The Conversation

On the Death of Michael Hastings

The death of Michael Hastings early yesterday morning leaves me rather shaken. I didn't know him, and was only somewhat familiar with his work. His most famous story was a controversial 2011 Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal, who was immediately relieved of his command after the story came out because of some ill-advised and somewhat second-hand remarks about President Barack Obama. I thought the way Obama handled the controversy was both graceless and stupid, and symbolic of the way in which he had sidelined the military in planning the Afghanistan conflict, placing re-election and personal vanity first.

But you can't blame Hastings for that. He seems to have been a very interesting fellow, and--from the articles on which I'm belatedly catching up--a very good writer and devoted reporter. He was married to the brilliant Elise Jordan, a fellow writer and Bush administration alumna, a very interesting partnership. I can't imagine the horror she's gone through for the past 24 hours. 

I drive those same streets here in L.A. every day and lately have been quite alarmed at some of the risks I encounter on the roads. We've also lost many journalistic friends here, including Andrew Breitbart, whose presence is missed every day.

One of the things I'm wrestling with lately is the inability of our politics--and the journalism that surrounds it--to embrace complexity. The country is divided, especially because of the frightening ambitions of Obama and the culture brokers who cheer him on from Hollywood--ambitions not just for greater power but for the elimination of opposition. 

Those of us on the receiving end feel constantly embattled. The price of defending people and principles under threat is that you risk losing your everyday sensitivity, your humanity, to that struggle. I have a growing, and perhaps deluded, nostalgia for the days in which that did not seem necessary.

Hastings seems to have lived in the heart of those questions. He was an ardent critic of the Afghanistan war, yet married someone who served at the National Security Council when the war on terror was at the top of the political agenda. He worked for Buzzfeed, which I admire for its commercial success and often brilliant reporting--and which I also dislike for the rather shameless political games it plays, which have included a transparently ridiculous (and malicious) profile of our own organization. 

Again--not his fault, sorry. I wish I could have known him, amidst the mess we live in. His death hits terribly, alarmingly close to home. 


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