Every once in a while, Howard Kurtz actually reveals the media Village mindset:
One journalistic question to emerge from Rolling Stone’s takedown of Stanley McChrystal is whether a military beat reporter could have — or would have — done it. Michael Hastings was on a one-time assignment; he didn’t need to deal with the general and his people again. This, by the way, is no different than the tension faced by every city hall and statehouse reporter versus someone coming in for a one-shot piece.
Hastings himself addressed the question in a 2008 GQ piece, talking about being embedded as a presidential campaign reporter:
“The dance with staffers is a perilous one. You’re probably not going to get much, if any, one-on-one time with the candidate, which means your sources of information are the people who work for him. So you pretend to be friendly and nonthreatening, and over time you ‘build trust,’ which everybody involved knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editor calls for it, you’re supposed to [expletive] them over.”
Pretend? Not a pretty picture.
NYU journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen pivots toward Politico’s coverage of the McChrystal affair:
“In one of the many articles The Politico ran about the episode, the following observation was made by reporters Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee:
“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.
“Now this seemed to several observers — and I was one — a reveal. Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter is less of a risk for a powerful figure like McChrystal because an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to ‘burn bridges’ with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down. . .
“And then, the next day. . . . the reveal disappears. The Politico erased it, as if the thing had never happened. Down the memory hole, like in Orwell’s 1984.”
This is frustratingly true; I saw it all the time when I was a reporter, and yes, the temptation to soften stories is there all the time. After all, most public figures are interesting, charismatic people and they’re fun to be around.
But your loyalty has to be to your readers. I’m sorry to say, I was in a distinct minority. That’s why politicians were always shocked when I had the audacity to actually report what they said.
“I thought we were friends!” one local official said to me.
I looked at him. “I stood there and asked you a question. You responded, and you watched me write down your answer. What did you think was going to happen?” I said.