Yeah so I can’t think of a title worth crap. Anyway…
As everyone who pays attention to the news knows by now, an article appeared in Rolling Stone this week by freelance reporter Michael Hastings that wound up forcing the resignation of General Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of American troops in Afghanistan. Invited to hang out with McChrystal and his staff, Hastings was witness to their contempt for the civilian side of the war effort, which he then reported on. It was a shock to everyone in Washington that McChrystal would make such a blunder, and the press began immediately to dissect it.
The Politico was so hopped up about the story that it took the extraordinary step of posting on its site a PDF of Rolling Stone’s article because Rolling Stone had not put it online fast enough. 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.
Let me enumerate why this is worth noting:
1.) It’s an admission that preserving their own future access is a hidden factor in what institutionally-bound reporters are willing to tell us today.
2.) Carol Lee covers the White House for the Politico. She is a beat reporter, so she would know, right? She’s not going to let an observation that rings false to her ear go out under her by-line… is she? Doesn’t make sense.
3.) This is exactly the sort of observation in which the Politico trades: the “inside” fact you might not know that tells you how Washington really works. It’s part of the brand.
4.) The Politico was actually founded to reveal just this sort of fact. The idea from the beginning was to open the kimono on journalism itself. This is from the days (2006) when it was first announced that John Harris and Jim VandeHei would be leaving the Washington Post to start a new online publication.