Earlier this morning in an exclusive interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Eric Bates, executive editor of "Rolling Stone," spoke to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski about the reaction to the explosive Gen. McChrystal interview by Michael Hastings. Bates describes the circumstances surrounding the interview and the fact-checking process. Full interview below. If used, please credit MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” For video of the interview, please visit www.joe.msnbc.com.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, "MORNING JOE" CO-HOST: Yesterday, Nora O'Donnell reported that yesterday, General McChrystal called Joe Biden apologizing. The head of the joint chiefs, Admiral Mullen apologizing.
Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates apologizing and also apologized to a man that his staff called a clown from 1985, General Jones. Why don't we introduce him now?
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, "MORNING JOE" CO-HOST: Yes, with us now, executive editor of "Rolling Stone," Eric Bates, and Eric, this is certainly making waves. Not only are apologies flying, but a senior administration official says the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal is ordered to appear at the White House Situation Room in person tomorrow. I have a feeling if it doesn't happen before then he will be fired.
Also with us, history professor at Harvard University, Niall Ferguson, who's the author of "High Financier: The Lives and Times of Sigmund Warburg. So, it's good to have you have you back.
BRZEZINSKI: Very interesting day.
SCARBOROUGH: It's going to be an exciting day.
ERIC BATES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": Yes. Good timing.
SCARBOROUGH: "Rolling Stone" making trouble. You got to tell us the story. How did you get the leading general in Afghanistan -
BRZEZINSKI: Umm --
SCARBOROUGH: Okay. Thank you so much. A war issue, I guess. We can take that down now.
SCARBOROUGH: Kids -- if you're at home --
BRZEZINSKI: -- inside the magazine --
SCARBOROUGH: Thank you so much --
SCARBOROUGH: -- for that cover art.
So tell us, McChrystal. How did you guys get him to tell all?
BATES: Well, we got a really unprecedented access with him. We spent -- we reported this story over the course of several months. We were with him on a trip in Europe that wound up getting extended because of the volcano in Iceland. So, our reporter was kind of trapped with him for about two weeks in Paris and traveling from Paris to Berlin. They couldn't fly, so they had to take a bus. So, we really spent a lot of time with him and really got to look behind the curtain, and hear how he and his men, top men, talk among themselves on their own.
BRZEZINSKI: You know, I'm looking at -- I mean, there's so many different things to go through. Some of this stuff seems like after you
-- like the Holbrooke, e-mail and then put in the Blackberry back in the pocket and an aide making a disparaging remark. I guess you could argue, off record, on record, were there any lines blurred here? And I'm going to read an excerpt in just a moment.
BATES: No, absolutely not. They knew when we were on the record.
They said a lot of stuff to us off the record that's not in the story, so we respected all those boundaries.
BATES: This is all when they knew they were on.
SCARBOROUGH: Let's read an excerpt from the "Rolling Stone" piece.
"Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today and how should he respond. Quote, 'I never know what's going to pop out until I'm there.
That's the problem.' He says, then unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one liner. 'Are you asking about Vice President Biden,' McChrystal asks with a laugh? 'Who's that? Biden?' suggests a top adviser. 'Did you say bite me?'"
Huh. That's on the record, huh?
BATES: That's totally on the record. What's most surprising about that, he was preparing for a speech in Paris. It was nearing (ph) a speech in London that he got asked about Joe Biden's counterterrorism strategy that resulted in his first act of insubordination, when he dissed the vice president and say that would result in chaos-istan and got called to Air Force One for a meeting with the president.
So, here he is again, preparing for a question-and-answer session, imagining questions about the vice president.
SCARBOROUGH: We started talking about this at about 6:30. By 6:35, 6:40, the wires started popping. The latest across the wires.
Chris, what do you have? A response from the chairman of the joint chiefs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Mike Mullen, Admiral Mike Mullen. Quote, "deep disappointment" unquote, in the call with General McChrystal.
SCARBOROUGH: "Deep disappointment." Of course, McChrystal had to call everybody yesterday.
When did you guys fact-check this? I'm just curious about the timing of when they knew this was going to blow up?
BATES: We would have been fact checking this within the last week and week before.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. So, they knew this was coming for some time?
SCARBOROUGH: We saw Bob Gates this weekend on "Face the Nation" and were commenting yesterday. Who said yesterday that it wasn't --
BRZEZINSKI: Was it --
SCARBOROUGH: It was one of the shakier performances. They had to know that the situation --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was Jack. Jack Welch.
SCARBOROUGH: Jack Welch.
SCARBOROUGH: Jack Welch said it was one of his shakier performances. A guy that's always sure of himself.
This is emblematic, Mr. Ferguson, of a bigger problem, than Afghanistan. The British people, Americans, all continuing to have deep concerns about what's become America's longest war.
NIALL FERGUSON, AUTHOR, "HIGH FINANCIER": Yes. And it is a very different war from Iraq. And so, the idea to have a surge similar to the one that General Petraeus made work in Iraq was always a little implausible, But Stanley McChrystal saw this very hard.
You know, I'm reminded of Douglas MacArthur and Harry Truman here because --
FERGUSON: this is far as we've just been seeing from the first time that McChrystal, openly in the press, challenged the authority of the president and others in the administration. It seems to me, really, that President Obama has no choice to do than what Truman did and actually get rid of the insubordinate general.
SCARBOROUGH: We were talking before about parallels. Somebody asked me for a historical parallel. I had to go back to Truman and MacArthur for such an example of insubordination. Can you think of any?
FERGUSON: No. This is the best parallel, except that McChrystal doesn't have the kind of popularity, the wider popularity that MacArthur had. Remember, MacArthur was a credible contender for the presidency at the time of the showdown with Truman. McChrystal's not that strong.
SCARBOROUGH: He gave the speech to the --
SCARBOROUGH: -- joint session of Congress.
FERGUSON: It was great. It was a pretty high-octane moment in American political history. This isn't like that.
I don't think McChrystal really understands, actually, how the media and democracy play together in this country. It is a different mindset they have in the military, and he exemplifies that.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, the thing is, Petraeus is a new type of leader.
We have heard he's a new type of leader. He's politically adept. I find it fascinating that he hires a number two guy who basically leads a monk's existence, eats one meal a day, runs nine miles a day, sleeps four hours a night.
This is Mika's existence, by the way. She seriously does that every day.
FERGUSON: Oh, my.
SCARBOROUGH: But one of the most astute generals when it comes to press relations has one of the clumsiest subordinates.
FERGUSON: But McChrystal seems to have watched "Apocalypse Now,"
and he seems to be kind of reenacting Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando.
FERGUSON: He's sort of gone crazy there out there in Afghanistan. We have to call him back if we can.
SCARBROUGH: If we can.
BRZEZINSKI: Taking shots throughout this interview and all of these high-level members of the administration and his colleagues. And here's what he says. I'll read another excerpt on Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.
"Here's one that covers his flank for the history books...now if we fail, they say 'I told you so.'"
He goes on in this article, Eric, to say he was disappointed in the first Oval Office meeting with an unprepared President Obama. Talking about the national security adviser, Jim Jones, a clown who is stuck in 1985. This is a McChrystal aide.
There's so much back biting going on here, but it kind of is unbelievable that it would happen in public in front of a reporter.
Where do we even begin?
SCARBOROUGH: Where do we end -- I guess you knew this was coming.
Was your reporter calling you as this story was developing going --
SCARBOROUGH: -- you are not believing the stuff I'm getting out here.
BATES: Yes. I heard a lot from our reporter and as we worked on the story and prepared it and fact checked it, it was amazing how much was there.
I think you also have to look at what it says about the war strategy. I mean, this shows that the administration itself is deeply divided over this strategy. It has been from the beginning. The strategy came about because McChrystal pressed it by releasing a strategic review, demanding 40,000 more troops. That sparked a White House review for three months, and it's clear that the diplomatic side and the military side in this war don't see eye to eye. And it's very hard to see how we could win any war, let alone one as complex and difficult as Afghanistan, with a divided team.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, the general must be fired. Anybody that understands the chain of command in the United States military knows he has to be fired unless he can come out and say I was misquoted. When you were fact checking this article, did the general or his staff deny any of the quotes? Any pushback at all on the accuracy of this article?
BATES: No. No, I haven't heard that. Didn't hear that during the course of the story. I didn't hear that in his apology --
SCARBOROUGH: So, it wasn't like "Almost Famous," part two?
BATES: No. And from what I can tell from the general's apology --
SCARBOROUGH: He was just a cad! Did you even see "Almost Famous"?
BATES: I did (INAUDIBLE).
BATES: I was in on "Almost Famous." No, I wasn't.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. "This is a story. He's a fan. The kid made the whole thing up."
OK, here's the worse. I think this is the worst when you look at chain of command. No, it is not Holbrooke. That's -- it's bad, but this is the worst. McChrystal said he was, quote, "disappointed with the commander in chief in his first meeting at the White House with an unprepared President Obama." That is just stunning. That any general could make that comment and think he could survive. Mark?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you game out to the next step of this.
The president needs - remember, the big support the president has on Capitol Hill for his Afghan policy not from his own party but is from Republicans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to come out of this, however it concludes, with a replacement presumably and with having sent signals about how he's dealt with this where Republicans don't attack him but stay on board, double down with him on his Afghan policy. That is a delicate thing for a Democratic president to do, given the challenge from man in uniform about his seriousness about this issue. Complicated.
SCARBOROUGH: Republicans will use this as an issue this fall, obviously. I just -- the Republican leadership better be damn careful on Capitol Hill that they show respect to the chain of command and civilian leadership over the military. If they don't, and there will be idiots that go out and say stupid things today --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.
SCARBOROUGH: -- you'll make a fool of yourself. Just sit back and be quiet, Republicans.
Here's McChrystal on Holbrooke. "Mcchrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge -
BRZEZINSKI: Oh, my God. I don't want to hear this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my favorite.
SCARBOROUGH: -- "the boss says he's like a wounded animal," says a member of the general's team. 'Holbrookee keeps hearing rumors that he's going to be fired, so that makes him dangerous.' --
BRZEZINSKI: I need to go on. Let me go on.
SCARBOROUGH: You go on, though, Mika. And just read it out opinion or comment.
BRZEZINSKI: Okay, "he's a brilliant guy. But he just comes in, pulls on a lever whatever he can grasp on." Skipping the next sentence because there's a bad word. "At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checked the Blackberry. 'Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke,' he groans. 'I don't even want to open it. He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the Blackberry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal the annoyance. 'Make sure you don't get any vet (ph) on your leg,' an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail."
FERGUSON: King of captures the locker-room atmosphere around McChrystal.
BRZEZINSKI: And disdain.
FERGUSON: I think we ought to remember, this is the hardest of all imperial war zones that the United States is now in. Nobody wins. And it's not surprising that the administration finds itself in difficulty here.
And I have some sympathy with McChrystal. I kind of find him attractive initially when he appeared on the scene as the ultimate hard-ass, dealing with the ultimate military challenge. But this is just so completely out of line that he can't possibly survive, and that's a major blow to the administration. He may have well have been the best man for the job, but in terms of PR, he is the worst man.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, it is the third time. I mean, he or his team leaked to Woodward. Then of course, the London speech. And now this.
I've got to say, at this point, he is not naive. At this point, he thinks Afghanistan's going to fail --
SCARBOROUGH: And he is going to go out with guns blazing.
BRZEZINSKI: And that is -- Eric --
SCARBOUROUGH: You agree -- he can't be that naive.
FERGUSON: Yes, absolutely. There's a real pass in here (ph), and it's quite calculated. And very interesting that, you know, he chooses "Rolling Stone." Kudos by the way, to Michael Hastings. We haven't named the reporter, but this is a fantastic piece of journalism, and he deserves all the credit for doing this story.
But, you know, "Rolling Stone" has already made its reputation for practically blowing Goldman Sachs apart in the last year. So, you don't talk to "Rolling Stone" expecting a little bland piece about yourself.
This is going to be a very calculated decision on McChrystal's part.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, and "Rolling Stone" made waves last week with the BP story. They have another BP story in there, and the White House was enraged with your BP story last week. You guys are making waves.
But this one, this one is shaking Washington.
Let me ask really quickly, Mark. General McChrystal had to know this was going to be the end. When he attacks the president, the vice president, the ambassador to Afghanistan, the national security adviser to the president. He's not a fool. He had to know this would be the end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My guess is he didn't, to tell you the truth -
SCARBOROUGH: That naive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because this played out over a long period of time. He's shown no histories (ph), he's said before. He's exactly the opposite of Petraeus. A man in uniform who doesn't understand the way the military works.
Look, no disrespect to your magazine, but just agreeing to talk to "Rolling Stone" is nuts, but not the way you go out if you're playing --
BATES: I have to say, in the course of this story, I don't think we got the sense that it was intentional, either. I think we got a look behind the curtain. These are men at war, talking amongst themselves in that locker-room way. McChrystal is known for being very, very frank.
It's one of the most appealing traits. Whether he used good judgment in saying this kind stuff in front of a reporter is another question.
SCARBOROUGH: But - but what is the upside? What is the upside?
And I know you can't answer that, but how did you pitch this to the general leading the war in Afghanistan? "Hey, dude, could we follow you for a couple of months?" Especially since "Rolling Stone" -- I joke about the dude, but there's a feeling in the military that "Rolling Stone" has been since 1967 anti-war. So, why would you have a magazine that is reflexively anti-war following you around with unprecedented access for two months?
BATES: Well, I think you have to think about our readership, as well. We reach a lot of younger readers, and the military is interested in reaching those readers, as well. So, I think they see our audience as a core constituency for them
SCARBOROUGH: You look where the Army advertises.
BATES: That's right.
SCARBOROUGH: That's a great example. Were you surprised, though, by the unfettered access?
BATES: I wasn't surprised by the access. I was surprised by what they did with it. I was surprised that they weren't more guarded. I also think this is a guy who has gotten a tremendous, tremendous amount of publicity, a lot of profiles. He's used to getting very favorable profiles. I think "Newsweek" called him a Jedi knight --
SCARBOROUGH: A Jedi knight that took the light saber to his throat.
BRZEZINSKI: Oh, Eric.
SCARBOROUGH: Watch this! Whoosh.
SCARBOROUGH: So, Mika, this is also a guy, though -- he's had so many miscues. I have no idea why he's still there. Remember in the "60 Minutes" interview, I was stunned that he showed disrespect to Bob Gates, the Secretary of Defense, saying that Gates and the Pentagon dragging their feet.
But then he was asked, when's the last time you talked to the president of the United States? Now, any other general would say, "Well, conversations between the president and myself, well, it's private.
It's confidential." He came out immediately saying, "Oh, I haven't talked to him in three months," which immediately caused a political stir for the president. Three months. This guy has not shown discipline and then, of course, the Air Force Ine meeting. This guy's not buttoned down, to say the least.
BRZEZINSKI: Was there pushback on the article? any attempt to stop it? Did they get any wind of it?
BATES: No, absolutely not. We ran everything by them in our fact checking process, as we always do. So, I think they had a sense of what was coming. But this was all on the record, and they spent a lot of time with our reporter, so I think they knew that they had said it.
BRZEZINSKI: Oh my god.
SCARBOROUGH: Let's -- yes. Probably not getting another one with the general for a while. Just guessing.
BATES: At least not this general.
SCARBOROUGH: He's not -- he will be a retired general.
BRZEZINSKI: I think it is interesting because I would think they would push back and say, you know, find a way that this maybe isn't legitimate.
BRZEZINSKI: And the fact they didn't means, first of all, they know he said it and they're not going to refute it. And it sort of gives me perspective on other things they have pushed back on.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey. Let me ask you something quickly. I want to switch topics.
CBS poll came out. Thirty-two percent of Americans believe the president has a plan to create jobs, revive the economy. Fifty-four percent say he doesn't. Isn't there a growing skepticism in the United States and England and France and Germany who were sort of reflexively fighting against stimulus plans that federal governments across the West cannot revive economies by spending more money?
FERGUSON: I think the president had the plan. (INAUDIBLE) He doesn't have one anymore. The plan was to use Keynesian methods, you know, to have large deficits to stimulate the economy and we would get a recovery this year in the wake of that.
Now, it just isn't materializing. And so, there's mounting skepticism, beginning in Europe but I think spreading across the Atlantic what you can achieve with 10 percent of GDP deficits. And now we’re beginning to see the downside, the sort of shadow side of deficit financing. It began in Greece and I think big worry the public has is at some point, that kind of deficit crisis comes to the United States. And then we’re in a bigger hole than before.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. We need to talk about that, and also your book when we return. Eric, thank you so much coming across the street.
This is explosive. We woke him up, by the way.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, we needed to be woken up.
SCARBOROUGH: And I’d be very disappointed if an executive editor of "Rolling Stone" was not asleep at 6:00 a.m.
BATES: Just doing my job.
BRZEZINSKI: Thank you very much.
SCARBOROUGH: We won't show the cover but we will show a great shot of General McChrystal, the runaway general. Thank you so much.
BATES: Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: Editor at "Rolling Stone."