Michael Hastings, Bridge-Burning Journalist (1980-2013)

By Jim Naureckas – 15 Comments

You can tell what kind of reporter Michael Hastings was by the kind of reporter who hated him.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that it has impacted, and will impact so adversely, on what had been pretty good military/media relations,” the New York Times’ John Burns told right-wing talkshow host Hugh Hewitt (FAIR Blog, 7/16/10). Burns was discussing Hastings’ Rolling Stone profile (6/22/10) of Stanley McChrystal that ended up costing the general his job running the occupation of Afghanistan–mainly because Hastings kept in all the impolitic comments that McChrystal and his underlings assumed would be discreetly ignored.

Burns expected that any decent reporter would do the same thing:

MichaelHastings-350x450My feeling is that it’s the responsibility of the reporter to judge in those circumstances what is fairly reportable, and what is not, and, to go beyond that, what it is necessary to report.

Hastings, a reporter for Rolling Stone and BuzzFeed who died in a car crash in L.A. yesterday at the age of 33, didn’t see it as his job to maintain “good media/military relations,” or to decide what is “necessary to report.” To the contrary–he told CounterSpin (1/27/12) that one of his golden rules for reporting was, “What does everybody know who’s on the inside, but no one’s willing to say or write.”

Hastings never forgot that journalists’ loyalties are supposed to be with the public and not to the government officials whose actions they cover–and that approach distinguished him not only from Burns but from most of his colleagues. BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith (6/18/13) recalled in a tribute to his reporter:

Michael cared about friends and was good at making them; it visibly pained him when, late in the 2012 campaign, the reporters around him made little secret of their distrust for him. But he also knew…he was there to tell his readers what was going on.

What Tim Dickinson (Rolling Stone, 6/18/13) called Hastings’ “enthusiastic breaches of the conventions of access journalism” were what enabled him to report the unguarded assessments of the officers running the occupation of Afghanistan: “Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm.” It’s not that other reporters didn’t hear such remarks–but they knew better than to report them, or thought they did.

A Politico story quoted by NYU’s Jay Rosen (6/24/10) got at the structural problems that prevent most journalists from telling their readers the truth:

And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.

(Rosen noted that that line got edited out of later versions of the story, perhaps because it revealed too much.)

McChrystal’s replacement, Gen. David Petraeus, was a favorite of most of the press corps, but Hastings went after exactly what got him that great press: his superlative skills at image management. “More so than any other leading military figure, Petraeus’ entire philosophy has been based on hiding the truth, on deception, on building a false image,” he argued (BuzzFeed, 11/11/12).

Hastings had a refreshing lack of worry about his image; arguing for BuzzFeed to publish in full a testy exchange between himself and a Hillary Clinton aide, Hastings responded to Ben Smith’s warning that the correspondence didn’t make either side look particularly attractive:
“Everyone knows I’m an asshole. The point is that they’re assholes.”

His lack of pretense was evident in his advice to aspiring journalists:

When interviewing for a job, tell the editor how you love to report. How your passion is gathering information. Do not mention how you want to be a writer, use the word “prose,” or that deep down you have a sinking suspicion you are the next Norman Mailer.

Joining the general panic at Hastings’ escape from the herd with his McChrystal piece, CBS’s Lara Logan told CNN’s Reliable Sources (6/27/10; FAIR Blog, 6/28/10):

I mean, the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious, that they deserved to end a career like McChrystal’s? Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.

Given the relative benefits to the United States of an aggressive free press compared to occupying foreign lands, many would say Michael Hastings served his country much better than Stanley McChrystal ever did.

About Jim Naureckas
Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR’s bimonthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the ’90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR’s website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR’s program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.


Guy Montag
1 week ago
Both of Hasting’s books are well worth reading. His 2008 book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad,” is especially poignant now; his first fiancée died in a car that was set on fire in an ambush.
Last June, I exchanged emails with Michael after I wrote a post annotating his 2012 book “The Operators” about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s central role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s 2004 friendly-fire death in Afghanistan. In January, he thanked me for sending him my post about McChrystal’s disingenuous memoir (see “Something to Die For” & “Never Shall I Fail My Comrades” at the Feral Firefighter blog). I now regret never calling him with the phone numbers he gave me in his last email.
I’ll miss Michael’s honest, no BS reporting that is sadly lacking among the stenographic mainstream press (e.g. we both wrote about our unpleasant interactions with the Pentagon’s NYT reporter Thom Shanker).
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[…] Michael Hastings is in excellent company when his New York Times obituary (6/19/13) went out of its way to discredit […]
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[…] Michael Hastings is in excellent company when his New York Times obituary (6/19/13) went out of its way to discredit […]
1 week ago
Love FAIR. But this regurgitation:”died in a car crash in L.A.” is not what we expect from you. Not even a glancing mention of the suspicious circumstances that we all now what happened?
1 week ago
well said and well done, jim. here’s my little tribute to my friend and colleague. http://therenodispatch.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-sad-death-of-one-of-americas-last.html
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1 week ago
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1 week ago

I certainly hope that Mr. Hasting’s friends use their investigative skills to present some facts and the possibility of murder. Who shot the video of the accident? Why was he out at 4 PM? What do fire fighters and mechanics make of the accident? What was he investigating? Was he threatened? It seems that he would not just lament a friend’s suspicious death.
What a brave man. When others were talking about the Petraeus affair, he asked why and identified the General’s Shia death squads and creation of a civil war.
1 week ago

Correction: Why was he out at 4 AM?
Sara Landers
1 week ago
to Mary:
Mr. Hastings was a brilliant and brave journalist but to suggest his death was anything than what it was is ridiculous. There were eye witnesses who have said they first heard the car speeding and looked up to see him hit and tree and the car burst into flames. While he was all. the good things said about it, he was 33 and possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs and his driving was impaired. Who knows why he was out at 4 AM. He could have been on an assignment, or any reason, but that is hardly a reason to suspect a conspiracy or murder!!!
1 week ago
This reporter was apparently about to report on John Brennan recently appointed head of the CIA, and past preparer of the “kill list” for Pres. O. That his work may have meant the end of two Generals active in the field of imperial wars and occupation — what would be their qualms about a little payback? What about John Brennan who has demonstrated his lack of what might be called elegance whenever he gets close to a camera or microphone? I have no info. and if I did it would have to be hearsay, but I can’t discount the idea that something very much out of the ordinary occurred. Remember, Brennan was a GW Bush appointee before Pres. O. Should this help one’s imagination, a bit?
Kathleen Murphy
1 week ago

To Sara Landers,
Let’s get one thing straight, an explosion is NOT a “car accident,” and we should all expect better from FAIR than joining the corporate chorus on that one. And if the testimony of the witnesses meant anything to you, you would’ve also noticed that they all said they heard, and felt, an explosion. (Perhaps those witnesses will be soon be threatened by the FBI to stop saying it was explosion?)
I find it hard to believe that a person who (was it just a day before?), advises his friends to have a lawyer present if the FBI comes around asking questions, then immediately turns around to be so stupid as to drive 100 mph in a residential zone???? Really? And, as you inventively suggest- “33 and may have been under the influence” -a nice little character bashing of someone you don’t even know, shame on you! (But, “it has to be a car accident because there’s no possible way it was a murder” -right? A cowardly circular argument, please GROW …UP!!!!)
And now all we have left is an FBI denial that it was even investigating Michael Hastings? Sorry, I’m going to believe Michael Hastings before I ever believe the FBI. (But perhaps that image of “33 and under the influence while driving 100 mph in a residential area” is going to help the FBI look more credible in the public mind?)
This idea that every person who doesn’t trust our corporate government’s version of events is a “stupid conspiracy theorist,” is a symptom of cognitive dissonance that Americans collectively need to snap out of -or we will never get out from under the thumb of the fascist corporate dictatorship which is unfolding every day, before our very eyes.
Please, FAIR, have the maturity to care more about the facts than preserving some superficial public image that you are not like… Alex Jones? You are over-doing it this time with this Michael Hastings “car accident” story and impressing no one.
David Lloyd-Jones
1 week ago

Well, so much for “Reliable Sources,” which was always my sign to turn off the TV on Sunday morning: Howie’s gone (back?) to Fox.
I’ve always prided myself on my enemies, who select themselves well, and I think Hastings could do the same.
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Jack Y
6 days ago

Not to pile on you Sarah…but your knee jerk reaction to bring up intoxication is kind of strange to say the least. Where did that come from. I guess we will never know though…since the car EXPLODED upon impact and his body is said to have been burned beyond recognition. This does not normally happen in a car accident…even a 100 MPH head on collision. I do media history now…but I have worked on many a car and have many friends who do that as a profession today…unless a car is sitting there for awhile leaking gas, the new cars don’t “EXPLODE!”.
And FAIR…you could have left it at “died in a single car accident early in the morning. An investigation is still underway.” It reminded me of a news blip I remember seeing late at night/early morning from way back…when Headline News was young and a day or two before the Noriega trial. The lead government “witness” was killed in a single car accident…ran in to a building all by himself. Even as a late teen/early 20 something then I thought to myself…really? The government lets their star witness go for a ride alone right before a trial they claim is historic. I assumed he was taking to the witness coaching very well. Imagine how many powerful people Noriega had dirt on in the drug running circles.
Always being a “coincidence theorist” is no less naive or intellectually dishonest than always being a “conspiracy theorist”.
Hopefully I’ll get to meet you on the other side Michael:-) Not too soon though!

Creativity Components – The Creativity Post

Creativity is comprised of four factors. Just remember this equation: Creativity = Surprise + Originality + Beauty + Utility.

Today I want to talk about the components of creativity or the underlying factors of the creative process. One way to approach the problem is by looking at how we measure or evaluate a creative product.

Creativity is sometimes broken up into divergent thinking and convergent thinking; though I argue that essentially same processes are involved in both.

Divergent thinking is measured using Torrance test of creative thinking (TTCT). TTCT consists of both verbal and figural parts. Divergent thinking is also measured by Guilford’s Alternate uses task in which one has to come up with as many uses as possible for a common household items (like brick).

These creativity test results are scored keeping in mind a number of different creativity criteria. The most common (common to all of the above) criteria are:

1. Flexibility: This captures the ability to cross boundaries and make remote associations. This is measured by number of different categories of ideas generated.

2. Originality: This measures how statistically different or novel the ideas are compared to a comparison group. This is measured as number of novel ideas generated.

3. Fluency: This captures the ability to come up with many diverse ideas quickly. This is measured by the total number of ideas generated.

4. Elaboration: This measures the amount of detail associated with the idea. Elaboration has more to do with focussing on each solution/idea and developing it further.

Convergent thinking is measured by tests like remote associations test or insight problems. These problems are solved when you apply one of the methods below:

1. Make unique association between parts of the problem. This looks again similar to flexibility or how fluid is your categorisation schema enabling you to think out of the box and not be limited by typical categories or associations.

2. Take a novel approach (and not the typical approach) to problem solving. To me, this again looks similar to originality.

3. See problem from a different perspective. To me this looks like how quickly you can adopt multiple perspectives – the speed with which you can take alternate perspectives and is similar to fluency.

Creativity is also defined as coming up with something that is both novel and useful. At which point I am reminded of a quote by Oscar Wilde: “We can forgive man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” I understand Wilde to mean that art need not be useful or fulfill the criteria of utility, but is more measured by whether it fulfils the criterion of aesthetics or beauty. As long as one considers art as an integral part of creativity, I think we need to make room for beauty as part of defining what is creative: creativity = utility + beauty + novelty.

Now, to me novelty itself can be either because the thing in purview is really new or original or it can be familiar yet enigmatic (like Monalisa’s smile) and thus be surprising, or novel/ captivating in that sense.

Thus the modified equation looks like: creativity = surprise + originality + beauty + utility

Taken together I argue that these criteria/strategies/definitions that are used to measure and define creativity and solve creative problems, also hint at the underlying factor structure of creativity.

I propose that creativity is made of four factors:

1. The first factor is SURPRISE: whether one produces something that continues captivating attention, even though it becomes familiar over time. This may result from rare and remote association of ideas or a recombination process that brings familiar things together in an unfamiliar/unexpected way. This is the ability to think beyond conventional boundaries or categories, loosen up the associations and make remote associations between and within categories. This is also related to flexibility with which you can walk across categories and disciplines. An example might be Mona Lisa by Da Vinci or putting a urinal in an art gallery.

2. The second factor is ORIGINALITY: whether one produces something that is really unique and novel and unheard of before. This is creativity that is not just combinatorial but perhaps associated with transforming and transcending. As pre Pribram novelty is a result of new rearrangements of old ideas. If the first factor is about combination, this may be thought of as permutation or reordering. This is related to originality scores. An example might be cubism by Picasso where the face/familiar objects are rearranged, sort of.

3. The third factor is BEAUTY: whether one produces something that is appealing and aesthetically satisfying. Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder and is related to subjective preferences. Identifying beauty is a fast and frugal process and as per one conception, we find something beautiful, if we can process it easily (that is why average faces are more beautiful- ease of processing). This is related to fluency scores or the ease with which you can ideate. Expressionisms by Monet et al looks beautiful because it’s easy on eyes.

4. The fourth factor is of UTILITY: whether one produces something that is useful. As evident from the alternate uses task the utility of something is ambiguous and context dependent and yet measured objectively and not subjectively. Creativity is the ability to deal with this inherent ambiguity, be comfortable with it and look at things from multiple simultaneous perspectives to find useful contexts in which to use/ apply it. This is the ability to see if the solution actually solves the problem. Also the ability to elaborate an idea and add details to it, so as to make it useful/ relevant. Here, one can focus on one stream of thought/ idea and take it to logical conclusion, adding details and making it complex. The Miniature art of India, that has elaborate details, is an example of this form, and is useful in reconstructing history.

To put in simple words, creativity is generation of new, unexpected, likeable and useful/complex ideas/ things etc. Creativity happens if something ‘stands out’ from the crowd.

To take an analogy, in many psychological tasks, a stimulus stands out, if it is ‘surprising, novel, rare or complex’. Similarly, a creative product stands out if it is surprising, original, aesthetic (rarity is linked to beauty in some accounts- the rarer it is, the more beautiful/ art-valued it is) and useful (sufficiently complex/’designed’ to be useful).

I have also earlier alluded to Blind Variation and Selective Retention (BVSR) theory of creativity.

As per my latest thinking, factors 1 and 2, unexpected recombination (surpisability) and new permutations/ transformations/ mutations (originality) lead to blind variations that lead to novel products/ ideas. These are then selected using the lens and criterion of Beauty and Utility, the remaining two factors. Akin to sexual selection, factor 3 or beauty or subjective aesthetic preferences drive the selection process in this case. Akin to natural selection, factor 4 or utility or objective adaption criterion drives selection by this means.

Together the 2 factors that create variation (recombination/ mutations) and the 2 factors that select as per subjective and objective criterions (sexual-preferences (context-invariant) based/ natural- utility/fitness (context sensitive) based) ensure that creative products are original and surprising, as well as beautiful and useful.

Note: Some parts of the above ideas were developed and elaborated in my earlier Psychology Today blog and The Mouse Trap posts.

Author: Sandeep Gautam

Sandeep Gautam Column: The Muses and the Furies The thin line dividing madness and genius

Sandeep Gautam’s day job requires him to lead and manage software development teams in a networking and telecommunications giant; he moonlights as a psychology and neuroscience blogger at The Mouse Trap and the Psychology Today.

His interest areas span from Affective, Motivational and Personality research; to developmental and evolutionary unfolding of stages in a pre-determined order; to conceiving autism and psychosis as opposed on a continuum spectrum; to interest in creativity, genius , positive psychology and its application in school/ work settings.

Find out more at http://the-mouse-trap.com