Newsweek interviews Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone reporter who broke the story quoting our top military brass in Afghanistan dissing the president and his staff, asking how in the world he got them to open up like they did.
You reported a lot of sentiments that are usually only expressed in private—why were the general and his team so candid?
Part of it was the circumstances. They were in a different environment. They were in Paris. But you would really have to ask them why they gave me the access that they did.
Can you explain how the article came about—what was the pitching and reporting process?
I was Baghdad correspondent for NEWSWEEK for two years, and I left the magazine after covering the elections. I wrote a piece for GQ before Obama took office that raised some serious questions about the direction we were taking in Afghanistan. So it was something I wanted to be writing about. I saw General McChrystal and his new strategy as a way to look at our Afghan policy to see if it’s working or if it’s a totally insane enterprise. I met with editors at Rolling Stone, they seemed into the idea, so I e-mailed McChrystal’s people. I didn’t think I was going to get any access at all. It’s one of those strange journalistic twists. They said yes, come on over to Paris to spend a couple days with us.
How much time did you spend with McChrystal over the month?
Another strange journalistic twist. The Icelandic volcano happens, and so my two-day trip turned into this month-long journey following General McChrystal and his staff around from Paris to Berlin to Kabul to Kandahar and then back to Washington, D.C. I wasn’t with him at every moment, obviously, but fairly regularly over that period of time.
One of the most vivid scenes in the stories comes when you are out with the general, his wife, and his team for a night on the town in Paris. His team is entirely forthright with you, did that surprise you?
Well, they were getting hammered, I don’t know at that moment if they were being the most forthright. Of course it was surprising. A lot of the reporting that is getting most of the attention happened right away in the first few days in Paris. So I was surprised—because they didn’t know me.
OK, let’s turn this into a learning experience. Here is a PR tip: When you hold an important office and you have some sensitive knowledge and opinions that could prove embarrassing if outsiders knew about them, don’t go out drinking with reporters to the point of getting hammered. What other lessons can we learn?