Jun 23, 2010

The new journalism? Or just good journalism?

In defending Michael Hastings and Rolling Stone against complaints from media "hacks," of which National Review's Rich Lowry is the only one named, Barrett Brown of Vanity Fair offers an interesting, and wrong, analysis of what the Hastings piece shows about the future of journalism.

Brown writes:
Yes, Rich; the most impact-laden story of the year, the one in which General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and his aides talked trash about President Barack Obama and members of his administration, appeared in Rolling Stone, not National Review. And it was written by a perfect specimen of the new breed of journalist-commentator that will hopefully come to replace the old breed sooner rather than later, and which has already collectively surpassed the old guard by every measure that counts—for instance, not being forever wrong about matters of life and death.

First off, National Review is chock-o-block full of new-breed "journalist-commentator"s and that's precisely why it would never have done the McChrystal story - N.O. likes the military too much. Second, despite the occasional opining in Hastings's profile, the greatest impact of the article comes from the unadorned quotes, when he lets the subjects in the story speak without a filter - the reader gets the comments in their raw form, and that's why they matter so much. Indeed, that's what the "old guard" media is supposed to be doing, according to its own standards. It often fails because it wants to maintain access or has to agree to ridiculous rules under military embed rules.

The point is, Hastings did not do a modern-day Hunter S. Thompson job on McChrystal, nor did his opinions about the war effort lead President Barack Obama to relieve McChrystal of command. It was the fact that McChrystal and his top aides expressed such open contempt for civilian authority in front of Hastings - had Hastings decided to be a commentator instead of a journalist, a participant or columnist instead of a faithful witness, the story likely would have flopped. He got access, he got close to his subjects, he listened and he reported. Just because the story appears in Rolling Stone and contains some cuss words, or because Rich Lowry said something silly, or because Hastings called the Marja offensive "doomed," shouldn't overshadow what really matters about the story.

(h/t fishbowlLA)

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