Since Michael Hastings's Stan McChrystal jam dropped in the pages of Rolling Stone, all of your media ethics panels have been a-roil over whether Hastings admirably performed the traditional tasks of a journalist to the letter -- I say yes -- or whether Hastings's actual job is to coddle his sources with goopy flattery so that he can maintain access to said sources (and continue, presumably, to coddle them), like Lara Logan contends, inexplicably.
Glenn Greenwald has much on this topic. But elsewhere, NPR's Bob Garfield, host of "On The Media", discussed the matter with Jamie McIntyre, who covered the Pentagon as a senior correspondent for CNN for 16 years. McIntyre, as you might expect, says that the story highlights the differences between beat reporting and freelance journalism:
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you now to describe the difference in the dynamics between a beat reporter on the defense beat or any other and someone who parachutes in for one story.
JAMIE McINTYRE: Well, the difference is the sort of one-off reporter doesn't need to worry about whether he's going to get future access or not, whereas the beat reporters, like when I was at CNN, I needed access; I needed to be able to get to the key people to find out what was going on when bombs were dropping or things were happening.
And the way you do that is you forego reporting all of the sort of off-color jokes or informal banter that goes on when you follow these guys around, focus on the big picture, and they begin to trust you. As a result, when you need to know what's going on, you get access.
If you do what Michael Hastings does, they're never going to talk to him again. Of course, he -- he doesn't care.
McIntyre goes on to describe the relationship between the beat reporter as "frenemies, not friends," but that "the dirty little secret is yeah, we sort of informally agree not to report a lot of things that we see and hear, some of it for legitimate security reasons, and some of it because it could just be embarrassing. And the trade-off is we get a continued relationship with these people and we can get information."
What does McIntyre think about Hastings? Nothing negative, as it turns out:
Well, I have to say I think Michael Hastings did exactly the right thing. Part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice bars contemptuous remarks by military officers about their commander-in-chief. So if I witnessed a military officer violating the military law on this subject, I think I would be bound to report that.
Of course, according to McIntyre, the far-reaching ramifications of the Hastings story are that people in McChrystal's position now "may also not talk to a lot of other reporters, as well." Of course, as McIntyre himself notes, the last time there was a dust-up like this, it was over Thomas P.M. Barnett's Esquire piece on Admiral William "Fox" Fallon, and that obviously didn't pave the way to some kind of insurmountable firewall between military brass and reporters like Hastings.
But still, I'm beginning to see a way for everyone to co-exist in this media ecosystem! Beat reporters can, by their constant presence, inure their subjects into expecting fawning treatment from journalists, and then freelancers can come in behind and actually break big stories that people actually care about. (Why, then, all the yelling at each other? Probably because everyone wants attention!)
Listen to the entire interview: