June 24th, 2010

Maybe if McChrystal had read General William Tecumsah Sherman…

on the subject of the press, he’d have just said “no” when reporter Hastings came to call:

I hate newspapermen…I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are.

Not to mention this:

If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.

22 Responses to “Maybe if McChrystal had read General William Tecumsah Sherman…”

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    i think people are not realizing what happened.

    The general thought that since they avoided fox news, that he was among friendlies. but in revolution there are no friendlies, ask Trotsky (or a bunch of others i can name, like Robespierre).

    i am sure that the general HAD read that, since its required reading. (i did give a link to the series of books, but alas, i dont think any one followed. Osprey makes them…)

    however, if one looks at things from a tactical outcome. i will bet that other generals are chuckling privately…

  2. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Did you know that Sherman made a comment about the current rules of engagement in Afghanistan:

    If the people raise a great howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity seeking.

  3. Teresa Says:

    McChrystal’s problem, he was brought in by Obama, he apparently voted for Obama, therefore he probably thought he’d get the same teflon treatment by the press that Obama gets. heh.

    The only good thing to come out of this is the press will be kept far away from now on. Might save some soldier’s lives.

  4. kaba Says:

    Uncle Billy was an original. He and Grant became lifelong friends. To paraphrase a Sherman statement to Grant, You stood by me while I was crazy; Now I’ll stand by you while you are drunk.

  5. ElMondoHummus Says:

    While I have a generally derogatory opinion of much reporting by the MSM of the military in general (often stemming from their sheer incompetence in understanding the history, technical issues, and so on), let’s remember some things:

    In WWII, General Eisenhower actively courted the press, going so far as to call them “quasi-members of my staff” because he considered them important. The point here, of course, is to illuminate the necessity of working positively with organizations that have such broad influence over public opinion. Eisenhower realized this, and worked hard to make the relationship work right.

    There is of course an identical burden on the media. I am nothing less than aghast at how severely confrontational and severely misinformed they choose to be. It’s one thing to get at the truth, but it’s a whole other ball of wax to think that anything from the military must be doubted, whereas anything from, say, a guerilla group, or a terrorist organization can be taken at face value (recent news involving Israel and a supposed “aid” ship illustrates that all too clearly). Validation and defense of scientific work can be pretty damn adversarial too; so can academic debate, legal debate, the process of putting together state and local legislation, etc., but in general, they work. And they work because few in those fields mistake adversarialism for skepticism (which is the single biggest fault by modern journalism today). The ones who do are generally not successful. Contrast that to the mainstream media, a profession that somehow managed to combine adversarialism with selective credulity and enshrine that as an ideal stance to have. Anyway, the point is that the press has its share of duty towards making the military/press relationship work, but given their duty to the public, they must do their share to make it work. Simply showing up and demanding information without first learning background and context is NOT it.

    When done right, even modern press-military relationships can be made to work. In the first Gulf War, the Marines actively solicited embeds, and managed to get much good coverage plus distribute much good information for what was essentially a supporting operation. Whereas the Army’s left hook – the main thrust of the campaign – was not able to get decent recognition for their accomplishments until much later. War reporting should not be immediate for obvious reasons, but people not hearing of, say, the Battle of 73 Easting until years and years later is putting things off too far.

    A good writer and observer – for example, someone like Michael Totten who, despite his very clearly stated liberalism has proven to be one hell of a good observer – would be a valuable commodity as an embed because he does known how to deal with the military and does understand how they view things. Just keep the unknowing idiot sensationalists who don’t understand military culture, history, or operations away.

    Yes, to be fair, the military also shoulders a bit of burden for the currently bad relationship. The late Col. Hackworth – someone who had obvious military experience, having been a battalion commander in his days – still had trouble with Army Public Affairs officers during the first Gulf War because the army put only minor emphasis on establishing good relations with the press and didn’t know how to handle him. To date, too much of the military is still poorly equipped to handle all things journalistic (although I still maintain that the ignorance here is dwarfed by the media’s ignorance of the military). And they react poorly to any sort of reportage that is not originated with them; see their reactions to milblogs as an example. So yes, they do need to increase their savvy with reportage, as well as with new media. But at the same time, for all their years of war “reporting”, the media consistently fails to truly understand the military, and utterly fails to learn. Too many times, positive steps like Newsweek’s hiring of David Hackworth back in the late 80’s/early 90’s are undone by the failure to maintain any institutional understanding of the military, as well as the press’s oddly intense need to be adversarial (as opposed to merely skeptical and inquiring). And this leads to a poorly informed public, thus illuminating a failure on both the media and the military.

    The relationship can be made to work. But the press needs to stop wanting to find “Gotcha!” stories and start remembering their duty to inform. This means establishing context, not merely concentrating on point issues and finding ways to revert stories to preconceived archetypes. On top of that, they need to learn about the military, and stop viewing them as an opponent to best. But at the same time, the military needs to understand that the modern world is information driven, and if they don’t find ways to 1. Better improve their own relationship with the media, and 2. Better handle alt media, they’ll be outperformed by adversaries in the courts of public opinion. Remember that the North Vietnamese’s strategic goals included the influencing of American opinion; if Islamic terrorists become savvy at that same thing, the military will be at a similar disadvantage unless it learns to counter and win that battle.

    The relationship can be made to work, and must be made to work. The alternative is ceding the field to those who’d rather fool the American public with disinformation to further their goals (again, re: Hamas). That serves neither the media nor the military well, let alone the American public.

  6. ElMondoHummus Says:

    kaba Says:

    June 24th, 2010 at 4:25 pm
    Uncle Billy was an original. He and Grant became lifelong friends. To paraphrase a Sherman statement to Grant, You stood by me while I was crazy; Now I’ll stand by you while you are drunk.

    Either the History or the Military channel recently had a documentary on ole Sherman, and it was excellent. That was one hell of a man. I didn’t know this before seeing the program, but after the war, he never, ever, turned away one of his soldiers who came to his door needing money; on the contrary, he was well known to be willing to give an old campaigner a hand, no matter what the rank difference.

    He was one hell of a soldier and leader. Too bad his reputation was impugned by Confederate nostalgics and sympathizers for his campaigns. I’m glad he’s getting some measure of justice nowadays and is getting recognition for the leader he was. If you or anyone else happens across it channel surfing, I highly recommend it.

  7. kaba Says:

    All true. Better than any of his contemporaries Sherman knew that the most merciful end to the war could be realized by being as merciless as possible. He knew the South well enough to know that they would continue to fight so long as they had a means and will. He intended to break that will.

    More than any other he was responsible for Lincoln’s re-election in 1864. His timely taking of Atlanta all but guranteed that Lincoln would be re-elected.

    Were it not for Booth the South would have fared much better under Reconstruction by Lincoln.

  8. SteveH Says:

    And to think Sherman probably had a 50/50 chance of running into reporters that sympathised with his view of things. Imagine what he’d say about reporters vs military nowadays.

  9. Hong Says:

    This has probably set back media/military relations 30 years. Rolling Stone magazine has done more damage to that relationship than anyone since Vietnam.

  10. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.
    William Tecumseh Sherman

    We need more Generals like Grant and Sherman.

  11. Curtis Says:

    Great generals skip a generation. Maybe we’re due one.

  12. Southern OH Redneck Says:

    I am proud to hail from Lancaster, OH, birthplace and hometown of Wm T Sherman. It never ceases to amaze me at the number of residents from the southern US who claim that Sherman burned down their gggg-grand pappy’s barn or home when he nor his troops were ever within 200 miles of their hometown.

  13. PA Cat Says:

    From an article by Dale Brown on the inside back cover of the Autumn 2004 issue of Parameters, the journal of the Army War College, titled “Sherman and the Reporter”:

    “Enraged by newspaper listings of the Union order of battle prior to engagements, Sherman banished reporters from his lines and referred to them as ‘dirty newspaper scribblers who have the impudence of Satan.’ A reporter for the New York Tribune wrote that being ‘a cat in hell without claws is nothing to [being] a reporter in General Sherman’s army.’ His brethren were not so kind; they circulated reports of Sherman’s alleged insanity.

    The tension reached a head when a reporter for the New York Herald, Thomas Knox, defied Sherman’s orders and forwarded an account of the Union defeat at Chickasaw Bluffs. Sherman had Knox arrested and bound over for court-martial. The reporter responded, ‘Of course, General Sherman, I have no feelings against you personally, but you are regarded as the enemy of our set and we must in self-defense write you down.’ The court found Knox guilty and ordered him banished from the theater. As the Herald was a strong supporter of Lincoln, the President countermanded the sentence on the condition that Sherman’s superior, U. S. Grant, agreed. Grant would do no such thing, and Knox was forced to appeal to the man he defamed. Sherman’s reply:

    Come with a sword or musket in your hand, prepared to share with us our fate … and I will welcome you as a brother; but come as you now do expecting me to ally the reputation and honor of my country and my fellow-soldiers with you as the representative of the Press which you yourself say makes so slight a difference between truth and falsehood and my answer is Never!

    Knox left the theater.”


  14. rickl Says:

    I like Sherman. He knew that wars must be fought aggressively to a conclusion in order to make them as short as possible.

    Contrast that with our modern “peace process”, which is really a recipe for endless war with no conclusion.

    Although I’ve been a Northerner all my life, I do somewhat sympathize with the Southern cause of independence, and today I would not support taking up arms against any state that chooses to secede from our out-of-control federal government.

  15. rickl Says:

    I forgot to say that Sherman certainly did have reporters pegged. And to think that in those days they didn’t go to journalism schools that pushed Marxism.

  16. strcpy Says:

    “The point here, of course, is to illuminate the necessity of working positively with organizations that have such broad influence over public opinion.”

    This assumes that the relationship *can* be positive – that is it assumes that the press at least wishes things to be succesfull. They do not.

    You can not make a good relation with someone who wants you to disappear from the face of the earth. There has to be good faith on both sides.

    We used embeds in Iraq II also, you probably got some of the best reporting there because of that relationship, however the management back home didn’t want that and dropped most of the stories. It isn’t hard to find embittered embedded journalist that either were heavily edited to say something they didn’t or their stories were refused publication.

    The difference is that since the early 90’s the media has had a *really* hard shift in thought (I shudder to think what would have been reported if you had thier current mindset along with no accountability or either Fox News or the blogs).

    Heck, they were mostly still semi-willing propaganda spreaders during the first Iraq war. Powell and Schwarzkopf used that to the fullest during the war. It also was one of the things that drove the anti-war crowd into such strong moves into becoming opposition – they realized how much misinformation was given through “access” and decided it would never happen again.

    At this point you mostly have two camps in the media. You have th first and most common (and I think McChrystal learned this the hard way) and that is ones that detest the military and even thier “positive” stories are highly negative. They hate it nearly to an extent that simply not saying they all need to die is positive. You then have the Fox news variety that is rating oriented. Given the slant of the rest of the media that tends to push them into “conservative” camps but they really aren’t conservative, they are reactionary – were the rest of the media as conservative as they are liberal Fox would be like CNN.

    That leaves good reporting – the kind you *can* build that relationship with – not in the main stream media. By definition if a reporter ever becomes one that the relationship can be worked out then they are shunned and become unemployed “free lance” journalist. They move to blogs and alternative media.

    Indeed, the Rolling Stones reporter is confused by the reaction – he thought it a nice article. He did so because compared to what he would have written were he to be “fair” or even “biased” it would have been *really* critical. Nor can he even see this to be true.

    Lets face it – how does one write an article on the attempted genocide of Jews in WWII in a way that *isn’t* inherently bad? Many of us can simply state the facts but if you are trying to write an opinion article(which most news is now) how do you do anything other than condemnation?

    I could certainly write an article that presents the so called final solution as a neutral position to take, I could even write one that makes it sound like a good thing – yet I do agree that making it even a neutral idea is a VERY positive spin. If you think that there is little to no difference (and in some of their minds worse) between that and what is going on today then what is going on makes sense. It also shows the confusion they have when they write an article that stops short of calling them murderers and people think it is a very negative article.

    You aren’t going to court them to your side – McChrystal is a fairly heavy leftist, he was (and maybe even still is, but I doubt it) a heavy supporter of Obama, and was everything the left could have hoped for in a military leader (and made no attempt to hide it). That made him not a bad murderer and he never understood that is how they viewed him.

  17. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    I entirely share your opinions on the importance, and need for cordial relations between the military and media. You’re clearly knowledgeable about this issue.

    That said, I felt like I was reading a brief, knowledgeable essay on the subject taken from a time capsule buried prior to Vietnam. Where have you been, to at this late date express incredulity, “I am nothing less than aghast at how severely confrontational and severely misinformed they [the media] choose to be.”

    With a very few exceptions, the MSM engages solely in the practice of agenda journalism ad has for decades, they are hostile to the military and have, since Vietnam acted as the propaganda arm of the democrat party.

    There’s is absolutely no chance, none whatsoever that the MSM is going to adopt the attitudes and demeanor toward the military of which you speak.

    They are committed ideologues, no less than Obama, though in the main, liberal ‘useful idiots’ rather than committed leftists but see the US Constitution as an impediment to the socialistic society they favor implementing. They have completely and repeatedly betrayed their very raison de’ etre. And are profoundly guilty of having betrayed the trust of the American public.

    If this nations falls, whether to economic collapse, Islamic nuclear terrorism or the geo-political campaign of covert aggression against the US by Russia and China, the MSM will bear a large share of the responsibility. More than any other party, they have worked to keep the public in the dark and continue to do so.

    Were they not Americans, we would have long ago declared them enemies of the state.

  18. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Oops! darn tags. What a stupid I am!

    Thought I’d closed the bold tag after ‘agenda journalism’

    Sure wish wordpress offered a preview function, I’d still make mistakes, just less of them;-)

  19. rickl Says:

    I dunno, all that bolding actually seems right under the circumstances.

  20. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    Perhaps another example of better to be lucky than good?

  21. Highlander Says:

    Bob From Virgina,

    Here’s another one that fits our approach to war these days.

    “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”

  22. Gringo Says:


    I forgot to say that Sherman certainly did have reporters pegged. And to think that in those days they didn’t go to journalism schools that pushed Marxism.

    Karl Marx wrote a number of articles, some with Engels, on the US Civil War. Considering what Marx wrote about the Civil War, in support of the North, I suspect that Sherman may have tolerated Marx as a reporter.

    Which does not contradict rickl’s observation that many reporters theses days are more concerned with using journalism to change society to fit their lefty “idealistic” vision than they are in reporting the news.

    Sherman had a way with words. He clearly expressed himself, with no wasted words along the way and with not a little bit of humor.

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