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Michael Hastings’ “Boys Will Be Boys” FAIL

June 23, 2010

In an interview with Michelle Norris of All Things Considered, Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings uses the old “boys will be boys” excuse when commenting on his story about Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

If you aren’t already aware of the story, Hastings wrote an article for Rolling Stone that contains quotes from Gen McChrystal and his staff criticizing – and, more significantly, belittling – the President, the Vice President, and several other members of the administration.  McChrystal has been called to Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with Obama on Wednesday.  According to NPR, the general’s job may be in danger, in part because of things he says in Hastings’ article.

Hastings, however, acts as though he’s surprised that the article caused such an uproar.  During the interview with Norris he quotes several belittling statements that a McChrystal aide made about Biden during a meeting.  Norris asks whether the aide was reprimanded for the comments, and Hastings’ reply is “Have you hung out with the military much?”  He goes on to say  – as many before him have done – that the men of the military are under so much stress that they need humor to diffuse the tension.  He implies that the insults flung at the President and his staff – while on record with a reporter – are part and parcel of that need for humor.  Boys will be boys, and the military will be the military.

Hastings seems surprised that the men are being held accountable for their words.  But isn’t it common knowledge that if you say bad things about your boss, and you get caught, your job is on the line?  Are there places in life where that isn’t true?  If so, please let me know where they are.

There’s a difference – a BIG difference – between using humor to diffuse tension and using “humor” to belittle an authority figure.  In addition, I question the effectiveness of this purportedly therapeutic strategy.  In the incident Hastings references, a top advisor to McChrystal refers to Joe Biden as “Joe Bite Me”.  Is that really so hilarious that it immediately relieves all of his pent-up anger and tension?  Really?

I’ll agree with Hastings that in any wartime scenario there’s going to be tension – between the soldiers themselves, between the military and the administration, between the military and the people.  But handling that tension via a bunch of on-the-record playground talk seems extraordinarily ineffective.

Additionally, the suggestion that members of the military ought to be held to a lesser standard of behavior than the general public is absurd.  The military has power; it has force.  Ideally, members of a group imbued with such power ought to be held to exceptionally high standards.  Because power + douchebaggery = danger.

Everyone in the media, listen up: The “boys will be boys” excuse is tired and worn out.  It is not now – nor has it EVER BEEN – a reasonable explanation for ANY behavior.  Falling back on this trope is just bad journalism.  It’s an excuse not to dig deeper.  It’s a quick fix that doesn’t give us any real information.  It’s insulting, and frankly it’s bad for society.  Let’s stop using it, okay?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. marybullstonecraft permalink*
    June 23, 2010 1:29 pm

    Well, it looks like the Executive Branch is having none of the “Boys will be boys” thing, at least:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/us/politics/24mcchrystal.html?hp

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