McChrystal ‘scandal’ is phony

June 23, 2010

McChrystalWashington, D.C., is the world capital of phony. Even by Washington’s low standards, the Stanley McChrystal “scandal” now in progress gives phoniness a bad name.

Yes, General McChrystal showed poor judgment in making impolitic remarks on-the-record. But most of what the general said was simply being honest about the shabby aspects of government administration. McChrystal said a rival had leaked a memo to make McChrystal look bad. That’s exactly what happened! The general said he didn’t want to open an email from Richard Holbrooke, who is an accomplished diplomat, but also a haughty man known for condescending hectoring. No sane person wants to open an email from Richard Holbrooke. And General McChrystal pretended not to recognize Joe Biden’s name. People in Washington snipe at each other, stop the presses!

That’s it – the above comments are the super-ultra-mega scandal. Consider:

Nearly everything being attributed to McChrystal was not said by him. That President Barack Obama was “uncomfortable and intimidated” during his first meeting with McChrystal, that National Security Advisor James Jones is “a clown” – these comments did not come from McChrystal. In the Rolling Stone article they are sourced to an “advisor” and an “aide.”

Media coverage has already discarded this significant factual distinction – why let mere facts spoil a scandal? This morning, CBS Radio said the controversy involves “General McChrystal’s numerous attacks on public officials,” while CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr declared it “extraordinary to hear a general disparaging the president.” It is unnamed aides, NOT McChrystal, who disparage the president in the story. As for the statement that “the wimps in the White House” are “the real enemy” for officers in Afghanistan? That’s a Rolling Stone headline – no one in the story says this!

Bear in mind how convenient it is for Rolling Stone that the inflammatory material comes from people who don’t have names. Reporters and writers place words into the mouths of unnamed sources because people who aren’t identified rarely complain of being misquoted.

What is McChrystal quoted as saying? Of trying to sell the White House on a counterinsurgency strategy, which Jones and Vice President Joe Biden did not support, McChrystal is quoted as saying, “I found that time painful.” Stop the presses!

The scandal began before anyone had read the article. Rolling Stone’s issue is not on the stands until Friday, and the magazine did not post the piece on the Web until Tuesday evening East Coast time, after the three main network newscasts had given prominent attention to the buzz. The article turns out not to support the buzz. But in the Washington cycle of phoniness, who care about that?

Media figures are denouncing McChrystal for talking to the media. A lot of the commentariate reaction boils down to, “This guy was a fool for confiding in a reporter.” Apparently he was. But this line of reasoning does not say much about the media. Plus had General McChrystal refused to talk to a reporter, the media would have been outraged about that, too. Don’t reporters and editors regularly demand that the military be more open with the media?

The great thing about this scandal is that it has nothing to do with substance. There are no policy decisions in the balance, no questions of conscience – just personality sniping. Ideal! The Washington media and political establishments hate substance, while reveling in high-school-style bickering. Had the article involved impassioned appeals to conscience, it would have been ignored.

The other great thing is White House focus. The press loves stories that happen in the White House and involve the president because this generates a narrative of urgency. Will there be an angry confrontation? Will the president lose his cool in the Oval Office? Presidential drama, real or imagined, interests most of the media far more than question of substances, such as whether the United States should pursue a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan (the McChrystal, and now Obama, position) or concentrate on destroying al Qaeda (what Biden and Jones favored). The Rolling Stone article concludes by declaring we have no hope of winning in Afghanistan. That is 10,000 times more important than any stupid snipe by an unnamed “aide.” But the article’s substantial point is nowhere in the scandal coverage. People arguing is a lot more interesting!

Why does the McChrystal-Tillman connection keep getting ignored? Stanley McChrystal was the officer who lied about the death, by friendly fire, of Pat Tillman. That Tillman died by friendly fire does not diminish his heroism. McChrystal lying about this, on the other hand, was shameful. He should have resigned when caught lying about Tillman; that was a serious breach of his officer’s honor. Yet the media are more interested in whether he insulted an ambassador.

Where was the press corps before all this happened? “The Promise,” an extraordinarily good new book, by Jonathan Alter, about Obama’s first year, goes into many pages of detail on tensions among McChrystal, Biden, Jones and Holbrooke regarding Afghanistan strategy. In order for that book to have been in stores last month, Alter had to complete the writing around Christmas. If Alter, who doesn’t even cover national security, knew last year that all this was going on, maybe that means he’s a great reporter – but it also means a lot of other reporters have been asleep at the switch.

The fitting punishment for McChrystal would have been to make him keep his job. Firing McChrystal makes President Obama seem weak — afraid of criticism, reacting in knee-jerk style, basing important national decisions on a Rolling Stone article. What Obama should have done is punch McChrystal in the nose. That is sometimes how moments of stress such as this get worked out within the military.

McChrystal’s comments, and those from his mysterious aides, reflect the way many military men and women talk, especially after consuming beer. It is common for military personnel who are risking their lives to feel hostility about pompous civilians who pamper themselves in Washington. This is fine so long as they always obey their orders from civilians – as U.S. military men and women always do. When the hour is dark, the United States needs tough-minded military personnel. That we seemed shocked to hear a fairly tame version of how they talk among themselves shows how out of contact much of America is with its armed forces.

For points that didn’t quite make the column, click here.


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One might accept Mr. Obama’s demand from General McChrystal and the rest of the military for “strict adherence” to the chain of command as delineated in the Constitution of the United States would he demand such adherence from Congress, the Court, and himself. This latest fiasco from The White House confirms the corrupt folly of the Politics of Personality and Pork versus a sound system based upon Science, American Tradition, and the Constitution (

Posted by Moss_GR | Report as abusive

Sorry. Public insubordination from a critical command in a war is simply intollerable. Add to it that McChrystal offered to resign is a further insult. He should wait for the President to ask for his resignation.

This is not politics. This is about chain of command in the military and the lives that depend on it.

Posted by Marcus180 | Report as abusive

Maybe it should’ve been about Pat Tillman. Maybe it should’ve been about the first time Stain backstabbed Obama, or the second, or the third. Maybe it should’ve been about the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad under Rumsfeld or the stench of closet homophilia, or Blackwater sinecures and attendant bribing of the Taliban to the tune of billions. But whatever it was, sooner or later the final McChrystal meth straw inevitably had to break the back of even the most acquiescent of White Houses.

Today just happens to be the day for that, and not a moment too soon. Not only it is good that the disloyal, conflicted tough guy’s gone, things can only get better when the abysmal era of gung-ho war and corruption he helped soup up officially comes to an end, once and for all.

You’re right about one thing, though – most of the Press Corps diligently slept through most of the other atrocities so far. Would you “punish” them also by making them keep their jobs? Because I wouldn’t.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

President Obama comes across as weak, desperate and out of touch with the public who, for the most part, feels exactly the same as General McChrystal about Washington politicians. If this story is ever made into a movie, the real hero will be the general and not President Obama and his administration.

Posted by APhoenician | Report as abusive

You know Mr Gregg, from time to time, I am reminded of why this country is on the verge of disaster. It appears that there seems to be no sense of respect for our institutions and leaders. While one easily expects this sort of blind arrogance from the young and pseudo-litterates, it is more disparaging when it comes from a supposed intellectual like you. Have you no remaining sense of decency and respect for your adversaries? Erudition is more than education, it is a attempt at refining the individual. This farcical solution of resolving this matter with the fists is not really funny. More and more, I am convinced that IV League schools need to include “charm school” as part of the curriculum. You are in sore need of enlightment.

Posted by Atheoid | Report as abusive

Best suggestion yet: Clean out the State Dep’t side over there too. Holbrooke isn’t incocent either.

As for what WAS said… ask the soldiers. Ask the soldiers. Kipling said it: You can bet that Tommy sees!

Posted by RET_SFC | Report as abusive

APhoenician == wrong.

Posted by bobSmith | Report as abusive

I am amazed that no one seems to be concerned about this man’s right to free speech.

I don’t necessarily agree that he should have said some of the things that he may have said, but he certainly has the right to criticize the president. This is still the USA, isn’t it?

Posted by Wendelia | Report as abusive

He has his right to free speech, and he used it… that does not protect him from the consequences of using that right. If you want to pick a villain in this nonsense, pick on Rolling Stone – a clap-trap mag that thinks it’s a hip version of Forbes or something ever since that loud mouth Taibbi spewed out his Vampire-squid line.

Posted by CDNrebel | Report as abusive

Whats the motive? Can’t see why the administration Would want any part of this and as far as sensationalism the press can do so much better. I agree it doesn’t make sense but maybe to the point that its true. Eager press blew crap out of proportion and the administration is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Hell, maybe the general knew he was gonna gets axed and set it up himself so he can say he got relieved on some bullshit technicality. In any case he was already a proven liar and should have been give the axe after the Tillman incident. The command is in good hands and hell the last administration forced what, 2 or 3 generals to resign? The American press isn’t exactly know for their journalistic integrity so considering the above this article shows it to be shady but is far from proving it a sham. There’s a whole lot worse being passed around as news. First this crappy new web design now these pretty sub par articles. What’s going on with Reuturs?

Posted by Cyrus_Roy | Report as abusive

Easterbrook, ever served in the military? Doesn’t sound like it with your outsider analysis.

Maybe you are a pie in the face kind of guy? Or perhaps a low grade Anarchist?

It is real simple: Chain of Command, played by military rules of protocol.

The General is responsible for those around him, and he and his staff broke military rules of protocol against those standing at the highest levels of our national leadership.

Insubordination is altogether too free and often cheered in our society, so it is no wonder an outsider without understanding of why the standard must be upheld would write such an OpEd.

For a would-be accomplished author, your article smells of gross ignorance of what our military men and women commit to when they surrender their right to say and do whatever they feel, whenever they choose, and why it must be so. And it clearly underscores your unimportance as a commentator on this subject. You should probably stick to football.

No one, not the lowest grade aid or highest level assistant or the General himself should have ever disparagingly spoken or whispered publicly about anyone in or around the chain of command. The military has its internal politics to be sure, but even those remain closely held, carefully guarded affairs that surface publicly when promotions are granted or withheld, and only those internally will know the whys and wherefores.

The General and his staff fell on their swords by opening their mouths to the wrong person at the wrong time and because it became public domain, this president was left with little choice. You might poll every General that has ever served and I would bet the vote in favor of the chain of command would be supported unanimously, regardless of political affiliation.

Lastly, the interesting part of your analysis is the final meeting between Obama and McChrystal is not mentioned. The part when the sit-down between the two leaders would have culminated in some succinct conversation about what happened might be worth consideration. Don’t you think the President sat down with the General (as anyone would) and asked: “Did you say these things and is this how you and your staff regard the chain of command and your positions in it?” Had the General anything remotely salvageable to offer (that could also be made public), it is certain the President would have granted a stay of execution and worked to find a compromise given the stakes.

The problem is, the General and his staff put their boots in their mouths publicly and there is no way out for the General or for the President once the offenses were committed. It’s not weak leadership it is the predictable outcome with breaching the code of military conduct as set forth through thousands of years of proven standards that support the chain of command structure for military and government leadership.

The survival of every service member and every citizen depends on the integrity of this structure and all due respect should be paid to it.

McChrystal and his staffers deserve to be sent packing, end of story.

Posted by NobleKin | Report as abusive

Easterbrook: Despite your weak line of “logic”, I believe it is you that is the phony here. It is difficult at best to have real respect for, and confidence in, a general of the U.S. armed forces that would even submit to an interview with the likes of Rolling Stone magazine. That poor excuse for journalism I have no respect for whatsoever, and I have no respect for McChrystal as a militarly professional, particularly as a commanding general, for even doing an interview with Rolling Stone, regardless of what he said or did not say in the interview, and the same for his aides.

In reality, I attribute any derogatory remarks from McChrystal and/or his aides about the president and his staff as subscribing to the well known bigotry, racial prejudiceness and deceptive practices of the right wing Republican party.
I have no doubt you are of that persuasion, because you make this very clear: keep the status quo, make all things that are the forces behind retaining the status quo seem to be what they are not. Make them seem to be the result of attitudes and actions of the opposing party, not the party that is actually behind such things as the corruption and fall of a national and global monetary system, corruption in all aspects of a national government (from a Republican president who allowed burglary for political purposes to judges with conflict of interest to the “trickle down” economic theory and blaming the congressional bailout of the failed Republican-driven financial industry and Republican-driven auto industry on a man who was only running for office when the bailout was initiated and approved).

People such as you are adept at speaking persuasively to two basic groups to create and fortify ego-driven attitudes toward fellow humans: one, the bigotted elite and the wannabees whose ambition is strongly self-centered and focused on obtaining great wealth, regardless of the cost to one’s integrity and costs of all manner to society; two, those who simply think what those around them think, and don’t read and think for themselves. These are the people who will take delight in your creation of the image of a falsehood and irresponsibility on the part of the president and his staff, when in reality it is the opposite.

It does not appear, Easterbrook, that you have any direct military experience, but that your background consists more of right-wing “think tank” exposure. It should not take military training to understand the concept of supporting those in command over you, though in your case it may have helped. If you cared about the overall well-being of our national and global society as much as you pretend to, you would be more likely to acknowledge that for a general to give any opportunity or excuse to a publication of the low calibre that is RS mag to publish such comments is inconsistent with the principles of our military operation and it’s relationship with the executive branch of our federal government.

Your so-called facts appear to be more your opinion and reek of phoniness in themselves.

Posted by ayesee | Report as abusive

NobleKin you are absolutely correct! I wanted to say something to the same effect, but you said it far better than I could have. Well done, well said.

Arley White

Posted by ArleyWhite | Report as abusive

Easterbrook, Noblekin said it so very well. The most important thing for anyone to realize about your palavering is that you are only serving to undermine the strength and integrity of our entire nation. By way of undermining the Commander in General of our military and of our nation/Republic/Democracy, you are weakening the system under his command. You are in the same category as your colleagues, and I use that word very loosely, at Rolling Stone: you are more interested in either rebel-rousing or undermining a U.S. president because of his party affiliation, or possibly because of his race, than you are in helping the integrity and strength of the United States of America, all to stroke your own ego and build your own ratings.

Posted by ayesee | Report as abusive

“The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general,”

“It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan,”

Barack Obama, President of the United States

Posted by ayesee | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. Easterbrook, You obviously never had to lead people or work as a team member. There is nothing more corrosive to the moral, judgement and diligence of a team than constant disrespectful commentary. There is a time for individualism and creativity and that time should be done professionally with establish boundaries – not skulking behind the backs of the team, casting aspersions. Whether this was the military, sport, business or community service, I’d have ejected the malcontents, summarily, and replaced them with folks who would work cooperatively, collaboratively and in good faith and respect for the other team mates. I’d employ folks who could agree and disagree professionally instead of like preadolescents. Gen, McChrystal was responsible for not only his own conduct, he was responsible for the conduct of his staff. He and his staff were part of a larger team and they lost sight of that due to their insular and disrespectful caterwauling.

Posted by GCN | Report as abusive

“It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan,”

In this David vs Goliath scenario, have you lost track of your objectives already after nine years out there?

I think saving some American lives and our budget would be more meaningful objectives in this war you cannot win.

Posted by doctorjay317 | Report as abusive

Obama has just what he wanted in there now. A pair of hand puppet’s. What a sorry place this great country has hit. Not only do we have a Commander in Chief that is a joke, but we have the war being run by “Saturday Night Live”. just watch as the world starts running all over our soldiers and makes a joke out of this country.

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Posted by awdawdawd | Report as abusive

“just watch as the world starts running all over our soldiers and makes a joke out of this country.

Posted by ramsglen | Report as abusive”.

Just watch as you are shown to be wrong. It is attitudes such as yours that make a joke of this country, so to speak.

Posted by ayesee | Report as abusive

NobleKin said everything that I was about to comment on … well except one thing

DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB Gregg Easterbrook

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Dear Gregg Easterbrook,
I don’t think you’re an apologist for McChrystal. I do think you are a boring ass trying to fill a deadline. I read the actual article. I successfully winnowed out the vague and or fluffy garbage. McChrystal and his supporters still conducted themselves unprofessionally. These people are commanding the lives of your and my loved ones in a war! They are creating the fate of kids that you grew up with who chose (or thought they had “no choice”) to go into the military, also foreign personnel from NATO and Allied Forces, and the Afghanis trusting us. Defending McChrystal is your career exit, too.

Posted by kjanson | Report as abusive

As an ex military ‘non comm’ in US terms, I know all about the chain of command and had respect for it. But as an experienced Digger, newly minted Officers with no military experience would often listen when the older hands talked.
Hence I ask, does your CinC have ANY military experience? Or is this just Drama Obama ‘dealing’ with another issue in his now normal style – remove it. Sack an experienced General who speaks out, lynch BP and shut down all drilling. Obama Rule: if it offends me or my public image, get rid of it, shut it down. What a leader – are you inspired yet?

Posted by PassingResident | Report as abusive

The only person on the planet still thinking we can win the Afghan war is Obama. We just launched a facebook competitor at

Posted by STORYBURNcool | Report as abusive

The only person on the planet still thinking we can win the Afghan war is Obama.

Posted by STORYBURNcool | Report as abusive

Bravo, Mr. Easterbrook. It’s refreshing to read a report from a truthful journalist, something that is missing in todays world.Adolf Hitler used the same tactics as the alien liar we now have in the White House. Hopefully, the American people will wake up and throw him and his ilk out of office come election time.August Mezzetta

Posted by gus9 | Report as abusive

The best thing for the United States to do would be to leave Afghanistan, tomorrow. Thereafter, we should stop pouring American blood and money down every rat hole on the planet simply because there are people burning American flags there. We’ve wasted trillions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Iraq we didn’t even get the oil – the Chinese got it all.

These wars are the culmination of decades of idiotic, wasteful foreign policy that has left us broke and weak. What’s needed in Washington is someone with the stones to call it what it is, say, “ENOUGH,” and bring them all home.

Posted by JackMack | Report as abusive

The only thing missing from Obama’s painful attempt at machismo in the face of criticism from real men, was an athletic sock stuffed in his slacks. Then again, it may have been there, hidden (as Obama was) behind a podium.

The REAL issue here not isn’t so much the propriety of the criticisms, but rather the Commander in Chief’s failure to earn the respect of the troops he supposedly commands.

Maybe the national discussion should be about the FACT that while at war, our troops are being led by a man they do not respect, and who doesn’t respect them.

Posted by GOPachyNews | Report as abusive

> Maybe the national discussion should be about
> the FACT that while at war, our troops are being
> led by a man they do not respect, and who
> doesn’t respect them.
[and what else can anybody expect from a person who "counts" Reverend Jeremiah Wright whose slogan is "God damn America" "among his spiritual advisers"; that man married Obama and his wife Michelle, baptized their two daughters and is credited by Obama for the title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope."]

Posted by beboris2 | Report as abusive

If this had happened during the Bush administration, they’d have gone after McChrystal’s wife (assuming he’s married).

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive

First off, Gregg, the article in Rolling stone was reported interview on McChrystal and his aides(including his advisor). Why did they name McChrystal if it was not credited? Maybe the others chose not to be named. And why did McChrystal acknowledge the interview? Give me a break. He broke the chain of command(whichever way you look at it)

Posted by onlinenews | Report as abusive

First of, Gregg, the article in Rolling stone was reported interview on McChrystal and his aides(including his advisor). Why did they name McChrystal if it was not credited? Maybe the others chose not to be named. And why did McChrystal acknowledge the interview? Give me a break. He broke the chain of command(whichever way you look at it)

Posted by onlinenews | Report as abusive

As a former military officer, a few things –

*Anyone who has spent more than 24 hours in the military knows that their right to free speech does NOT absolve them of the consequences of what they say – especially up the chain of command! The culture of the military is pretty clear on this one…

*Civilian control of the military is one of the most critical aspects of our democracy, period. The president is well within his rights to defend that principle agressively. In my opinion, he is obligated to do so.

*The general SHOULD agressively defend his positions and advise the government on his views on conducting the war – PRIVATELY. If he can’t stomach those views being overridden, he should tender his resignation immediately. Sniping via anonymous sources in the media is a political act, not the act of an honorably serving officer (see Truman v. MacArthur, Korean war for context).

I don’t support a lot of the current administration’s policies, but any White House that tolerated this level of insubordination is not qualified to serve as commander in chief. McChrystal left them no choice, not because of what was said, but the venue and manner in which it came out.

Posted by jf518 | Report as abusive

Apologies to NobleKin, who expressed my sentiments more thoroughly and eloquently several posts prior to mine. Well said.

I also feel compelled to respond to PassingResident – absolute truth that inexperienced officers must listen to and learn from more experienced enlisted/officers.

Huge difference between that and tolerance for insubordination though – you know that better than anyone. How would you react if one of your guys was trying to undermine you behind your back?

Not defending any political figure here, but leadership is leadership – can’t have it both ways. McChrystal would have been cooked with any president, of any ideology – Roosevelt (Frank or Teddy), Nixon, Reagan, Obama, you name ‘em.

Posted by jf518 | Report as abusive

It does not matter who the General is for this failed war. All that it will accomplish is cause the U.S. Treasury to continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars thrown down a giant rat hole. It will cost Obama his second term, and given his poor performance that is what should happen. The horrible thing is some GOP nitwit with no good plans for America will take his place. So the bottom line, America loses either way, unfortunately. The blame can be laid on the doorstep of Bush and Cheney and their eight year reign of stupidity!

Posted by widollar | Report as abusive

Obama reacted shamefully to place full confidence in a Rolling Stone article.

Oh here’s one I heard from unnamed sources therefore it has to be true. Obama shaves his arse and walks backwards to appear more handsome and to see his trail of tears.

I am eagerly waiting to read McChrystal forth coming book.

Posted by rgrowley | Report as abusive

rgrowley, this article did as the author wished… bring out like minded idiots. It isn’t even a coherent article.

It seems no matter what Obama would do, he would be wrong. The Obama haters are just that, hating because he is who he is. I am a white Canadian and I can smell your racism from here…

Obama did the right thing… and he should not be blamed for this… the General shot himself in the foot to weasel out of his position when he should have just quit. No officer should be acting/speaking like this, especially in front of the press.

Yet you bad mouth in a disgusting fashion, your President, while blaming Rolling Stone.

The General allowed access to his childish actions for nearly 6 months. That tells me there were 100 times worse antics that did not get shared and you should be ashamed to have a military commander who would undermine his troops and their mission by making a mockery of the bosses!

I dare you to go to work tomorrow (although, who employees disgusting pigs) and speak to your boss like that so he can fire your sorry behind. Speaking of weasels, you can climb back under your rock now.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

If Air Force One was forced down in a Taliban controlled area on the Afghan/Pakistan border, I wonder who POTUS would want planning and executing the rescue mission – McChrystal or Petraeus?

Hint: If you asked Petraeus who would be best qualified to run the operation, he would want McChrystal running the show!

McChrystal and his hand picked staff of “special operators,” know: 1) our capabilities with an understanding of the tactical use of “black ops” that very few have, 2) the terrain, 3) enemy estimates/capabilities. They also have streamlined strikes against the enemies leadership so they occur within minutes without waiting for layers of approval. The result is one of the most surgically efficient and effective killing machines in American military history. It has kept al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders looking over their shoulders and constantly on the move (for fear of being located and killed) since McChrystal implemented the new policy targeting their leadership.

Now McChrystal’s and his team are out. His top advisors, the team of special operators similar to a native American war council, will go with him because they won’t fit in with Petraeus’ team. It will be a tremendous loss of knowledge and expertise. McChrystal and his team will probably be relocated to administrative positions were they can write field manuals on how to conduct a war. Personally, I would want my team’s “baddest tough guys on the planet” running the operation in the theater.

Posted by z_capitan | Report as abusive

It is common for military personnel who are risking their lives to feel hostility about pompous civilians who pamper themselves in Washington.

That we seemed shocked to hear a fairly tame version of how they talk among themselves shows how out of contact much of America is with its armed forces.

Posted by newsreview | Report as abusive