It didn’t have to happen, and he got what he deserved. I feel terrible for our country as we have lost one of the few competent people we have to carry out a tough war assignment.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal flunked the basics of public communication and didn’t follow the rules and policies of his job when he and members of his staff made unflattering remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. He needed to keep his and his staff’s opinions to themselves, and didn’t he know “everything is on the record“?
I can understand where McChrystal was coming from. Dealing with distant, detached, civilian leadership can be frustrating. I experienced it during my time in Vietnam and could make a case that we would have come out much better in that war without it. But, all of our concerns were taken up the chain of command (and rarely did someone listen).
Hemeyer served in the Air Force during Vietnam, was selected for the rank of colonel and received the Bronze Star.
During my Air Force days I started a program in the Pentagon to provide a media and public communication awareness seminar and training to every newly promoted General officer — just to prevent a McChrystal incident. Unfortunately the general didn’t get the training from the Army, or ignored it.
Lessons to be learned — it’s not the media’s fault. Rolling Stone did their job and, obviously with today’s Internet, it spread world-wide instantly. Treat the media with respect, but know when to keep quiet. Also, and most important, every person in charge of an organization needs to be aware and trained on today’s instant and comprehensive media environment. Prevention is the key in crisis management and a firm understanding of knowing when and what to say, and when to shut up, is critical.
Terry Hemeyer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations in the College of Communication. He has appeared on the NBC Today Show, CBS’ 60 Minutes and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and more.