Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Sad Death of One of America's Last Real Investigative Reporters

The news of Michael Hastings' death comes as a total shock. Michael, 33, who was killed early Tuesday in a car crash in Los Angeles, was among the last of a disappearing breed of fearless investigative reporters. A friend and former colleague, he and I worked together often when we were fellow writers at Newsweek.

I'll never forget our marathon phone conversations about journalism, politics, war, civilian casualties and General David Patraeus. Michael was probably the general's most outspoken critic, as you can see in this article he wrote for Rolling Stone. Michael ripped the general in that story, and in others. I haven't exactly gone easy on Patraeus, either, but I've typically left it to my sources to evaluate him in stories such as this one for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Michael had no time for that. It just wasn't his style. He called it the way he saw it, and I admired him for it. 

Sadly, there aren't many journalists out there who are still willing, or able, to tell it like it is. Sure, there are plenty of ranting bloggers, but trained, reputable journalists who have both the skills and courage Michael had are a disappearing breed, thanks in large part to the corporatization and conglomeratization of the news industry.

Michael became a media star when his infamous "Runaway General" piece in Rolling Stone brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. After that, the gloves came off. Michael morphed into something almost larger than life. He was clearly no longer interested in winning friends and influencing people. He instead began a fierce campaign to tell the truth about Iraq and Afghanistan, and more. 

A reliably controversial guest on the cable news shows, Michael often verbally chastised powerful officials and even his fellow members of the national media. He was quite good at rubbing people the wrong way (check out this incendiary showdown with CNN's Piers Morgan). But Michael was simply speaking truth to power. And for the record, the Michael Hastings the public didn't see was a kind, caring person who really did love his country and who, like me, had great respect for our warriors and veterans, if not the ones who killed civilians.

Part idealist, part cynic, Michael was a Hemingwayesque figure. A young man who was trying to make some sense of all the horrors he'd seen, Michael lost his girlfriend, Andi Parhamovich, while covering the war in Iraq for Newsweek in 2005. He went on to write a poignant book about the tragedy, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story, which is both love story and chronicle of the human cost of war.

In this age of amateurish, clueless bloggers and shrinkage of traditional media outlets, there aren't many real investigative reporters still around. Michael was a member of that  diminishing club. He truly loved his work. I think the advice he recently gave to a group of aspiring journalists really shows what made him tick. "Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting," he wrote. "Like it's more important to you than anything else in your life--family, friends, social life, whatever." 

Michael, who's survived by his wife, the writer Elise Jordan, lived an examined life. His writing really mattered. He will be greatly missed.


  1. Just saw this....I am SO sorry about this tragic end to Michael's life. What a loss for those of us who seek the truth, and depend on fearless reporters to bring it to us. Just simply awful.

  2. We need more investigative reporters like Michael Hastings; reporters who are not afraid to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the circumstances of his fatal car crash are probably making people in the news media scared. Being a whistleblower in any industry is a hard road to walk when your career future is on the line.