Rolling Stone's digital media strategy aside, I'm a bit dumbstruck at the way the traditional media have treated the magazine's story on General Stanley McChrystal as some sort of flukey journalistic junkshot that no one could have possibly expected.
Chris Matthews, bless his stuck-in-the-1970s heart, was agog this past Tuesday that a beacon of the "counterculture" could have ever gained access to McChrystal. I sort of wondered why the traditional media couldn't have done more, with all of their access!
So I was glad to see that "The Daily Show" took up the matter last night, with Jon Stewart mocking these past few days, in which "America's finest reporters" have been beside themselves with wonder at how a Rolling Stone reporter pulled off "reporting." Quipped Stewart: "At approximately 11:04 Eastern Standard Time, the American news media finally realized they kind of sucked."
Of course, I wish Stewart had gone a little bit further. Having watched several news anchors slap themselves silly in stunned befuddlement over Rolling Stone's coup, I've been wanting to ask: "Hey, you all realize that Jann Wenner didn't dispatch the kid who turned in that really great review of the new Band Of Horses album to embed himself with McChrystal, right?" The story was reeled in by Michael Hastings, who covered the Iraq War for Newsweek. To watch some of these dolts on the teevee interact with him, it's as if they've never heard of him!
But in a way, Hastings is an alien thing to them, the way he used his access to McChrystal to do actual reporting, instead of the more traditional "gash for ass" model where a reporter flatters a subject in order to create an opportunity for further flattery.
For more on that, by the way, check out this piece by Jay Rosen, who documents the incredibly true story of how Politico, riffing on the Hastings story, accidentally told the truth about their journalistic values, publishing this paragraph in one of their stories on the matter:
McChrystal, an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. 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.
That statement is as true as an azure sky. Too true! Because sometime after it went up on Politico, it was taken down. Mysteriously! And no one at Politico wants to say why! Probably because it was the equivalent of publishing the eleven herbs and spices they use to make cheap-ass chicken palatable.
Stewart gives good quip on this regard:
STEWART: But the real shock to these reporters was what this Rolling Stone journalist would be giving up.
CELESTE HEADLEE, NPR; [on tape, to Hastings] You obviously were not worried about access in the future; I can't imagine you're going to get it.
STEWART: Yeah... I don't need it anymore... I got this amazing story.
UPDATE: Politico's Tim Grieve responds to Rosen, saying that the paragraph in question was dropped as the piece was reworked to accommodate additional news. "Together with the other adds that had come in during the day," Grieve says, "my inserts made the story very long and unwieldy, so I quickly deleted or substantially reworked more than a dozen paragraphs that struck me as either tangential or out-of-date." He adds:
The "offending" paragraph about beat reporters vs. freelancers was one of them. No one - no source, no reporter, no editor above or below me - had said a word to me about the paragraph. I removed it solely for the purposes of keeping the story tight and readable. And in fact, I thought so little about doing it that I didn't even remember taking it out when we first got an inquiry from CJR Wednesday.
It's too bad, because it was the most valuable paragraph in the whole story.
Why the Hacks Hate Michael Hastings [Vanity Fair]
Geraldo On Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings: "A Terrible Thing That He Has Done" [Mediaite]