Reporter Believed McChrystal was “Untouchable”

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The writer whose Rolling Stone article brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal said he never thought his reporting would bring about the effective end of McChrystal’s career, as well as a crisis for the Obama administration.

“I did not think General McChrystal would be fired. In fact, I thought his position was basically untouchable,” freelance journalist Michael Hastings told TODAY’s Matt Lauer via satellite from Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday. “I thought it would give them a headache for maybe 72 hours.”

After meeting with President Barack Obama Wednesday, McChrystal resigned as the top commander in Afghanistan. Obama replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the successful surge strategy that turned around the war in Iraq.

The resignation followed publication of Hastings’ profile “The Runaway General,” in which McChrystal and members of his staff made a number of disparaging on-the-record comments about the commander in chief, Vice President Joe Biden and other members of the administration.

Hastings said that he has already gotten feedback from troops in Afghanistan who are happy that McChrystal is out and Petraeus is in.

“I got an e-mail from a Marine just this morning saying they were pleased with the decision, because they did not agree with Gen. McChrystal’s policies here,” the writer said.

On the record
Hastings initially met McChrystal in Paris for what was to be two days of access to the general and his staff for the profile he was writing. When ash from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland grounded all flights, the interview turned into a month-long process that continued in Berlin.

Hastings has said that everything he was told was on the record, and Rolling Stone editors have said that neither McChrystal nor his staff tried to get the magazine to delete or change any quotes during the magazine’s fact-checking process before publication.

But, Hastings told Lauer, he did receive pressure from the general’s staff to change some of his intended reporting.

“They tried to pressure me not to write about some things that were on the record. I told them I can’t really play that game,” Hastings said.

A generation ago, Rolling Stone gave America the “gonzo” reporting of Hunter S. Thompson. That tradition has continued today with the unfettered reportage of a new generation of writers who do not operate by the conventions of the mainstream media, including Matt Taibbi and Hastings.

“One of the things that happens in journalism, especially with powerful figures, is that they give journalists access in exchange for favorable coverage and future access,” Hastings said. “That dynamic didn’t apply to me and the story I was writing, or just my general style of journalism.”

Game changer?
Lauer asked if Hastings is concerned that his article will change the rules of reporting and cut off access to major figures.

Hastings referred to the extraordinary circumstances of his interview and said any effects are likely to be minimal. “I think what’s interesting is that the access was almost a throwback to the old days of fly-on-the-wall reporting. Nowadays the access is always so controlled, so it was very rare to get this kind of access anyway. So I don’t see any sort of significant changes,” the writer said.

However, he did suggest there may be some short-term reluctance of major figures to do in-depth interviews.

“I apologize to my colleagues if they’re not if they’re not getting any interview requests from Gen. Petraeus in the next couple of days,” Hastings said.

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