Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Michael Hastings, A Sad And Terrible Loss

Incredibly sad news. Rolling Stone and BuzzFeed journalist Michael Hastings, only 33, died in a car accident in Los Angeles yesterday.  Michael was funny, fearless, and acerbic to anyone sucking up to power -- a model for what a real journalist should be.  This exchange, from his Buzz Feed obituary, sums up a lot of what he was about:  "'Why do you bother to ask questions you've already decided you know the answers to?' [Hillary Clinton aide Philippe] Reines asked.  'Why don't you give answers that aren't bullshit for a change?' Hastings replied."  When his editor warned him this exchange would make him look like an asshole, Michael responded, "Everyone knows I’m an asshole. The point is that they’re assholes."

One of the best things about being a writer is that every now and then, you learn someone you admire from afar is a fan of your books.  This was the case with Michael.  Another terrific journalist -- Barrett Brown, now being persecuted by the US government -- knew of our mutual admiration and put us in touch.  After that introduction, Michael and I exchanged maybe a half dozen emails and had as many phone conversations.  I feel fortunate to have known him, however slightly.  Professionally, he was fierce and focused.  In person, he was thoughtful, generous, and hilarious.  He had a keen nose for and visceral hatred of bullshit, so as you can imagine we bonded over several conversations about the publishing industry.  I loved his book "The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan."  When I told him there were passages as good as James Ellroy, he laughed and told me he had been reading Ellroy while writing it.  Occupational hazard.

Michael was best known for his Rolling Stone article The Runaway General, which led to the resignation for insubordination of Afghan War commander Stanley McChrystal.  The Operators is, among other things, the story behind that story, detailing the angst Michael felt about reporting something so momentous about a group of people he admired and who had treated him seductively well.  He was attacked afterward by numerous "journalists" for whom integrity and courage like Michael's are threatening and incomprehensible.  Nothing makes a sell-out more uncomfortable than to be faced with someone who refuses to be bought.

I hate to think of what was ahead for this fine person, the professional and the personal, and that will now never be.  His death is a loss to journalism and to everyone who loves truth.  I didn't realize how good it was to know Michael was out there in the world, doing great work, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.  I woke up sad this morning, feeling the world is not as good a place today as it was yesterday.  I'll miss him.


Anonymous said...

I knew of him, but didn't realize how incredible his story was until today.

As a guy in the news business myself, I can totally relate to how difficult it is to balance access versus toughness when you're on a beat. It's a ferociously competitive business and I'm still torn as to whether I would have published what he did about Gen. McChrystal.

I haven’t read the backstory on it from his perspective, but he definitely burned some bridges publishing it. (And I think it was wrong for any other reporter to criticize him for doing it, when they didn’t know all the details either.)

The thing that’s tough is that if you’re assigned a beat and you do what he did -- and that’s your only beat -- well, you’re pretty much out of a job on that beat. You will get almost no one to return your calls and you can forget about any good leads on bigger stories. You might get a few, but not many.

But now that I know how he lost his love, it helps explain it all to me. (And I want to read more from his perspective when I get the chance; it’s such a fascinating debate as to whether he should have or not.)

Regardless, I was really sad to hear the news, and he sure has a ton of people lauding his work and life, so for now I’m giving him the serious benefit of the doubt.

Thanks, Barry, for the excellent post about him. You’ve honored him well.

Rocky Cole said...

Thanks for reminding me of how good he was as a journalist and a seeker of truth (read non-bullshit). I have not read his book but now have it on my list as a must read.

Rocky Cole

Anonymous said...

I just came to say, How I love to read your Political posts. I really enjoy them. Keep up the good work Barry. The truth needs to be told no matter what. Thanks for making Politics sound fun and enjoying. I personally found them a bit tedious, but thanks to you and all your posts I was able to understand not only what you stand for, but how things are with a better logic. thanks Berry. Many smiles and always good wishes. Much success :P

Best regards,