Michael Hastings is one of America’s finest young journalists, an outsider who penetrates the system he’s paid to investigate. Unlike most hacks who love to be close to power and befriend those they’re supposed to critique, Hastings has a history of listening and reporting the reality behind the cretins and fools who run our criminal wars.
His latest book is just out, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, and Rolling Stone has given us an excerpt. It revolves around former NATO commander Stanley McChrystal and his wily ways. This section shows just how corrupted are the mainstream media, and the military know it:
We started talking about larger issues within the media, which I felt he was in a unique position to discuss. McChrystal was a spokesperson at the Pentagon during the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, his first national exposure to the public.
“We co-opted the media on that one,” he said. “You could see it coming. There were a lot of us who didn’t think Iraq was a good idea.”
Co-opted the media. I almost laughed. Even the military’s former Pentagon spokesperson realized—at the time, no less—how massively they were manipulating the press. The ex–White House spokesperson, Scott McClellan, had said the same thing: The press had been “complicit enablers” before the Iraq invasion, failing in their “watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign [to sell the war] was succeeding.”
I rattled off a few names of other journalists. I named the writer who’d just done the profile on him for The Atlantic, Robert Kaplan.
“Totally co-opted by the military,” he said.
I mentioned the journalist Tom Ricks, who’d written two bestselling accounts of the Iraq War.
“Screw Ricks,” McChrystal said. Ricks, he said, was the “kind of guy who’d stick a knife in your back.”
Duncan had also told me Ricks wasn’t to be trusted. One officer who was quoted in Ricks’s 2006 book, Fiasco, had told Ricks not to use his name, and had asked him to clear all the background quotes he would use from him. Ricks used the officer’s name and didn’t clear the quotes, hurting the officer’s career. (A charge Ricks strongly denies, calling the allegations “junk.”) Another officer had inexplicably gone from a hero in Ricks’s first Iraq book to a failure in his second, The Gamble—all from observations that Ricks had garnered from the same reporting trip.
“I’d never talk to Woodward,” McChrystal said. “He came over here with Jones—what was that, last summer? He seems to just be out for the next story.”
“Woodward,” Jake said with disgust. “Whose leg is Woodward humping now? Jones? So Jones can say he won the war?”
I wondered: Shit, if they didn’t like journalists Kaplan, Ricks, and Woodward, they probably weren’t going to be big fans of my work, either.