WASHINGTON, June 23, 2013 ― In a nation where the media have become increasingly segregated by political affiliation, left against right, it is becoming harder to find journalists who are willing to speak truth to power. This week, the world of journalism lost a reporter that was willing to do just that.
Michael Hastings, the journalist and reporter for “Rolling Stone” and “BuzzFeed”, died in a car accident at the age of thirty three. Hastings was a rarity among those who claim to be professional journalists today. Through his investigative reporting he was not only able to challenge the structures of power, but also offer an indictment on the decline of journalism.
Hastings will perhaps be remembered by most for the “Rolling Stone” article that led to the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal. His piece forever changed the American people’s perception of the war in Afghanistan. It would not be the last time that he would go on to challenge those that wielded power. Hastings would confront politicians such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In Hastings’ final article for “BuzzFeed”, he criticized Democrats who were acquiescing to the Obama administration’s egregious assaults on civil liberties.
Hastings’ reporting also served to remind Americans how journalism has dramatically transformed from challenging power to serving it. Upon releasing his expose of McChrystal and Afghanistan, Hastings was viciously condemned and personally attacked, not by those in government, but by fellow members of the press. Lara Logan, the “60 Minutes” correspondent, attacked Hastings’ character, saying during an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources”: “I mean, the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious, that they deserved to end a career like McChrystal’s? Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.”
Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera used similar rhetoric to describe Hastings. Years later, when CIA director David Petraeus was forced to resign because of marital infidelities, Hastings attempted to provide an alternative narrative to the media’s praise of Petraeus’ record. After appearing on Piers Morgan’s program, the website Politico ran a story on Hastings which attempted to discredit him.
At a time when the press is collectively committing suicide by giving those in government the benefit of the doubt, Hastings was a reporter willing to make those in office uncomfortable. He was never concerned about his image, but was more concerned about exposing secrets that those in power wished would remain in the shadows.
During the Afghanistan War, when the first casualty, as in every war, was truth, Hastings made sure that Americans knew the truth of the activities of their government overseas. Through his journalism, he revealed the true intentions of some individuals who referred to themselves as journalists, which was subservience to every institution that wields control over our lives. Further evidence of this was the obituary that “The New York Times” recently released of him, and an inflammatory tweet by reporter Geraldo Rivera. This prompted his wife to respond to both the Times and Rivera.
Hastings’ death is a serious blow to journalism that attempts to bypass regurgitation of partisan talking points, and provide stories that spur thought and conversation amongst the populace. His advice for young journalists prepared to enter the profession was, “When interviewing for a job, tell the editor how you love to report. How your passion is gathering information. Do not mention how you want to be a writer, use the word ‘prose,’ or that deep down you have a sinking suspicion you are the next Norman Mailer.”
As a new generation of journalists prepares to enter the field, hopefully they will heed Hasting’s advice. If they do, it’s possible they could save the craft from its already rapid deterioration.
UPDATE: After much public backlash, “The New York Times’” public editor has criticized the paper’s obituary of Michael Hastings.
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