Of course, that's just my opinionation, and I might be wrong. But I don't think so.

Posted by: kbob in katy at April 22, 2010 10:16 PM

...maybe MY just needs a couple of months of R&R. He's been in the sandbox a long time.

That could well be. I tried to stay away from that tack in this post because - though I understand that it was motivated by concern - I worried that it was straying too close to the "dangerously unhinged" rhetoric that has been bandied about so much recently with regard to the Tea Party. I am also notoriously reluctant to invoke the whole Kerryesque combat-vets-as-latent-psychokillers meme. I can see where repeated tours in a war zone without enough rest would get to a person, though.

Heck - I can't even blog continuously from my comfy chair here in the US. I think this is the longest I've ever gone w/out quitting.

The strain of constantly updating/posting on the Internet isn't something to sneeze at. It has gotten the better of me more than once.

I used to get up at 4 and crank out 4-5 posts a day, some of them quite long and boring. I can't keep that pace up anymore. Slowing down was my way of coping.

I can't speak for him, but I've found that being on the Internet too much is very destructive to my peace of mind and emotional equilibrium. I can't help wondering if it wouldn't help for him to kill the Facebook and concentrate on his dispatches?

However, that is something he will need to decide. No one else knows better than he does what he can handle.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 10:31 PM

Kbob:

Most commanders I've talked to have distinctly mixed feelings about embeds. A lot of them see the value, but on the other hand that's a whole lot of extra headaches a commander doesn't need to deal with.

All in all, I've been impressed with the work of most embeds. I was a huge skeptic of the program, mainly because of the bad experiences we had with the press misquoting military families at the beginning of the war, truncating legitimate quotes in a way that was misleading, and cherry picking quotes to make the military look bad. After some of the stuff I saw, I swore I would never talk to the press without my own tape recorder running.

I think that's kind of an important point: to a large extent the perception of the media in the military depends on their prior experiences. The actions of one reporter or embed can really poison the well for others.

That is part of what disturbs me about this whole flap - I can't help worrying about the effect on other reporters who have tried to cooperate?

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2010 10:37 PM

I just hope after what all is said and done, that MY and Gen. McCrystal make it home safe and sane. One day they sit down and pop open a cold one and have a great laugh together about the crazy days in Afghanistan. In the past they have each had each others back, I can only pray that that is what the future brings to both of them.

Posted by: Sanmon at April 22, 2010 11:44 PM

"Slowing down was my way of coping." The way you have been writing lately, it only takes one post to stir things up for days.

Posted by: Russ at April 23, 2010 01:28 AM

I was a huge skeptic of the program, mainly because of the bad experiences we had with the press misquoting military families at the beginning of the war, truncating legitimate quotes in a way that was misleading, and cherry picking quotes to make the military look bad.

To be fair about it, a lot of that happened at the editorial end, after the reporter had filed. I knew a couple of reporters in RVN who wrote accurately and *favorably* about what we were doing in the Delta -- and I'd read what they filed, because they liked to hang around with us whenever they were in the neighborhood.

What was published often had nothing in common with what was filed, except the location of the action, the units involved, and the reporter's by-line.

Posted by: BillT at April 23, 2010 05:54 AM

Editors are the SEC of the reporting world.

Whenever there is enough weight thrown around, they can make things appear however they want to.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 23, 2010 07:12 AM

Yon looks like he wants to prove to the world the existence of his own paranoia.

Well, far be it for me to get in his way. I'll just sit back and keep on watching.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 23, 2010 07:48 AM

This is one of those posts that I have to take in small doses. I keep thinking if Murtha had been a reporter...I doubt he would have needed to be edited.

BillT, a question here: In RVN, those reporters prolly had experience covering wars but things were changing at home. Do you think the editors of their stories changed them to reflect it?

Now, we have a whole generation of journalists who
*think* they know what the truth is, but view it subjectively, rather than obejctively, as in just the facts.

What say the villainry?

(I am pre-cooking bacon, doing tax homework and
making sure the 'garden' gets watered.)

This is an excellent post, and I am hopeful that this means you are pacing yourself. I have been reading it and rereading as time permits.

Posted by: Cricket at April 23, 2010 09:33 AM

I would like to add a comment or two. On the issue of Michael being called a professional journalist, he himself does not claim that to be so and has in fact declared that he is not a professional journalist to anyone who will ask.

As for bloggers and citizen journalists, we in the military are still working on how to deal with the various issues of this still new medium. With the traditional media, we get to have a reasonable path to figure out and correct errors in fact, violations of ground rules, etc. The traditional media have a system in place that we can use to discuss issues with the editors and so forth until a resolution is found. This is not the case with most bloggers/citizen journalists.

Many are one-person shops and if they don't like the answers, the rules, etc then they ignore them. There is no recourse for the military to try to correct an issue if they choose not do listen. Usually our only recourse is to deny access due to lack of faith and confidence that they will provide an accurate representation of the facts.

Overall we do support the various bloggers/citizen journalists, but we cannot accomodate all requests due to the support requirements needed.

They do provide an important and useful avenue for the readers, but to determine the opinions from the facts can be very difficult and I have found that most blogs are more opinion than fact which can be very misleading to the public.

Posted by: COL Steve Boylan at April 23, 2010 10:36 AM

Some of the readers may have forgotten, Colonel, your experiences with Glenn Greenwald back when bloggers were first becoming important. Those who don't recall how that went might want to Google around a bit; the backstory makes the Colonel's position generous rather than merely reasonable.

Of course, Greenwald's got editors these days. Institutions, as well as individuals, have character. One of the military's problems in dealing with all these phenomena is that the military is not particularly free to take character into account.

Posted by: Grim at April 23, 2010 11:08 AM

We don't want to make your tasks any more difficult, Colonel Boylan.

Humans, however, seem not to know a good deal when they see it. And it only takes one person to walk away from the negotiation table to restart all kinds of problems that were on hold.

Isn't that really the root of all human conflict, in the end. Two people that can't agree on a win/win proposition, must inevitably try to conquer each other.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 23, 2010 11:11 AM

One of the military's problems in dealing with all these phenomena is that the military is not particularly free to take character into account.

That's unfortunate in psychological warfare parameters.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 23, 2010 11:11 AM

You know, of course, that military public affairs are not allowed to use any sort of 'psychological operations parameters' -- nor any sort of information operations considerations -- when dealing with the American public. I don't know that COL Boylan will know that you know that, however. :)

Posted by: Grim at April 23, 2010 11:20 AM

I would disagree a bit. We do take charecter into account as we look for three things in the reports (or in my view we should only look for three things) from the media.

One, is the reporting accurate.

Two, is it in context.

and Three, is it with the proper charecterization.

If it has those three elements, then it should not matter what it is about. Charecter goes directly to those three elements.

As to any previous discussions with various bloggers, I have put my points out on the record and those that want to take what I have said at face value will and those that want to take the others views will. That is the wonderful part of our free speech.

Mr. Greenwald and I had a difference of views and he was not pleased that we would not accept his request for an interview as he was guest hosting a show and went with the actual host of the radio program.

He claimed a few things that were not acccurate and as before I stated, there is little recourse with views/opinions...just as those that write Op-Ed articles.

Posted by: COL Steve Boylan at April 23, 2010 11:27 AM

Great post one and all! Comments were amazing.

Thanks, Cass, for a thoughtful read. Per usual, your perspective was spot on. I plan to send this post to my 2Lt son and his soul mate for their edification. I truly believe it will broaden their views in a positive way. Perhaps it may keep my son circumspect "early" in his military career (loves to FaceBook). It will also remind his wife that there are good reasons why he must withhold some information about what he does for her protection and that of others.

Cricket: A quick opinion.
Most journalists seem to be products of "liberal" leaning colleges/universities and bring with them a touchy feely "world view". Having said that, I'm wondering if there's going to be a shift. The MSM has been dying on the vine for many years because of their bias reporting. The fact they failed to vet THE ONE as they should have has caused a grass roots uprising that may be a clarion call to future journalists. Who knows? We may get to the point someday where "We Report; You Decide" will be the motto of journalists?

Posted by: ziobuck at April 23, 2010 11:46 AM

BillT, a question here: In RVN, those reporters prolly had experience covering wars but things were changing at home. Do you think the editors of their stories changed them to reflect it?

I know they did on at least one occasion, Lady Cricket.

We flew an RF/PF platoon into an area on a recon patrol, and they bumped into an NVA recon element.

Bear that in mind. We were deep in the Mekong Delta and ran into an element of *North* Vietnamese regulars at a time when the MSM meme was that there were no North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam.

Long story short, we eventually inserted a full battalion of 9th ARVN Division troops to counter what turned into a meeting engagement with at least that number of NVA. The ARVNs kicked the NVA's butts. We had a few aircraft take hits, the ARVN and Ruff-Puffs took some casualties, but the NVA lost at least 50 KIA, by actual count, and about fifteen prisoners. The reporter who wrote the story interviewed several of the US advisors with the RF/PF and the 9th ARVN, and questioned two pilots from my platoon. He wrote the story on *my* typewriter, with me looking over his shoulder to answer questions.

He filed what he wrote -- no changes.

Two days later, a story appeared under his byline about a resounding *defeat* a local Viet Cong unit had inflicted on the 9th ARVN, and that three US helicopters had been shot down by hostile fire.

No mention of North Vietnamese troops (there weren't more than a squad of VC involved -- as scouts), none of our helicopters were shot down, and the fight was a *win* for the good guys.

The reporter was livid, and we didn't blame him -- his *editor* had flushed his good-standing with his friends and sources in the field.

Posted by: BillT at April 23, 2010 11:47 AM

THAT is unconscionable. Over the years, as I have searched for my political grounding, I have read much about communism and the fifth column, and how the media was a part of it.

You wonder if they were setting us up for defeat?
Why report a victory if you are opposed to the war or are told that will be the policy of the paper?

I have since learned a great deal more about the education system as a fifth column. The agenda is so different from even when my youngest started school.

While it is a little safer here in the South, it is beset.

Well, I don't think MY is a fifth column, and while his opinion is given, we can agree or not as the case may be.

I just don't like having the media 'shape' the news with spinnuendo.

Posted by: Cricket at April 23, 2010 12:11 PM

Yon's going lone wolf as far as I can see.

Grim, indeed, indeed, that is so.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 23, 2010 01:13 PM

It seems to me that Mr. Yon has decided that the situation (war, embeds, TSA, etc.) is all about him. If he wants to be effective then he needs to cure what we used to call in naval aviation "Airmanitis" (the E-3 syndrome of knowing more than Chiefs, Captains, or Admirals, and the predisposition to run their mouth about their keen insight and wisdom, often to the detriment of the actual task their assigned). He has, in my opinion, put aside journalism in favor of auditioning for the title role in Hugo's "A Fight with a Cannon". If he sticks to writing clear, fact based, articals about what is actually happening tactically (he is not in a position to know jack about strategic factors) then the appropriate people will take notice, investigate further, and act accordingly. It seems he thinks that too burdensome and it would be much more expedient to simply order things according to Mr. Yon. To cut to the chase: Mr. Yon should stick to his knitting (journalism, not delivered wisdom) and the chips will fall where they should.

As to, "giving him the benefit of the doubt," that is applicable to an occasional mistake or honest error, not contrived grievence. Trust in veracity is a function of proven reliablility, not blind faith.

Posted by: Tom_S at April 23, 2010 02:25 PM

Have you read this?

'Corroborate and "the truth will set you free"!'

http://letthemfight.blogspot.com/2010/04/corroborate-and-truth-will-set-you-free.html

Posted by: Mal at April 24, 2010 12:06 PM

Depressing Report from Afghanistan

http://www.captainsjournal.com/2010/04/22/depressing-report-from-afghanistan/#comments

Posted by: Fred at April 24, 2010 12:28 PM

With the traditional media, we get to have a reasonable path to figure out and correct errors in fact, violations of ground rules, etc. The traditional media have a system in place that we can use to discuss issues with the editors and so forth until a resolution is found. This is not the case with most bloggers/citizen journalists.

Many are one-person shops and if they don't like the answers, the rules, etc then they ignore them. There is no recourse for the military to try to correct an issue if they choose not do listen. Usually our only recourse is to deny access due to lack of faith and confidence that they will provide an accurate representation of the facts.

That's a wonderful point, and also an aspect I had not considered.

My problem with Yon over the years has been that he seems to want to be all maverick-y, which (as far as I can tell) means that he wants the freedom to do whatever he feels like and everybody else is supposed to bend over backwards to accommodate him. There doesn't seem to be a lot of give and take in the arrangement.

The thing is, when a reporter chooses to go over to Iraq or Afghanistan without the backing of a large news agency, I would expect him to be at something of a disadvantage. It seems he wants to have the best of both worlds: he enjoys the freedom and independence of a free lancer but doesn't want to accept the tradeoffs involved. I've never been sure why he expects the federal government to supply what he freely gave up by going in as an independent agent?

Posted by: Cassamdra at April 24, 2010 12:36 PM

"I've never been sure why he expects the federal government to supply what he freely gave up by going in as an independent agent?"

Sorry late to the party. I really don't understand the above statement. Really. Maybe I just don't know what I don't know.

But in the big picture I think it makes little difference.

Where do I come down in all of this? It makes no real difference as I'm just an old Texan raising my two sweet grand daughters and I like to read and look at Yon's dispatches.

I hate (and that is the right word) what Obama and his mob have done and are doing to our Republic. And I mean to see it stopped along with several million other Americans that feel the same.

Obama wants to get out of the Afgan, he would already be out but his "advisers" told him he has to wait and get out without alienating over half of America.

And that NATO had a say in all of it.

Because of that certain Generals just wouldn't do because they didn't want to do the new CIC's bidding and do it the way he and his advisers wanted.

So they picked a new General and he is doing as he is told and the Army doesn't like it. By the Army I'm referring to the troops and their officers.

There are rumors that Officers in the Military are not exactly following higher up's orders "exactly". This is nothing really new, as when I was in, Officers did the same and that was over forty years ago.

The dust up with Yon is because he wouldn't go along with SOP and kept digging around and making what the military thought was just too much trouble and too many wrong questions being asked.

Yon didn't back down so he was once again kicked out.

Let it simmer for a while now and while the NATO brass has been convinced to follow Obama out of the Afgan and leave the killing to the Taliban and the "government" (if you could by any streach of imagination call it a government).

We will see how this pot cooks up. If it is not good, you can be sure Obama and his mob will take no responsibilty and blame their picked Generals for the failure.

Continuing...

Papa Ray

No paragraph breaks...?

Posted by: Papa Ray at April 25, 2010 07:00 PM

First, Cassandra, let it be stated, it is never my intent or purpose to put you or your husband in an awkward place. Cass, you have taken on a Herculean task of trying to contextualize this event between McChrystal and Yon, again trying to show all sides. Yeah, I agree, this is impossible.

One of the comments, has a link to a concept, "Know the Truth and it shall always set you free." The original text was written in the Aramaic Language. In that language, there was a tense, not recognized by the English language, called the, "the aorist tense." In the English language, it is written as past perfect tense. In a few words, it would say, I have always known the truth, I already actively know the truth. I will constantly search for more of the truth and *nothing* is closed, there is no "plausible deniability." There are many questions to be answered. -Grumpy

Posted by: Grumpy at April 25, 2010 11:45 PM

I don't claim to know "the Truth" (whatever that is) about Yon or his serial issues getting along with the military.

I do have a major problem with folks whose justification for exempting Mr. Yon from the standards they apply to other journalists seems to boil down to one of these statements:

1. I like MY and I trust him. Therefore it's OK for him to accuse military officers and staff NCOs of criminal, corrupt, and/or incompetent actions on no evidence.

When I read comments like that, I really have to wonder.

2. I've been an embed and I've had problems with military bureaucracy (Wow. There's something that has never happened to anyone in the military.... a real shocker.) Therefore, I am inclined to believe whatever MY says, even it he turns out to be factually wrong and even if he has behaved badly.

The point of this post was not to villify MY, nor was it to stage some sort of intervention.

The point was that there are generally two sides to any story and for structural reasons we don't tend to hear the other side - which ought to make people LESS inclined to uncritical and blanket acceptance of any single source.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 26, 2010 01:09 PM

Excellent post. I most profoundly disagree. The real leaders do speak out. That's kind of the essence of leadership.

Posted by: Curtis at April 26, 2010 01:22 PM

The real leaders do speak out.

*If* they are able. Sometimes, many times, they are not.

An employee can complain about anything they like. They can disparage former bosses with complete impugnity. They can complain about being treated unfairly, their boss being a tyrant, uncaring, mean, and unprofessional.

The boss, however, may not respond by detailing disciplinary issues such as constantly showing up 15 minutes late leaving 15 minutes early and taking hour and a half lunches, or refusing to accept assigned tasks, or their screaming matches with coworkers which would refute the employee's narrative. Managers that do that get fired for violating employee confidentiality.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 26, 2010 02:15 PM

The real leaders do speak out. That's kind of the essence of leadership.

I profoundly disagree :p

Good leaders will speak freely within the context of the command (i.e., they will forcefully make their point if they think a superior is wrong). But what makes that freedom possible is the certain knowledge that once a decision is made, that same leader will get behind the plan and work to make it succeed even if he thinks it is dumb.

The military wouldn't work very well if every person in it didn't understand that.

When you work for someone else, it ain't all about you. You necessarily cede some autonomy because the nature of your work is that your interests/opinions don't come first. If you can't stand not to be in charge, you should work for yourself.

And then there are the kinds of constraints Yu-Ain describes.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 26, 2010 02:28 PM

The real leaders do speak out.

In the military, only within the chain, and only when necessary.

If you're in the military, and you go public on a matter of military policy, it isn't whistle-blowing, it's disloyalty to your superiors. Regardless of whether or not the *man* in the position merits loyalty, the *rank* the man holds requires it.

Posted by: BillT at April 26, 2010 03:19 PM

BillT, do you see loyalty, *only* running towards the superiors in *rank*? Do you see loyalty running on a two-way street, both up and down the chain of command? Did you ever hear the old thing about never aggravating the cook, the nurses or the clerks? The payback can be a real bear. There was a General from our past who refused to submit to this principal. Yeah, it was him, "Old Yellowhair", only during his 'Last Stand', he was literally "Siouxed".

I believe McChrystal believed he had established a precedent in the death of CPL Pat Tillman. There are a few flaws in his logic. There are two concepts, "Leave No Man Behind" and the "FOIA/PRIVACY ACTS. Both require two things, "Due Diligence and Absolute Accuracy."

Posted by: Grumpy at April 27, 2010 12:25 AM

I think we're confusing things that are separate.

I got into a big argument after the war started when all those retired Generals suddenly came forth with their "misgivings" about the war. In my mind, if you are a 2 or 3 star General and you are told to do something that you are completely convinced (as opposed to just not being sure) is impossible and will result in a lot of deaths for no visible result, I think you do have a duty to speak up.

There's a contradiction here though, because you can't do that from the ranks. I think the only option a senior officer has is to offer his resignation in protest. Once he is removed from the rank structure he can speak freely.

The military would never work if every officer or staff NCO who had an opinion went about publicly dissing the command. Sometimes everyone has to obey orders that almost NO ONE agrees with, but if we're to preserve civilian control over the military that's just the way the cookie crumbles. If you can't live with it, you can resign or refuse to obey the order and take your lumps.

Obeying your superiors isn't a matter so much of loyalty as duty. A senior officer also has a duty to those who have to obey him. Sometimes, those duties conflict.

I think there has to be a price associated with dissent in the military. We can't have everyone chaining themselves to fences. Sometimes the price of conscience can be very high.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 27, 2010 06:58 AM

So you see, Cass, McChrystal is obviously Obama's lackey, because otherwise he would resign in protest. That's why all the troops call him "General Betrayus," as only Mike Yon has the courage to report. (Or maybe I'm confusing two very similar stories...)

Also, McChrystal has the original long form birf certificate. He keeps it in his cargo pocket.

Posted by: Greyhawk at April 27, 2010 04:37 PM

So you see, Cass, McChrystal is obviously Obama's lackey, because otherwise he would resign in protest. That's why all the troops call him "General Betrayus," as only Mike Yon has the courage to report.

OMG :p

That destroyed me! Honestly, I don't know what to think about McChrystal or his strategy.

I do know there isn't enough money in the entire world to make me want his job. We aren't about to leave Afghanistan anytime soon but there are times when I wonder if anyone could deliver results in the amazing rolling "12-to-18 months" rolling window we've been given?

Posted by: Cassandra at April 27, 2010 05:05 PM

Obama your Messiah will take care of things.

All you have to do is pay your tithes.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 27, 2010 05:40 PM

Cass, I hate to break the news to you, but you're not alone, in not knowing. People have spent tours or even many years there and are still in the realm of the clueless. Obama has made no really major changes. Most of what we see are the results of *both* Bush '41 and Bush '43. The interesting job will me writing the 'after action report'. I'll never see it, but many generations down the road, will see it and hopefully learn from it.

Now, time to get back to sleep!

Posted by: Grumpy at April 28, 2010 03:31 AM

Cassandra,

My post was counter to yours about how true leaders learn to keep silent. You're quite right. Those who always nod their heads do thrive in the military and get promoted. I really and truly hated working for that sort of leader.

Posted by: Curtis at April 28, 2010 04:17 PM

Sorry - sometimes I misconscrew people's comments!

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2010 04:26 PM

Cassandra,

Your husband was wise when he married you.

The rigors and strife of Command are daunting and insidious, indeed. They can break Men under the weight of the lives of their charges hanging in the balance, and the pressures of a supremely fickle and ignorant public, and an intemperate and deceitful, Machiavellian Congress. These are heavy loads to bear for any Man in Command.

GEN McChrystal is only human. He has the same possibilities of success or failure as any number of other Men who are his peers in position.

The bottom line is that he is the Commander of this war. It is his, and his alone, to lose, and yet it will be to the credit of every Man and Woman serving under him if success follows his plan.

None of us should judge him until this is over, least of all MY. Until the constraints levied upon him have either been removed, or have brought a bitter fruit to bear, I fear that we must follow the course, stay the righteous hand of total combat, and hope for the best from both our troops and their leadership.

I hope he is successful, but will not deign to believe, for one second, that Mike Yon, or even some outstanding NCO or junior officer or other field officer, is better qualified to lead to Victory, than GEN McChrystal, at present.

If this was easy, then we would use the Salvation Army, instead of the US Army, to achieve Victory.

Your husband is a very lucky guy to be mated with a woman so smart and so wise.

Subsunk

Posted by: Subsunk at April 28, 2010 04:52 PM

*blush* :)

I'm afraid I am the lucky one. I keep waiting for him to figure out what a huge mistake he made all those years ago.

I will just have to keep putting those drops in his cornflakes!

Posted by: Cassandra at April 28, 2010 06:30 PM

People blame McChrystal because Obama obviously don't give a damn what they think.

People have to find levers they think will work in their favor. The fact that this is a military officer that can't make policy based upon public opinion just reflects the leadership capabilities of Obama.

Unlike Bush, people aren't even trying to get Obama to lead.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 29, 2010 09:53 AM

I wonder if anyone has noticed, but Yon tends to like calling people that he sees as a problem various names of animals he knew in life.

For the guy he killed in a bar, he wrote that this was a Gator he met. After writing about killing another gator in Florida.

These are real experiences that have etched channels of thought, emotion, and behavior upon the entity known as Michael Yon. When Yon starts relating his experience with the experience he had with animals, he is having some of the same thoughts and much of the same emotions. And his behavior also begins to correlate.

Thus the monkey finds it far easier to hijack Yon's brain when dealing with the "McChrystal threat" when Yon starts thinking of unpleasant or dangerous animals and compares people to them.

He's done it before. Presumably, nobody said anything bad to him about it at the time. The issue is, it doesn't matter who you are, SF or pacifist. If you allow your thoughts to start going down ancient etched paths, your behavior and emotions will start getting sucked into that channel. Your brain perceives those channels of habit and experience as more real than what your neo-cortext can logically puzzle out. The more you feed those channels, the more you begin to see your memories as current truth.

This isn't such a bad thing given how experience with a former problem helps us resolve a problem now. Yon's experience with an alligator that he thought was dead helped him live when somebody came at him in a bar.

However, it's when Yon begins applying his former experience to things he has no experience with (flag command), that you know problems will ensue. Now his memories have no relationship, almost, to the reality of the problems Admirals and Generals have to deal with. Yon's got a train occupying his single track and it is the wrong train, not to mention the bridge is out. And he doesn't want to jump out or divert the train. He thinks his experience will let him bridge the gap.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 2, 2010 05:52 AM

Please read these words carefully: With your only real tie to the military being as a wife, your opinion on these matters means almost nothing.

When you reference "four embeds" to make a point, and you've never deployed yourself once, I believe your lack of relevance is pretty obvious. Your writing is good, but an officer's wife stays within her "pay grade", if you will. That's not chauvinism, that's your responsibility as a military wife.

Posted by: Andrew at May 28, 2010 03:31 PM

Andrew: please read these words carefully.

That is probably the single dumbest comment I've read in a long time.

Please learn to read for comprehension. Perhaps then you'll have a clue as to the point of this post.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 28, 2010 03:52 PM

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