Fighting Words

Remembering Michael Hastings

  on June 19 2013 1:57 PM

It was the playwright and first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, who said we inhabit a system “in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.”

The late journalist Michael Hastings, who died Tuesday in a car accident in Los Angeles, was physical representation of that truth. If his writings didn’t prove mightier than 10 military divisions, they were enough to at least bring down the career of a military general -- and piss off other high-up government officials, including an aide to the secretary of state.

In his 2010 Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal -- titled “The Runaway General” -- who was the then-supreme commander of the United States-led war effort in Afghanistan, Hastings gave ink to McChrystal’s open mockery of his civilian White House commanders. The result of the article was that President Barack Obama recalled McChrystal from the field and relieved him of his duties.

Hastings, 33, worked for both Rolling Stone and BuzzFeed, and what they had to say about him is more poignant than what I can say about a man I never knew.

In a tribute to him, Rolling Stone had this to say:

“Hard-charging, unabashedly opinionated, Hastings was original and at times abrasive. He had little patience for flacks and spinmeisters, and he will be remembered for his enthusiastic breaches of the conventions of journalism. In a memorable exchange with Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, Hastings’ aggressive line of questioning angered Reines. ‘Why do you bother to ask questions you’ve already decided you know the answers to?’ Reines asked. ‘Why don’t you give answers that aren’t bullshit for a change?’ Hastings replied.”

And Ben Smith at BuzzFeed wrote:

“Great journalists take themselves and their work seriously because it is serious; they know the power they wield. Michael knew how good he was, how much damage he could do. He was shy of playing gotcha games with junior -- his target was always the principle.”

Read the whole piece here.

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