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Truthdigger of the Week: Michael Hastings

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Posted on Jun 22, 2013
Rolling Stone/Blue Rider Press/Penguin

By Alexander Reed Kelly

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating. Nominate our next Truthdigger here.

Michael Hastings, the American journalist whose 2010 article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal led to the officer’s resignation as head of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, died in a fiery car crash when his Mercedes collided with a palm tree at high speed early Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. We was 33 years old.

Hastings has been described throughout the press as having been a “fearless” reporter. After earning a journalism degree at New York University, he began his career as a reporter for Newsweek, for which he covered the Iraq War during the deadliest years of that conflict. His successes enabled him to become a regular contributor to GQ and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. In 2012 he was hired as a staff writer and reporter for BuzzFeed. With that site’s support, he covered the presidential campaign.

He was also despised by his more straight-laced colleagues. Guardian national security editor Spencer Ackerman described the way members of the traditional press corps regarded Hastings after his McChrystal profile. In the McChrystal piece, Hastings published disparaging comments made over drinks by the general’s staffers about their civilian leadership in the Obama administration. According to Ackerman, the objections made by journalists in Afghanistan were as follows:

How could Hastings publish off-the-record jibes made by officers who were trying to be welcoming to him, the complaints went; what kind of arrogance led him to want to make a name for himself like this? What was his problem with McChrystal, anyway? Didn’t he know McChrystal was trying to rein in the war?

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Ackerman explains that Hastings didn’t publish anything that was explicitly off the record. But few people wanted to explore that issue. Instead, they “simply wanted to feel superior” to him.

What his detractors seemed not to realize was that Hastings was practicing a cold commitment to the journalist’s craft: He recorded what he observed and dutifully reported it to the public, without getting mushy and sanctimonious about the broadly accepted rules of professional propriety that make the work of so many reporters irrelevant and useless to the public.

At a media conference in Washington five months after the publication of the McChrystal critique, Hastings put the response from his fellow journalists as follows, according to the Air Force Times:

When someone who’s not part of the club comes in and does a story … people get very territorial about their field. And they’ll try to frame it as though it’s about journalism’s ethics or it’s about ground rules. It’s not. It’s about power, it’s about who has the authority.

The writer’s working life was not just a series of victories on the way to establishing a bright career and the respect of his more irreverent peers. In 2007 Hastings lost his fiancee to an ambush on her car by Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Andrea Parhamovich was in the country to teach the principles of democracy to Iraqis through a nongovernmental organization. His memoir of the war, their relationship and her tragic death became his first book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story,” published in 2008.

His other books are “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan,” published last year, and “Panic 2012: The Sublime and Terrifying Inside Story of Obama’s Final Campaign,” published in January of this year.

Hastings’ death is a loss to those who loved him as well as audiences who would have continued to profit from his devotion to telling the stories of American politics and the military with fewer inhibitions than lesser reporters. For setting that example, we honor Michael Hastings as our Truthdigger of the Week.


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