Only a few short months ago, seemingly out of nowhere, reporter Michael Hastings emerged as the main battery for Rolling Stone magazine -- a one-man wrecking crew. His now-famous cover story on Gen. Stanley McChrystal was credited with forcing the top American commander out of Afghanistan, and with exposing deep rifts between Washington and Kabul over the conduct of the war. Hastings' "master narrative," as we hacks say, is that the war in Afghanistan is doomed, but those scoundrels over there are lying, cheating and stealing to keep it going and keep power for themselves. Subsequent stories attempted to repeat the McChrystal treatment on then-ISAF boss Gen. David Petraeus and the top U.S. trainer of the Afghan security forces, Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell.
But they didn't work. And not only that, problems with each new salvo raised more suspicions about the original, which Hastings has insisted was on the level. Of course other journalists and DoD investigators can't replicate his reporting, he says -- he's got a network of super high-speed mega-sources throughout the Corporation, and they'd never spill to anyone else. Why were service and DoD officials telling other reporters in Washington that Hastings' story was all jacked up, that sources he described as top advisors were "junior staff" who make tea and carry bags?
"Well, you'd have to ask them," Hastings said.
The Army's own investigation cleared McChrystal. Now, reports AP's Bob Burns, the Army has also cleared Caldwell, accused in Hastings' story of using "psychological warfare" tactics -- in this case, Google searches about simple background information -- to brainwash visiting VIPs to sell them on the need to plus-up the Afghan army. (What blackguards! Willing to hypnotize their own elected leaders about something they also expressed publicly!)
The Pentagon's Inspector General report on Caldwell was finished all the way back in March, Burns writes: "The Army concluded that there was no psychological operations unit in Caldwell's organization and that the soldiers' preparation of packages of information about visiting congressional delegations and other distinguished visitors was not illegal or improper, according to the IG's memo."
Although Hastings probably would dismiss the results of the Army's Caldwell investigation, it has appeared on the heels of actual bad news for him: The book he's been promoting sounds like it has run into trouble finding a publisher. Here was the report from Keith Kelly in the New York Post:
Little, Brown has apparently canceled a much-anticipated book about the war in Afghanistan by Michael Hastings, based on "The Runaway General," last summer's explosive Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal.Kelly goes on to write that when he called the president of Little, Brown to talk about Hastings' book, the guy hung up on him.
The book deal was inked shortly after the bombshell article was published in June 2010. The piece created such an uproar, with its claims of high-level insubordination in the military, that McChrystal, who was then running the war in Afghanistan, was summoned to Washington and fired by President Obama.
Amazon still lists the book, called "The Operators," as being published by Little, Brown with a December publication date.
Fueled by the publicity tied to the RS article, Hastings was said to have snagged a "high-six-figure advance." With the cancellation, he may forfeit a good chunk of the advance. Sources said that super agent Andrew Wylie had quietly begun offering the manuscript to other publishers this week.