Think Again: A "Very, Very Bad" Article

07/01/2010 12:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"There's a Rolling Stone article out," an aide told then-General Stanley McChrystal early last week. "It's very, very bad."

The aide was half right. Michael Hastings's Rolling Stone article, "The Runaway General," was out, but it was not bad in any way, except for McChrystal's now-ended military career. It was simply superlative in pretty much every other imaginable respect: an almost picture-perfect example of skillful interviewing, smooth narrative writing, extremely exhaustive research, and finally (and perhaps rarest) thoughtful contextualizing of extremely complicated material. I recommend it to all journalism professors as an example of the state of the journalistic art.

But almost as impressive as the article itself--and, of course, the commotion it caused in the administration's Afghan policy resulting in McChrystal's firing and his replacement by Gen. David Petraeus--has been the Washington journalistic establishment's reaction to it. Reporter after reporter has complained that by accurately reporting what McChyrstal and his aides said in explicitly on-the-record conversations to a reporter with a tape recorder and/or notepad in his hand, Hastings has violated the tenets of professional journalism. (A few of the reporters did this, it should be added, after stealing his work for their own websites.)

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