Was NYT Obit for Michael Hastings Unfair? Widow Complains, Public Editor Co

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Michael Hastings (Credit: YouTube, "Andrew Kaczynski," screenshot)

The wife of investigative reporter Michael Hastings, Elise Jordan, complained about the New York Times’ obituary of her husband, who was killed in a car crash last week, Mediaite reported.  Jordan didn’t lodge a list of factual inaccuracies, but instead challenged the Times‘ description and inclusion of information about a government report that questioned her husband’s reporting.

The June 19 Times obituary, by Margalit Fox, included information about questions raised concerning Hastings’ controversial and high-profile Rolling Stone story on General Stanley McChrystal.  The obituary reported on the Defense Department inspector general’s investigation into the story and read in part:

“An inquiry into the article by the Defense Department inspector general the next year found ‘insufficient’ evidence of wrongdoing by the general, his military aides and civilian advisers.

“The inspector general’s report also questioned the accuracy of some aspects of the article, which was repeatedly defended by Mr. Hastings and Rolling Stone.”

According to Mediaite, Jordan complained to Jill Abramson, the New York Times public editor and national news editor, in an email, re-published by the Huffington Post. Her main complaint was that the Times called into question her husband’s reporting on McChrystal by bringing up the Defense Department’s investigation.

As Jordan explained, while the inspector general didn’t find enough “evidence” against McChrystal, “insufficient evidence to prosecute is not the same as ‘clearing’ someone of a misdeed.”

Jordan said that the Times’ obituary contained a “mischaracterization” and “misrepresentation” of her husband’s reporting.

Jordan added that she “transcribed and have all the tape recordings” of Hastings’ interviews for the report on McChrystal as evidence of the accuracy of his reporting.

But the Times’ obituaries editor Bill McDonald denied that the newspaper “mischaracterized the Defense Department report” as bringing up questions about  Hastings’ Rolling Stone article or that the Times was “questioning [Hastings’] article’s accuracy.”

“We see no reason to change the obituary,” McDonald wrote, according to Huffington Post.

However, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan blogged June 22 about the complaints over the obituary and argued that in her view, “the obituary seems to diminish his work’s legitimacy.”

Sullivan said the story wasn’t wrong, but acknowledged the complaints about the suggestions that the obituary questioned Hastings’ reporting.

She also spoke about the obituary with McDonald, who told her the Times considered the Defense Department report “pretty newsworthy,” and therefore necessary to include in order to publish “an honest obit.”

Further, Sullivan acknowledged that “an obituary is not intended to be a tribute,” but rather a “news story.”

Separately, the Huffington Post said that the New York Times obituary did include an error because it called Hastings’ McChrystal article a Rolling Stone “cover story” when, in fact, Lady Gaga was featured “on the cover of the issue.” But, iMediaEthics notes that while the McChrystal story isn’t the cover image, the cover does feature the McChrystal story with the headline:

“Obama’s General

“Why He’s Losing the War”

The cover of Rolling Stone featured a photograph of Lady Gaga but there was a headline for Hastings’ McChrystal story. (Credit: Rolling Stone, screenshot)

As of June 23, the error is still unacknowledged. But a correction was appended to the article on June 19 to fix the name of Hastings’ grandmother, Ruth Mahon.


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Was NYT Obit for Michael Hastings Unfair? Widow Complains, Public Editor Comments

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7 Responses

  1. Guy Montag says:

    “Jordan said that the Times’ obituary contained a “mischaracterization” and “misrepresentation” of her husband’s reporting.”She wrote, “If a reporter at the Times actually would read and properly analyze the Pentagon report, they would find exactly the opposite [ of an inaccurate story] … the mischaracterization in the obituary reflects a longstanding – and ongoing – misrepresentation of the facts in and surrounding this story by the Times” In his 2012 book “The Operators” Michael Hastings wrote: ”The investigation reads comically–no one the investigators spoke to admits to saying what they said, but they also don’t admit to the quotes not having been said … It is the last whitewash of McChrystal’s military career. … Pentagon officials would privately tell journalists that the intent of the investigation wasn’t even to find wrongdoing; it was to “damage” my credibility.”

  2. Guy Montag says:

    Jordan added that she "transcribed and have all the tape recordings" of Hastings' interviews for the report on [Gen. Stanley] McChrystal as evidence of the accuracy of his reporting." She wrote, "I can personally verify that some of the most damning comments were made by McChrystal himself, and many others made by his aides in his presence were greeted with his enthusiastic approval. "In his disingenuous 2013 memoir McChrystal only briefly mentioned the controversy which led to his firing by President Obama [see the post "Never Shall I Fail My Comrades" at the Feral Firefighter blog]. Although McChrystal claimed he "took full responsibility" for the controversy, he also blamed Michael Hastings for his supposed lack of fairness and accuracy. However, it's worth noting that McChrystal has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny the accuracy of Hasting's quotes when questioned by reporters (and he was never questioned by the Pentagon investigators).

  3. Guy Montag says:

    “But the Times' obituaries editor Bill McDonald denied that the newspaper ‘mischaracterized the Defense Department report’ as bringing up questions about Hastings' Rolling Stone article or that the Times was "questioning [Hastings'] article's accuracy.’” He claimed that “it’s not The Times that is questioning the article’s accuracy; it was the Defense Department. We're simply reporting what it publicly said.” Really? His response brings to mind a quote from the film “V for Vendetta” in which a TV broadcaster said, "our job is to report the news, not fabricate it; that's the government's job.” In her take on the obit, NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan said that “the obituary…is not factually inaccurate, as far as I can tell” …” What exactly did she mean? Does she agree with McDonald that it's OK to simply repeat the Pentagon's "lies borne out by facts, if not the truth"?

  4. Guy Montag says:

    Sullivan said the story wasn't wrong, but acknowledged the complaints about the suggestions that the obituary questioned Hastings' reporting. She wrote "the obituary" is not factually inaccurate, as far as I can tell. As far as I can tell? How much fact-checking did Sullivan do? Why didn't she discover that Hasting's story is more credible and backed up by more evidence (20 hours of tape, 70 pages of notes, and his book) vs. the never released Army report & the 6-page Pentagon report? Why didn't she ask to listen to the tapes to verify the facts for herself? Or try to get McChrystal or his staff to actually go on the record? [for links to source material, see “More NYT's Lies Borne Out by Facts, If Not the Truth at the Feral Firefighter blog].

  5. Guy Montag says:

    "[Elise Jordan's] main complaint was that the Times called into question her husband's reporting on McChrystal by bringing up the Defense Department's investigation. " Unfortunately, Sullivan failed to resolve this issue and carefully dodged addressing the truthfulness of Hasting's "Rolling Stone" profile. She didn't play much of a watchdog role on the NYT, although she did point out someone cut the original on-line version's final lines that praised Hastings from the print edition & archived version (supposedly for "space concerns"). The NYT's obit that smeared a real journalist after his death shows their lack of journalistic integrity. Instead of seeking to discern the truth of the controversy, the NYT's has once again (as with the Pentagon's NYT reporter Thom Shanker's 2009 whitewash of McChrystal's role in the Pat Tillman cover-up) displayed its stenographic ability to parrot the official government position "borne out by facts, if not the truth."

  6. Guy Montag says:

    In a 2012 Alternet interview Michael Hastings was asked: “are there individual reporters whom you want to call out publicly for their sort of following the Pentagon line and not doing their job?” He replied, “Yeah. I saw a pretty egregious example with the New York Times Pentagon correspondent [Thom Shanker] who literally just published the Pentagon spokesperson's anonymous quotes when he was reporting on my stories … he's got the official line from the Pentagon.” (Note: Shanker wrote the April 2011 NYT piece “clearing” McChrystal of wrongdoing in “le’Affair Rolling Stan” the obit referenced) I don’t have any confidence in our “watchdog” media. As Hastings said, “they call it the Pentagon Press Corps, right? And you sort of think, oh, well it means the people who kind of watch over the Pentagon and perform the media's watchdog function, but no, it's an extension of the Pentagon.”

  7. Guy Montag says:

    "Pre-script" on the Pentagon's NYT reporter Thom Shanker's previous whitewash of Gen. McChrystal's key role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman's 2004 friendly-fire death in Afghanistan: Just before McChrystal's June 2009 Senate confirmation the NYT's published Thom Shanker's piece, Nomination of U.S. Afghan Commander Revives Questions in Tillman Case's supposedly "exonerating" McChrystal and claimed he was "cleared of wrongdoing. Although Shanker's article was full of official "facts," he ignored clear evidence McChrystal's culpability [for details, see "Something to Die for" or "Lies Borne Out by Facts, If Not the Truth" at the Feral Firefighter blog]. The evening after his Senate confirmation, McChrystal gave Shanker a private tour of his new Pentagon HQ! A few months later, he took a sabbatical as a "writer in residence" at the think-tank CNAS (which worked closely with McChrystal on the Afghan War “surge and hosted his 2011 book release party). Isn't "access grand!

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