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RIP: Michael Hasting’s Greatest Hits

[Illustration by ALEX FINE]
As you may have heard by now, fearless investigative reporter Michael Hastings was killed in a car accident in Los Angeles early Tuesday morning. He will be missed. Few other reporters on the national security beat — where access is often traded for compromise and kid gloves treatment —  wrote so boldly and fearlessly about the dark side of the military industrial complex moon. In tribute, we are re-running some of his greatest hits:

FOX NEWS: The top U.S. war commander in Afghanistan apologized Tuesday for an interview in which he said he felt betrayed by the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. The article in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone depicts Gen. Stanley McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to convince even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war. In Kabul on Tuesday, McChrystal issued a statement saying: “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.” MORE

THE ATLANTIC: Even though McChrystal voted for Obama and told him so during their first meeting, he sensed that a number of senior White House aides didn’t really believe that the former commander of the military’s special missions unit during the Bush-Cheney years was suddenly on their side. National Security Adviser James Jones, who is a bit of cipher to McChrystal’s team, may or may not have been one of these aides. No one in the West Wing bought all that liberal internet chatter about: JSOC’s alleged crimes — but no one really didn’t buy it, either. Within hours after today’s Rolling Stone story broke, McChrystal was called by the White House, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were not happy. MORE

HUFF POST: The article’s author, freelance reporter Michael Hastings had approached McChrystal’s camp many months ago with the proposition of doing a profile for the magazine, said Bates. He pitched it as a “broad piece,” in which he would cover a wide scope of the general’s military history, talk to those who knew him on a personal level, and spend time with him in Afghanistan. Much of the reporting took place in April, with Hastings scoring an unusual and profoundly lucky break: Volcanoes over Iceland required McChrystal to travel to Berlin by bus, during which he and his aides were drinking on the road trip “the whole way,” according to Hastings. MORE

ROLLING STONE: The Runaway General

BUZZFEED: The warning signs about Petreaus’s core dishonesty have been around for years. A brief summary: we can start with the persistent questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or, that in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, supporting President Bush and saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn’t working, but Bush repaid the general’s political advocacy by giving him the top job in the war three years later.

There’s his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in 2004. He’s more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption and the fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as “Iraqi death squads.” On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called Surge, he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war.

He did it by papering over what The Surge actually was: we took the Shiites’ side in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the Sunnis into thinking we’d help them out, too. It was a brutal enterprise—over 800 Americans died during The Surge, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus’s policies fueled. Then, he popped smoke, and left the members of the Sunni Awakening to fend for themselves. A journalist friend told me a story of an Awakening member, exiled in Amman, whom Petraeus personally assured he would never abandon. The former insurgent had a picture of the Petraeus on his wall, but was a little hurt that the general no longer returned his calls. MORE

ALSO: How did Petraeus get away with all this for so long? Well, his first affair—and one that matters so much more than the fact that he was sleeping with a female or two—was with the media. Petraeus’s first biographer, former U.S. News and World Report reporter Linda Robinson, wrote a book about him, then went to CENTCOM to work for him. Yes—a so-called journalist published a book about him, then started getting a paycheck from him soon after. This went largely unremarked upon.

Another huge supporter was Tom Ricks, a former Washington Post journalist who found a second career as unofficial press agent for the general and his friends. Ricks is the ring leader of what I like to call “the media-military industrial complex,” setting the standard for its incestuous-every-day-corruption. He not only built Dave up, he facilitated the disastrous liaison between Broadwell and Petraeus. Ricks helped get Broadwell a literary agent, a six figure book deal, and a publisher. […] Ricks wasn’t the only offender, of course—Petraeus more or less had journalists from many major media outlets slurping from the Pentagon’s gravy train. The typical route was to have all the cash and favors funneled through a third party like the Center For A New American Security.

CNAS was a Petraeus-inspired operation from its inception in 2007, and it made its reputation promoting Petraeus’s counterinsurgency plans. No problem, right? Except that it put the journalists who were covering those same plans and policies on its payroll. For instance, New York Times Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker took money and a position from CNAS and still covered the Pentagon; Robert Kaplan, David Cloud from the Los Angeles Times, and others produced a small library’s worth of hagiographies while sharing office space at CNAS with retired generals whom they’d regularly quote in their stories. MORE

ROLLING STONE: The genius of David Petraeus has always been his masterful manipulation of the media. But after reading the new biography about him – All In: The Education of David Petraeus, by former Army officer Paula Broadwell – I’ve started to wonder if he’s losing his touch. The best spinsters never make their handiwork too obvious; they allow all parties to retain a semblance of dignity. Yet the Petraeus-approved All In is such blatant, unabashed propaganda, it’s as if the general has given up pretending there’s a difference between the press and his own public relations team. As Gen. John Galvin, an early mentor, explains to a young David in one of the book’s few revealing moments, “Through your mythology people create you…. You become part of the legend.” All In is best understood as the latest – and least artful – contribution to the Petraeus legend.

For P4, as Petraeus is known in military circles, this is about the fourth high-profile book he has collaborated on. He debuted on the literary scene as a young general “coming of age” during the 2003 invasion of Iraq in Rick Atkinson’s In The Company of Soldiers. (“Petraeus kept me at his elbow virtually all day, every day,” writes Atkinson.) He reappeared as a brilliant strategist in a 2008 snoozer called Tell Me How This Ends by Linda Robinson. (Soon after publishing the book, Robinson, a reporter for U.S. News and World Report, went on to take a job working for Petraeus as an analyst at the U.S. Central Command.) Then, retired journalist turned military blogger Tom Ricks thoroughly lionized him in the highly readable and on-the-knees-admiring The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, which credits the general’s “surge” strategy with turning that war around. Three for three.

Broadwell’s contribution to the genre started brewing after she met Petraeus at the Harvard Kennedy School of government in 2006, while getting her master’s degree. As she recalls in her book’s preface, the two hit it off, the general viewing Broadwell as “an aspiring soldier-scholar.”  Both were West Point grads, sharing interests in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. They soon started emailing. “I took full advantage of his open-door policy to seek insight and share perspectives,” she writes. In 2008, Broadwell began her doctoral dissertation, “a case study of General Petraeus’s leadership.” After President Obama picked Petraeus, in June 2010, to take over the war in Afghanistan, she decided to turn the dissertation into a book. Petraeus invited her to Kabul, where she would spend several months “observing Petraeus and his team” and conducting “numerous interviews and email exchanges with Petraeus and his inner circle.”  The result is a work of fan fiction so fawning that not even Max Boot – a Petraeus buddy and Pentagon sock puppet – could bring himself to rave about it, grouching in The Wall Street Journal about All In’s “lack of independent perspective” and the authors’ tendency to skirt conflict. (Boot, the hackiest of the neocon hacks, is now an advisor to Mitt Romney.) MORE

GQ: There was no small amount of hypocrisy when it came to journalists discussing the sex lives of the people they cover, since fidelity wasn’t exactly a prized virtue among reporters on the campaign trail. For my part, I watched a lot of porn. A colleague told me the first thing he did after checking in to a hotel was to check out their porn selection. I followed his example. I’d become an expert on the various hotel chains and what they offered. The best was clearly the Hyatt Regency; the Homewood Suites had the usual selection of XX features. On my last night in Manchester, after the primaries were over and the campaigns had moved on, I selected one called Nasty Older Sluts or something like that for $11.95. (Note to Newsweek accounting department: I never expensed the porn.) It occurred to me, as I sat there watching an interracial couple banging, that jacking off in a hotel room was not unlike the larger experience of campaign reporting. You watch two performers. You kind of like it when one of them gets humiliated. You know they’re professionals, so you don’t feel much sympathy for them. You wish you could participate, but instead you watch with a hidden envy and feel vaguely ashamed for watching. MORE

SLATE: Hastings recounted a post-election event that he recorded and attended to get close to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After the speech he tried to ask Emanuel about his advocacy for an Obama super PAC. Emanuel wouldn’t co-operate. “You’re from Rolling Stone,” he said. “I’m gonna be really clear. You guys have screwed two professional people. One of them is the president of the United States.” Hastings kept his recorder rolling.

MH: You insulted me. I’m a journalist. There were no ground rules there. There was a videotape. And I’m politely asking you a question — that’s my job.

RE: And I’m being polite to you, on the record to you. I’m not gonna … what you did to Stanley McChrystal.

MH: I didn’t do anything to Stanley McChrystal. You guys shouldn’t have escalated in Afghanistan.

After the interview, Hastings fended off an aide who wanted the recording to be deleted. Here, again, was an example of a public servant acting unaccountable, for no public purpose. Had Hastings been sheepish, it would have been another off-the-record anecdote about Rahm Emanuel being a jerk. It became an on-the-record story about Emanuel looking clownish.

In his obituary of Hastings, Ben Smith links him to the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson and of oppositional Watergate-era journalism. That feels right—Hastings blended the best of both styles. Political journalism, if you approach it the wrong way, is a high-speed ticket to the world of the comfortable. You’re not supposed to use that ticket. You’re supposed to afflict the comfortable. You’re supposed to make them hate you, fear hearing from you, and tell you things they know they shouldn’t. I’m worried about all the unaccountable S.O.B.s who’ll never have to worry about Michael Hastings reporting on them. MORE

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