June 17 marks the first anniversary of the death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings. Just 33 years old, Hastings died in a car crash at a time when he was considered of one of the country’s most daring young reporters. His dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan unveiled the hidden realities of war. His 2010 Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, sparked a political controversy after McChrystal and his aides were quoted making disparaging remarks about top administration officials. The article exposed longstanding government discord over the Afghan War’s direction and led to McChrystal’s firing. One year after his death, Hastings’ reporting has made waves once again. In 2012, Hastings wrote a major investigation for Rolling Stone on the American prisoner of war, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. At the time, Hastings thought it was the most important story of his career. But it only recently earned widespread attention after Bergdahl’s release for five Taliban members sparked a political firestorm. In his report, Hastings revealed Bergdahl was profoundly disillusioned with the Afghan War and may have walked away from his base as a result. With Bergdahl still silent as he recovers from five years in Taliban captivity, Hastings’ article remains the definitive account of the young soldier’s story. Today, another major work from Hastings is upon us: “The Last Magazine,” a posthumous novel and scathing satire of the corporate news media based on Hastings’ time at Newsweek. We are joined by Hastings’ widow, Elise Jordan, who brought the book to life after coming across the manuscript following her husband’s death.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
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AARON MATÉ: This week marks the first anniversary of the death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings. Just 33 years old, Hastings died in a car crash that ended the life of one of the country’s most daring young reporters. His dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan unveiled the hidden realities of war. A 2010 Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, sparked a political controversy after McChrystal and his aides were quoted making disparaging remarks about top administration officials. The article exposed longstanding government discord over the Afghan War’s direction and led to McChrystal’s firing.
AMY GOODMAN: One year after his death, Michael Hastings’ reporting has made waves once again. In 2012, Hastings wrote a major piece for Rolling Stone on the American prisoner of war, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. At the time, Hastings thought it was the most important story of his career. In 2012, Hastings spoke to Russia Today about Bowe Bergdahl’s case.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: I think this is the most significant and undercovered story about the war in Afghanistan from an American perspective. It’s a story about the only prisoner of war who’s left in these two wars. And under normal circumstances, he would be a cause célèbre everywhere. But because of the nature of why he was left and why he got—and how he got captured, he has been sort of buried. The Pentagon has intentionally sort of buried his case, for a variety of reasons.
OK, so, and as to what drove—excuse me—as to what drove Bowe Bergdahl to leave, first you have to look at—he was a 23-year-old kid who joined the Army, and he expected that he was going to go over to Afghanistan and help people and be involved in this nation building and essentially humanitarian activity. What he found when he got there was completely different. He thought that he had been sold a lie. He thought that he was not being treated with respect by the superior officers. There was a serious command problem within his unit in Afghanistan. There was a serious breakdown in command. One officer died, another got fired. Three of his—the people he respected were kicked out. And so, that created this sort of perfect storm. You have this sort of disillusionment happening, plus all these sort of horrible things he’s seeing with war, that drove him to the decision to leave.
AARON MATÉ: The late Michael Hastings speaking in 2012. His article on Bowe Bergdahl only recently earned widespread attention after Bergdahl’s release for five Taliban members sparked a political firestorm. In his report, Hastings was first to quote from emails sent by Bergdahl to his parents just before he went missing. In one email, Bergdahl wrote, quote, “I am sorry for everything here. … These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live. The horror that is america is disgusting.” His father responded, quote, “Obey your conscience.” Today, with Bergdahl still silent as he recovers from five years in Taliban captivity, Hastings’ article remains the definitive account of the young soldier’s story.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, to mark the first anniversary of Michael Hastings’ death, which is actually tomorrow, another major work from Michael Hastings is upon us. It’s not an investigative report but a posthumous novel, a satire Hastings wrote of the corporate news media based on his time at Newsweek. The book is called The Last Magazine. Michael Hastings’ widow, Elise Jordan, helped bring the book to life after coming across the manuscript following her husband’s death. Elise Jordan is a journalist, political commentator. She served as a director for communications in the National Security Council from 2008 to ’09 and was a speechwriter for Condoleezza Rice. In fact, you met Michael when you were a speechwriter for Condoleezza Rice?
ELISE JORDAN: Yes, and then we knew each other for a couple years, and then we started dating actually when we were both in Afghanistan. I was doing a story on female marines in Helmand, and he was doing the McChrystal story. So it was right before—it was during the process he was interviewing and embedded with the team.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you met this young, crusading journalist, who never thought his piece on McChrystal would actually take him down.
ELISE JORDAN: No, I mean, he thought that it might cause waves for a day or two, but he didn’t—you know, the message of the piece, for him, was the story of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and of General McChrystal’s really strict rules of engagement, which—courageous restraint, which means the troops weren’t allowed the same force protection measures and were very upset about these rules of engagement.
AMY GOODMAN: And he went on to write the Bowe Bergdahl story, thinking, “My god, if the McChrystal story had this response, Bowe Bergdahl is going to blow everyone out of the water.”
ELISE JORDAN: Exactly, and I love how in the piece he predicted that it would become hugely politicized and that bringing Bowe Bergdahl home would start to signal the end of the Afghan War. He thought that there would be a firestorm immediately after publication two years ago. That firestorm came now—and, I think, is exactly the message of his book, The Last Magazine, in terms of what the establishment media seizes on as to make a story. The country didn’t care, the media didn’t care, overall, that this lone sergeant was in captivity for five years, but then, suddenly, when there’s the opportunity to politicize it and to re-victimize someone who has been tortured for five years, everyone’s all over it. And then, that’s disgusting and something that would have really angered Michael.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is a rocking satire. So, Michael Hastings was an intern at Newsweek, and Michael M. Hastings is sort of the star of this book, this, quote, “novel.” But talk about who we’re talking about here, who the characters are. You’ve got Nishant Patel, the international editor; Sanders Berman, the managing editor; sort of thinly veiled Fareed Zakaria and, as well, Jon Meacham?
ELISE JORDAN: Well, they’re composites. I would say that Michael was certainly influenced by his time at Newsweek, but he had a vivid imagination, and it’s a talented work of fiction. That said, I think what he wanted to show was establishment media and how—cheerleading the Iraq War for career advancement, and how quickly that cheerleading turned as soon as the war turned. Instead of looking at what they had chosen to support and trying to find a solution, you know, they wanted to forget as quickly as possible that they had ever been the one, you know, beating the drumbeat to war.
AARON MATÉ: So the first anniversary of his death is tomorrow. After he died, there was all sorts of theories. People were analyzing the scene of the wreckage. I remember there was a YouTube videos of the crash, people looking at the engine. Before he died, Hastings had sent an email to colleagues saying his reporting was under investigation. You’ve been very clear, though, to basically reject all these conspiracy theories.
ELISE JORDAN: Correct. Unfortunately, it was a tragic accident. I think that sometimes things are so horrible and tragic that we want to have an explanation that seems to make a little more sense, just that—just then, you know, we lost one of the greatest journalists ever in American history, at least in my humble opinion. So—
AMY GOODMAN: We actually had the person who helped work on that piece with Bowe Bergdahl, Matt Farwell, who said, though, on the issue of the FBI investigating, that Michael was so concerned about, in fact that they were.
ELISE JORDAN: Oh, they were.
AMY GOODMAN: They were investigating, right, Michael for his piece on Bowe Bergdahl, even though, in a very rare move, the FBI said they weren’t conducting an investigation after Hastings’ death.
ELISE JORDAN: Well, and Matt Farwell is a wonderful friend and collaborator, and I’m so happy that he and Michael were able to work together on that story, which wouldn’t have happened without Matt, Michael always said. Such a well-researched story. They—it really is just an example of the Obama administration’s crackdown on journalism. They, Michael and Matt, were able to find out more information about what actually happened and Bowe’s motivations than the U.S. government. And that apparently is scary and threatening and causes us to investigate Michael Hastings and Matt Farwell, which I really don’t understand.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Michael. He was on Democracy Now! in 2012. He said the Afghan War, like the invasion of Iraq, was based on a false premise.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: If WMDs were the big lie of the Iraq War, the safe haven myth is the big lie of the Afghan War. And what I mean by that—and this was true in Iraq, as well—but 99 percent of the people, maybe even higher, honestly, the people we’re fighting, whether it was Sunni insurgents in Iraq or Shiite militias in Iraq or in Afghanistan, the Taliban never actually posed a threat to the United States homeland. So the question one has to ask oneself is that if everything we’re doing and everyone we’re fighting is not actually a threat to the United States—certainly not a direct threat, by any means, by any means—then why are we expending so many resources, $120 billion a year, you know, with all the lives lost, to do it? And that’s—and again, this is the big lie of counterinsurgency, which I know we’ve discussed on your show. To justify this tremendous outlay of resources, they have to say, “Oh, no, we’re killing terrorists.” But everybody knows that that’s not true.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Hastings in 2012 talking about the Iraq and as well as Afghan War. He reported from Iraq as well as Afghanistan. Elise Jordan, this, again, the anniversary of his death. You had written a letter to The New York Times objecting to their obituary of your husband, of Michael.
ELISE JORDAN: Yes, it was factually inaccurate. It was shameful. I can’t believe The New York Times has reported erroneously on my husband’s reporting basically every time they decided to write anything about his reporting. But I really didn’t think that they would go that low in someone’s obituary. It was just tasteless.
AMY GOODMAN: What was wrong?
ELISE JORDAN: They cited the Pentagon report that “cleared” McChrystal and his aides of any wrongdoing.
AMY GOODMAN: For our radio listeners, you put little air quotes around “cleared.”
ELISE JORDAN: Yeah, because the Pentagon—Michael did not participate in the investigation. He didn’t believe that the role of the reporter was to turn over your notebooks to the government. But of course the Pentagon is going to clear—it’s all—and if you actually read the report, it’s pure speculation. “Oh, well, we don’t remember exactly. We don’t”—it’s so vague, and that’s what upset me. You can’t—if you print a paragraph about a report, the journalist should actually read the report and then have some context and decide, oh, well, maybe this report doesn’t actually clear McChrystal and aides. So—
AMY GOODMAN: So they did this in life, and they did this in death.
ELISE JORDAN: Yes, I think Michael’s reporting was really threatening to the establishment, and I think that’s what he really gets out in this book. When he was talking about what he called the lies of counterinsurgency, what he wanted to do with this book was to talk about how the lies are aided along by the news media and the complicity of so many journalists and so many status quo journalists in promoting this.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Hastings’ book, The Last Magazine, is out today. Elise Jordan, thanks so much for being with us.