By DANA LIEBELSON
Michael Hastings never thought he was going to get the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan fired.
But in June 2010, one of the hottest D.C. summers on record, the Rolling Stone reporter—who was then only 30-years-old—penned a piece that sent shockwaves through Washington and left high-ranking military brass scrambling for their jobs. All it took was for Hastings to write about what he heard and saw while traveling with U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Hastings’ story, “The Runaway General” in Rolling Stone was the result of a month spent with McChrystal and his closest advisors. Hastings got unusual access thanks to the Icelandic volcano, which thwarted the team’s travel plans and extended the reporting trip. The resulting story included quotes from McChrystal’s camp that publicly criticized the Obama Administration. Shortly after the piece came out, President Obama ousted McChrystal.
But the story wasn’t over yet for Hastings—he decided to dig deeper and expand the piece into a book. The result, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan, was published in January. We caught up with Hastings and spoke about his new book, corruption in Afghanistan and how to write about those in power.
POGO: How did the consequences of your Rolling Stone piece affect your decision to write a book?
Michael Hastings: When I was reporting for the article, I immediately knew I wanted to write a book about it—on day two or three of my trip. So I thought the story would come out, and I’d write a book about it a year later, and it would be about the general who was still running the war. So [the firing of General McChrystal] was obviously a surprise. It made it a much bigger story, and it made Rolling Stone a part of that story in a way it wasn’t before.
POGO: Do you think there is ever a time when a journalist shouldn’t report what he or she hears on record? Particularly about people in power?