always seem so unhappy ‘less they got a war

6/24/10

If you pay attention to the goings-on of the world, you know that President Obama had to fire General Stanley McChrystal, the head of war operations in Afghanistan, after McChrystal said some irresponsibly stupid things in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. But before McChrystal lost his job, there was one person who was the fall guy for the whole mess, and he’s one of our own.

Duncan Boothby is an old friend and housemate of mine; he was at Carolina in the early ’90s with the rest of us, and continued to participate in our social and artistic endeavors in NYC long afterwards. He’s also been pilloried as the press consultant who brought down a general during a war. If you want a pile of shit masquerading as journalism, look no farther than this story, which is a clinic on duct-taping quotes in order to make somebody look like an assclown.

How about these for code phrases from journalists: “[Boothby] was slick, about 5-foot-8, well tailored, and you knew he could never run 20 miles.” “He was very glib, had a British accent… it was clear he wasn’t military.” Well-tailored? Glib? It’d be much more honest if they’d just skip the winking and nudging.

All these anonymous quotes from reporters in the field speaks to a larger culture – the curious frat of war correspondents. I feel like I’ve spent half my adult life with these folks, and while I have a long history with that world and respect their passion, they can be unfathomably annoying. I’ve known many of them as ticking testosterone time bombs, instant believers in the worst of human nature, cocksure blowhards addicted to the heroin of bad news. If you don’t believe the apocalypse is nigh, they don’t think you’re trying hard enough.

All of which aids their survival in the wild, but makes for awesome nights in New York that inevitably end face down on Gansevoort Street in a puddle of absinthe. I’ve never met Michael Hastings, the author of the Rolling Stone piece, but he seemed vaguely dickish during his NPR interview, and since I’m a over-generalizing prick with naught but a broad brush, I’ll lump him in with the rest.

Point being this: it’s a scrotum culture, and I don’t like the portrayal of Duncan as some effete twit mincing about Afghanistan messing up people’s careers. If anything, Duncan was too good at his job, securing the general a huge Rolling Stone piece, giving him just the kind of “media weapon” the general wanted. The rest was up to McChrystal, and he chose to use that platform to get himself fired.

You can’t have it both ways; slow-galumphing monoliths like the military and brick & mortar corporations can’t glom onto “New Mediaâ„¢!” and then be shocked when it bites them in the ass. You don’t give your car keys to a 10-year-old, and you don’t give a guy with Tourette’s a Twitter account. Likewise, you don’t denigrate both the President and the Vice President to a Rolling Stone reporter.

Of course, the Fox article patronizingly labels Duncan as a shifty “new media type” (in an article on the Web, it should be noted) and mentions “the only credit that could be found for him was as an actor in North Carolina.” Well, I’ll provide another credit for him right here: Duncan Boothby is a great guy. He is the kind of wonderful, weird, inscrutable, brilliant, un-self-aware person I’m honored to have in my cast of characters. I’ll speak for many of my friends here, and say that our time at UNC – and beyond – would be the lesser without his personality. Here’s to failing upwards!

0 thoughts on “always seem so unhappy ‘less they got a war

  1. killian

    I remember Duncan’s BRILLIANT one-man show/thesis(?) @ Carolina about being a spy/double agent. Had to have been early 90’s. It was breathtakingly moving. Sorry he is being blasphemed over this mess. He is a great guy and deserves better. Maybe now he will write a scathingly brilliant New Media-Type one-man show about the War Correspondent Frat Club? I’d buy a ticket, for sure.

    Reply
  2. jason savage

    [the anonynmous reporters] didn’t sound like they were beating around the bush to me, but rather being lazy, defensive and xenophobic.
    [had to truncate for personal reasons – ed.]

    Reply
  3. kent

    Sorry to hear that he got screwed in this deal. Especially reprehensible that Fox thought they could blame the RS article on him. Fox’s instinct for unrelenting bullshit is breathtaking.
    It should be noted that people afflicted with Tourette Syndrome would not likely transfer their affliction to a medium like Twitter. For one thing the majority of people have physical and non-verbal vocalizations as symptoms, not the cliche’ verbal outbursts. For another, their tics tend not to be active when they’re concentrating on doing something like playing a musical instrument, singing, or e.g. twittering.
    When it comes to typing messages into a computer, the tics would be more likely to slow down and interfere with typing, not drive inappropriate messaging. People seem to require no assistance, neurological or otherwise, to be inappropriate on Twitter.
    A local man is a famous TS patient because his tics do comprise verbal outbursts. He also plays and teaches Jazz saxaphone and used to work as a Radio DJ, and never verbalized inappropriately on air.

    Reply
  4. Patrick Emerson

    Killian,
    Glad you enjoyed the one man show called Spy- it was indeed in 1992- however it was me- not Duncan…. and as far as I am aware, no one has ever referred to me as “well-tailored” either!

    Reply
  5. Margot Carmichael Lester

    I was disappointed to hear he resigned. Another case of a good person falling on his sword, I suspect. I take some solace in knowing that someone with his smarts and skills will get another gig in short order — preferably this time with a crowd that values what he’s got and won’t make him take the fall for someone else’s poor judgment.

    Reply
  6. D

    Even great people make really really serious mistakes from time to time. Defend your friend, absolutely, but don’t blame Hastings.
    And I thought he came off ok in the Fox piece. Getting described as the “Cardinal Richelieu” of anything is pretty cool.
    Now if he was one of the guys drinking Bud Light Lime, that would be another story….

    Reply
  7. xuxE

    i dunno, i’m sure your friend is a good guy, but whose job is it to make sure mr. mc loose cannon lips doesn’t get out in front of the press? who does the media training? did Duncan not have an inkling that this general would not be able to handle a reporter or was he told to play it really loose and chatty? this whole story just doesn’t add up to me. seems to me that somehow this general was given so much rope that he hung himself, when instead he should have been given traditional media training and a very tight script…

    Reply
  8. Lindsay

    Brothers and Sisters, remember that this is a public forum and Duncan is a legitimate story right now. Several foreign correspondents already seem to have an axe to grind with him, probably for doing his job well in the recent past. So, please don’t post anything that he might not want to appear on the nightly news this evening.
    Also, I firmly dispute the notion that he is weird.
    To be fair, I’m surprised that the media has not mentioned that he is African-American. I guess they don’t think it is important. The country is changing for the better, I guess.

    Reply
  9. D

    Thinking more about my earlier comment, who am I to say this guy made a mistake? I don’t know what happened, and have no business passing judgment.

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  10. Bob

    Good lord, the man is descended from Australopithecus? I’m sure “Fox and Friends” will do an hour on that alone.

    Reply
  11. killian

    @ Patrick: So Sorry!! YOU were brilliant (and I never met you in person, my loss); in my dotage I must have remembered the accents and confused the speakers? But it’s NEVER to late to become well-tailored! Chin up!! :D

    Reply

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