Iago, Brutus or Doofus? What was Duncan Boothby thinking?

June 26th, 2010

For some of us in PR, the fuss being made over the Rolling Stone story that ended Stanley McChrystal’s military career ignores one of the more fascinating players in that drama: the PR guy who set up the interview.

What was he thinking?

The Rolling Stone correspondent is doing interviews with everybody from Huffington Post to Newsweek, celebrating McChrystal’s exit, and touting his recently published personal war memoir.

The PR guy, whose name is Duncan Boothby, is not doing interviews. He resigned, and has apparently vanished. He’s not on LinkedIn, and there are (against all kinds of odds) a couple of people on Facebook with that name, but only one appears to be mature enough to have a real job. He was sent a message via Facebook requesting contact, but has not responded.

Duncan Boothby was previously on the staff of both O’Dwyer’s AND that of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell. PR pros — especially those who are politically and/or journalistically trained — routinely counsel their clients not to hide from the press, but also let them know when they’re walking into a hornet’s nest, limit their exposure, and prep them for it.

What was he thinking?

McChrystal, who spent a big chunk of his career in black ops, is known to have an aversion to the press. That disinclination is evidenced by the puny results one gets from a Google search: very few articles; fewer direct quotes. Duncan Boothby, referred to in a piece by one military insider as LTG Caldwell’s “Cardinal Richelieu,” certainly knew and understood McChrystal’s attitude towards the press. Those facts alone should have made it impossible for any reporter to gain the kind of access afforded the Rolling Stone correspondent.

But when you add in McChrystal’s previous problems with the Pat Tillman case and his run-in last fall with President Obama; and then consider that the reporter was a freelancer for a publication with a liberal, anti-war bent, and had just published an Iraq war tell-all, anything more than a 30-minute sit-down seems like a whole lot more access than a PR pro would recommend.

What was he thinking?

A completely unscientific survey of a very small sample of PR colleagues produced some theories, to wit:

  • Boothby thought Rolling Stone might be a good place to recruit new soldiers.
  • Boothby is a Brutus who turned on his boss to further someone else’s career.
  • Boothby is an Iago who was trying to discredit President Obama and/or his team.
  • Boothby had a close personal relationship with the Rolling Stone correspondent.

 Note that none of these theories suggest that Duncan Boothby is a doofus.

 Hopefully, we’ll hear from Duncan Boothby at some point, and get the answer to that infernal, nagging question: What was he thinking?

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