(The following is a return to writing after a long hiatus. One earlier attempt at a return would have involved a long post about #TheFappening and a forgotten novel. That project was eventually left by the wayside because it dealt with the on-going, seemingly unending circle of poison on the internet, and the post itself felt like one more continuation of that circle. Though that post may or may not ever be written, some of its elements will eventually be brought into this one, where poisoned arrows are let fly with recklessness and abandon.)
(A NSFW warning: this post contains several passages from The Last Magazine that are very sexually explicit.)
“The ice monarch had installed his agents in my heart.”
– Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer
The last time I wrote about Michael Hastings, it was to say that I thought an article of his was a fucking disgrace. It was not idle clickbait malice, or malice carried over from something else, but from a passionate feeling aroused over bad work1. I don’t regret that expression, because I thought it was entirely honest, without extra venom for the pleasure of poison – such sadism would have been pointless anyway, as he was already several months dead. Hastings was an excellent reporter, a passionate, committed reporter, a principle expressed throughout his work; his best known piece, “The Runaway General”, a profile of Stanley McChrystal which resulted in the general’s firing, did not come up about through luck or happenstance, but was an expression of skills honed for years. The flaws I saw in his last pieces were not the result of bad habits, but the collapse of his best ones, with his relapse in sobriety reflected in the thing he put his life into, which was journalism2.
The Last Magazine was his last book, and it was very much unfinished, but it haunts me and stays in my memory months after I read it – and this is not, I think, because of the virtue of the unfinished which allows the reader to project whatever they wish on the spaces in-between. The overemphasised aspect of the novel is that it was a gossipy romp, a barely veiled look at working at Hastings’ workplaces, Newsweek and Gawker, and the main pleasure is to play peekaboo at the names behind the pseudonyms. “There was interest in The Last Magazine,” sniffed Paul Constant, “the novel about magazine culture written by…Michael Hastings, until the first people to get their hands on the book realized it didn’t have much to offer besides thinly veiled media gossip.”3 The book’s dark heart did not so much elude reviewers, as pass willfully unseen.
The book moves back and forth between two narratives, a “Michael Hastings”, a rookie journalist working at an unnamed magazine that’s the old Newsweek (given here the brown bag pseudonym of The Magazine), and A.E. Peoria, both an excellent war correspondent and a drug-taking, scatterbrained babblemouth. As said, most of the book’s reviews dwelt on the who’s who aspect. Newsweek editor #1, Sanders Berman, “a 37-year-old trapped in a 67-year-old’s body” is, as everyone knows, Jon Meacham, and Newsweek editor #2, Nishant Patel, the man with “chocolate emeralds that a profile writer for The New York Herald said were like an Indian Cary Grant”, is Fareed Zakaria4. Hastings had already expressed his disdain wtih Meacham in a blog post, “Newsweek: Should Jon Meacham get the blame?”, where he quotes Lee Siegel’s “News-bleak! Or Is It? Grahams Succumb to Panic”, “Mr. Meacham’s deft maneuverings reaped him recognition and acclaim while his magazine tumbled toward irrelevancy,” and more directly in an interview with Cenk Uygur: “Meacham sucks,” he says, making an emphatic thumbs down gesture, “he’s on my eneemies list. One of the people I wanted to go on a rant on.”5 The laughter at these men in 2014 was relatively safe; Meacham’s failure at Newsweek was so complete that he would retreat to book publishing, and Zakaria’s profile had already been diminished by one plagiarism scandal, though a second one was still to hit after Magazine‘s reviews6.
Gawker‘s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” by J. K. Trotter gives a good overview of the others, with one major misidentification and one glaring omission, an omitted ID that, given the source, you might find surprising or not surprising at all. They do, however, mention that Timothy Grove is very obviously Nick Denton, the owner of the Gawker network, and that the Wretched of the book, whose guiding policy is that “we live in a society of assholes. The media is a reflection of these assholes. We’ll show you what the inside of the asshole’s asshole looks like,” was Gawker‘s as well (though Gawker doesn’t use this quote) – then, however, there was enough of an old school publishing industry to feed exclusively on that, and their content was shorter Page Six type items, without the interruptions of insufferably smug high mindedness that afflict it now. This, however, is letting this essay get a little ahead of itself, and letting certain feelings rise to the top already. I don’t think Gawker read the book that closely or carefully, and they leave out Tabby Doling, who is very clearly Lally Weymouth7, as well as the very gossip worthy Delray M. Milius, right hand man of Berman (Meacham) and of whom I have a few guesses, but over which I don’t feel like a libel suit8. James Rosen’s review in the Post, “‘The Last Magazine,’ by Michael Hastings”, however, does ID Doling, and makes the crucial point that A. E. Peoria isn’t just a lightly fudged verion of reporter Adam Piore, as described in Piore’s insightful account, “I Am A.E. Peoria”, but a depiction of Hastings himself: “both of these characters reflect Hastings at different points in his career, and…the author — if this novel is really as semi-autobiographical as it seems — was forever struggling to reconcile the disparate facets of his personality.”
Whatever the intent of the name, when I see the name “A. E. Peoria”, I see the proverbial ordinary American small town (as in “Will it play in…”) and, because of my own idiosyncrasies, the initials read as After Earth, just like the movie, Titan A. E., about a rocket that’s escaped earth’s destruction. A.E. Peoria an ordinary man whose center has been destroyed, who spins out in a self-destructive circle as a war reporter. The relation of these two characters, I think, are a more complicated tension than Hastings as a Newsweek intern, and Hastings after going to Iraq and Afghanistan, but selves in Hastings that were always at tension. “I have a disorder,” says Peoria, “Compulsive disclosure disorder. I have no filter, my shrink says. I don’t know boundaries, I’m always revealing very personal and intimate details about my life,” he tells Hastings, and this seems nothing like the writer of The Operators whose work is so often so focused, and though he lets a voice of exasperation or anger into his work, it’s often difficult to find life details there, or even in the usual sink of self-obsessiveness, your blog; The Hastings Report remains always focused on the details of political and foreign affairs. But this was Hastings as well, an earlier, more confessional version, as described in possibly the best account of the man, “Reckless and Inspired: An Interview With Jonathan Hastings About His Brother, the Journalist Michael Hastings” (equal to or superior to the best profile, “Who Killed Michael Hastings?” by Benjamin Wallace), from the blog Uncouth Reflections by “Paleo Retiree”. Jonathan Hastings: “I’m not sure what kind of writing he did when he was in that first year of college, but when he was living in Vermont again, he was writing all the time in journals…He actually ended up writing a memoir about this whole period. I’ve never read it and he couldn’t get it published.” Hastings was an excellent listener, allowing his subjects to talk, sometimes to indict themselves, yet this was through a deliberate act of restraint. “What I learned,” he told NYC radio host Leonard Lopate in 2012, “was that if you just sit and listen, and let them talk…I mean, I’m a big talker. Don’t get me wrong. Ask my wife. I’m a big talker. So the fact that I’ve been able to sortof train myself to sit back and listen, I think…that’s the most important thing a journalist can do.”9
Peoria snorts coke on the plane back home from an assignment in Chad. On vacation in Thailand, he takes hallucinogens laced with amphetamines. When Michael Hastings and Peoria go to a bar, Peoria orders two tequila shots while Hastings has a club soda. Perhaps because he was a prominent reporter for Rolling Stone, Hastings was tagged with being a journalist in the manner of Hunter S. Thompson, a wild, crazy, rambling addict. Nothing embodies this wrongheaded notion more than the obituary by John Dolan10, “Michael Hastings, Dead of Gonzo”: “Hastings never bought into that consensus, as his choice of car demonstrates. He died at the wheel of a C-Class Merc with 200 HP. The point of a car like that is to drive into palm trees at 4:30 a.m.” According to this epitaph, Hastings’ success had something to do with the fact that he wasn’t a homeowner who thought about mortgages (he owned a place in Vermont) with his domestic partner (he was married) and their golden retriever (he owned a Corgi). He was out in his Merc the night he died too young, and this crazy spirit supposedly informed his entire life and journalism. Where Thompson went for a crazed, hyperactive, hallucinatory style, Hastings’ writing always stayed calm, cold, and focused. I don’t think McChrystal could have been dismissed by something written covered in Thompson’s nightmare exhuberance, because the very style would place the account in doubt. The precision and the seriousness of Hastings’ piece is what made it so damning; this isn’t the reporter ginning anything up to get a better or more exciting story, this is what actually happened. In The Last Magazine, the character of “Michael Hastings” offers a withering critique of A.E. Peoria on TV, and we see exactly what Hastings wished to avoid so that his reporting would be taken seriously. What he describes is something like Thompson in his public appearances: “I know they will take one look at Peoria and think: This guy is fucked-up, this guy doesn’t know what he’s saying, he’s not making any sense at all.”
Kafka’s “Hunger Artist” is about a man whose starvation would become a spectacle, and Thompson’s college tours became something like “The Opiate Artist”, his voracious drug taking the overriding object of attention. It’s difficult to conceive of Hastings being this kind of showman; when he appeared on TV or on podcasts, he avoided glib pronouncements, easy nostrums, or simple provocations, but gave detailed analyses of what was taking place in Afghanistan or Iraq. To give an account of what actually took place, not to distort it into something more exciting, entertaining, or attention getting was crucial to the man, as we hear in this moment from the 2010 Polk Awards (where his “Runaway General” was one of the winners) between the moderator John Darnton and Hastings11:
I don’t mean for this to be a contentious question, but do you think, obviously your piece has created some controversy among your colleagues. Do you think it is, uh, fair…to hang out with someone over a long period of time, or even a short period of time…and kindof go drinking with them, listen to them…
I didn’t drink with them.
I don’t drink, actually.
Go to a bar with them in which they’re getting hammered.
Have you read Rolling Stone?
Yup. No, hang out with someone, and hear their off the cuff comments-
They weren’t off the cuff comments.
I’m not saying they were-
I’m going to contest every inaccurate thing you say, so…let’s just…
Jokes. And I’m not saying they’re irrelevant jokes. But just comments. Things people say.
Banter among them.
Let me finish. Do you think it’s fair to-
I’ve heard this before, that’s why I know where you were going.
…into a larger portrait.
Sure. I think the key in this sense was that these weren’t just offhand comments, [they were] comments that got directly at the idea of civil-military relations. And the civil military relationship is the key component to our counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, so when you have the top general of the war, showing such disdain, and his staff – and the general is responsible for the command – when you have the top general of the war, and his staff, consistently making comments that were derogatory about the civilian leadership, whether they were justified or not to make those comments, that to me was clearly an important story to tell.
Peoria is Hastings’ difficult past and his sad future. Jonathan Hastings would give an account that was neither picturesque or romantic of his brother’s early difficulties with drug use, before he recovered and shifted his intense focus to reporting. Again, from “Reckless and Inspired”:
There was some relief from my parents when he went off to college. But that environment turned out to be really bad for him. He started using all sorts of drugs and it triggered a kind of manic episode. When he went home for summer after his first year of college, he wasn’t in good shape and ended up crashing a car, getting arrested, and going to detox/rehab. Though later he told it as a kind of gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson-style adventure, it was a really traumatic experience for him and my family. But he was always looking for risks: even after he sobered up and got his life on track and had his career underway he still wanted to push the envelope, such as having himself assigned to Newsweek’s Iraq bureau.
Paleo Retiree asks a little later: “What did being a foreign correspondent and a war reporter mean to Mike?” Jonathan Hastings: “He was a self-proclaimed war junkie.” It is always dangerous to analyze the dead, because we are allowed the arrogance of a multitude of hypotheses without the dead being able to shout out an argument against them; but I don’t think it’s an astonishing or difficult leap to say that after going into detox, Michael Hastings found an adrenaline surge in war and war reporting that he could not find in ordinary life, could not find in drugs, though he also knew that war was incredibly dangerous, that it could obviously destroy you physically, that it could destroy you inside as well, and that however much you wanted this surge, however much you couldn’t live without it, you had to turn away from it; but when he returned to civilian life, he still craved this energy, and he went back to the old substitute of drugs.
Though he rarely let personal details come through in The Operators, he makes brief mention of his addiction, the craving for the strange energy of a war zone, on the way to an interview in a very dangerous part of Afghanistan:
I had reservations about going. I knew my security advisors wouldn’t be happy that within one day I was already ignoring their advice. I knew that the risks weren’t worth the payoff. But I felt the pressure to get a good story and I’d traveled down to this shithole of a city. I wasn’t just going to stay in my hotel, self-aware enough to know I was behaving in the classic war junkie fashion.
And so I found myself driving along a road from Kandahar to Herat in a white Toyota Corolla, thinking, You never put yourself in these situations, but you always seem to find yourself in them. Thinking of it as something out of my control decreased the blame—and there is plenty of blame if things go wrong, and it’s all blame on me. I know it’s a risk, I know it’s a rush, I know it’s not a healthy lifestyle. I know it’s an addiction; I know it’s the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
In the middle of the book, we have Hastings explicitly merging these addictions. He is in Dubai, on the way to the war in Afghanistan, and he gets drunk for the first time in a decade. He goes over a twentieth century history of war correspondents, until he hits the nineties:
In the nineties, the conflicts were bloody and didn’t usually involve American boys. A new phrase was popularized in the lexicon of journalism: the war junkie. It was rare to find a reporter to admit to being one, at least in public. There was more honor in self-identifying as an alcoholic. It was not appropriate to speak of the perverse fun of war. It must be buried under other motives. The war correspondent had to wrap himself in the language of human rights. He must bear witness, performing some kind of pseudo-religious rite. He was forced, in public, to talk about war as damning, ignoble, awful, tragic. Yet he kept going back for more. The irony had slowly crept in. A British journalist’s account of his time in the Balkans twins his heroin addiction with his compulsion to cover the conflict. He kicked the heroin. The book became an instant classic. I saw him in Baghdad a few years later. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges summed it all up: “The rush of battle is one of the most potent and lethal addictions, for war is a drug, one I have ingested many times.”
A little later, he writes: “I’d learned from all the literature that I had read that war always ended in violence, pain, self-destruction, madness, and tragedy. I confirmed this well-proven thesis for myself.” And: “Here’s what else I learned: The correspondent’s identity becomes inseparable from war.” That war became an integral part of his existence, where your life becomes an admixture that barely contains this element, and that the last part of his life was an attempt to return to this strange energy, is too often avoided for the preferable wilds of conspiracy theory. “Some of the pieces of this puzzle are just so bizarre, they almost cannot be explained any other way than that there was some kind of foul play involved. A brand new Mercedes C250 does not simply explode into flames at the drop of a hat very easily,” says one amateur analyst on Hastings’ accident12. You could follow that mazing trail, or you could take the path Hastings already laid out in an essay explaining his own fascination with war, as well as what might finally have overwhelmed him. “The Hurt Locker, and What it Means to be Addicted to War”, uses the movie as a foundation on which to discuss the longing of the war correspondent as a physical addiction. War, says Hastings, has nothing to do with heroism, valor, or the nobility of sacrifice. “It destroys what we love, people, children, sons and daughters, things, culture, buildings, possessions, morality, emotions, and our own sense of who we are as human beings. There is not much new for me to learn about war,” he writes. “And yet, I’ve kept going back.” And: “Am [I] doing this for the right reasons? Are there right reasons? Or have I, like Sgt. James in The Hurt Locker, fallen prey to an addiction? Am I about to take another potentially lethal dose?”
Jessica Coen, the former editor-in-chief of Gawker and later editor-in-chief of Jezebel, was friendly with Hastings and she would write the following after the publication of The Last Magazine13:
Eventually Newsweek sent [Michael] to Iraq, and after that he was different. He said there was a lot of stuff that I just couldn’t understand. He wasn’t crazy or anything, but he also kept a gun under his bed (futon, actually, in a shitty Allen Street walkup down the street from my shitty Orchard Street walkup). I also remember him saying that he was incapable of relaxing, not even in NYC, after that experience. He was also 100% certain he would go back. It was what he wanted to do. Very Hurt Locker-esque, like one of those people who just couldn’t return to regular life.
If we wish to think of the death of Michael Hastings as a puzzle, something with clean edges that could be solved, for me the end of “What it Means to be Addicted to War” lands down with a solid click that fills the curved space, but which gives no satisfaction at all, only a heartbreaking “Yes. That’s it.”:
Normal life can’t compete with the potent drug of war.
I don’t disagree. Normal life doesn’t stand a chance against war, in the same way that shooting up or swallowing a pill of ecstasy trumps reality every time. But I do take issue with how The Hurt Locker ends — not because I didn’t like the movie, or that it wasn’t enjoyable. It just doesn’t go far enough. In fact, I don’t think it was enough like Kathryn Bigelow’s earlier classic on adrenaline junkies, Point Break, a film about a gang of bank robbing surfers. That might sound ridiculous, but the movies’ themes are identical.
In the finale, the late Patrick Swazye (playing Bodhi, Point Break‘s version of Sgt. James) is found on an Australian beach, chasing the ultimate storm, the big wave. Bohdi gets swept away by this overwhelming, violent, thrilling, force of nature. Keanu Reeves, playing the troubled cop hero, speaks the film’s last memorable line: “He’s not coming back.” That’s what happens when you embrace dark and wild forces beyond control. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, doesn’t take war addiction to its logical, unambiguous, conclusion. That is, death.
Addictions destroy, junkies usually die, and the war always wins.
The Last Magazine is very much about this addiction to war, about never wanting to leave it and always wanting to return, though it does so at a slant. The actual cruel details of war are actually very uncomfortable to talk about, and war here becomes something else whose actual details often cause a great deal of conversational discomfort, and that’s sex. If you don’t see this twinning, the focus and explicit detail of the sex scenes in the book will produce bafflement. “In places there are unusually detailed sex scenes that are just plain bizarre,” writes Adam Piore. “Occasional cringe-inducing passages on the pornographic tastes of the principal characters notwithstanding, this book has points of interest at every turn,” writes Tom Gallagher in “Michael Hastings Skewers Them From the Grave (with a Scoop of Gawker)”. Or they might be viewed as simple joking around, “Multiple prostitutes are called into the scrum; sexual organs end up in bandages,” writes Dwight Garner in his Times review, “War’s Hell, Especially for Editors”. “Do not, unless you are mischievous, recommend this novel to your aunt’s book group.” In the next sentence, however, Garner mentions a book episode where Hastings tips his hand as to his intent: “One memorable and weirdly incisive chapter is made up entirely of the narrator’s flipping back and forth between cable porn and the start of the Iraq war on television.” The Michael Hastings of the book watches on, a voyeur to war and sex, while Peoria engages in the acts that Hastings only gazes on.
The bar for my porn watching keeps going higher. Rewind again. The man shooting his jizz in the faces of Ying and Yang doesn’t do it tonight. The gaping holes don’t do it. Fast-forward. Maybe the next scene with Gauge will. Gauge is dressed to look like a fourteen-year-old girl. She’s earns her living the hard way—it’s not fair to say just on her back, but with all different parts of her body flattened against floors, walls, designer chairs, soiled mattresses, leather couches, bent and acrobatic, ass pointed to the air, the weight of her body on her neck, knees somehow stretched backward behind her ears. I read on the Internet that she does five scenes a week in a good week.
I am waiting for what is making me come lately.
Ass to mouth—shorthand: ATM.
I watch the man, whose hair could have been styled in 1991 and never been changed, take his penis from her ass and then grab her by the waist to twist her face toward his cock. I wait for the moment when he puts his cock in her mouth, the moment of entry.
It doesn’t happen. There’s a jump cut.
I’m pissed. That is no good at all. I need to see the full-body motion, I need to see the uninterrupted movement from ass to mouth because I am savvy enough, my penis is savvy enough, to know that if there is a jump cut, then things could have been done, organs cleaned, wiped off, made more sanitary; my brain is trained to sense these kinds of illusions, to sense when it’s not real enough—when it’s too clean.
The intersection of sex and war:
Fast-forward. Gauge is kneeling and spitting and the man’s hand is on his penis, a point-of-view shot, and he ejaculates in her face. I shoot too.
I hit the Last button and jump back to a CNN correspondent with the 1st Armored Division.
The correspondent has positioned himself on a road to somewhere, and the trucks are rolling by him.
I reflect. I know I am being somewhat self-conscious. I know I am somehow, in some inexplicable way, being ironic. But I am not being ironic. This is just what life is for me. What else am I going to do when sitting in front of a TV alone? Jerk off. And if my country is going to war, I’m going to watch my country go to war.
The book’s “Michael Hastings” wants to look at sex the way others want to look at war, something that look real, like it’s dirty, like it’s gritty, like it’s actually happening, yet part of a simple structure allowing for release. There’s a sense that what the adult performer goes through is strenuous – “I read on the Internet that she does five scenes a week in a good week” – and yet this is secondary to the entertainment, just as the soldier’s life and struggles are secondary to the glossy war narratives of his magazine’s managing editor, Sanders Berman. For Berman, war is a kind of pornography distant from the reek and violence of the actual, a repeated veneration of sacred historical relics. “I read his book, The Greatest War on Earth,” narrates the Hastings of the book. “If I am in the mood to be cruel, I’d say his book does really well at nourishing our national myths. It’s a real comfort, reading his book. It gives you a real warm feeling about that whole time between 1939 and 1945. A real black-and-white-photo wholesomeness to it, a breast-fed narrative of good versus evil.”14 The perspective of the fictional Hastings towards the fictional Jon Meacham was shared by the actual Hastings toward the actual Meacham. “Newsweek when Jon Meacham was editor, they would not have printed my story [“The Runaway General”],” Hastings told Cenk Uygur. “Why do you think that is?,” asked Uygur. Hastings: “Political reasons, for reasons that there’s a sense that at Newsweek we were supposed to uphold…that we are supposed to reinforce our societal myths, not deconstruct them, and not kindof expose them. And there’s a real mission there, certainly under Meacham, Meacham sucks.”15 The actual physicality of existence deflates all these myths. In “Hack: Confessions of a Presidential Campaign Reporter”, his account of the 2008 primaries, Hastings makes his contempt for the process and participants obvious, but he keepts out personal details except for one habit, which effectively deflates the idea of a rarefied arena of democratic process, unending high flown music of regal trumpets and anthems:
There was no small amount of hypocrisy when it came to journalists discussing the sex lives of the people they cover, since fidelity wasn’t exactly a prized virtue among reporters on the campaign trail. For my part, I watched a lot of porn. A colleague told me the first thing he did after checking in to a hotel was to check out their porn selection. I followed his example. I’d become an expert on the various hotel chains and what they offered. The best was clearly the Hyatt Regency; the Homewood Suites had the usual selection of XX features. On my last night in Manchester, after the primaries were over and the campaigns had moved on, I selected one called Nasty Older Sluts or something like that for $11.95. (Note to Newsweek accounting department: I never expensed the porn.)
It occurred to me, as I sat there watching an interracial couple banging, that jacking off in a hotel room was not unlike the larger experience of campaign reporting. You watch two performers. You kind of like it when one of them gets humiliated. You know they’re professionals, so you don’t feel much sympathy for them. You wish you could participate, but instead you watch with a hidden envy and feel vaguely ashamed for watching. You think you could probably do as good a job or better. You sometimes get a glimpse, intentionally or not, of society’s hidden desires and fears. You watch the porn week after week, the scenes almost always the same, none of them too memorable. The best ones get sent around the Internet.
The ultimate refutation of any ideal of war is what it does to the body itself. There was one moment that stayed with him for a long time, I think, as it would with most people. He described the moment at length on Scott Horton’s show on Anti-War Radio, “Scott Horton Interviews Michael Hastings (April 21, 2009)”, a podcast on which he was a frequent guest16. I bold one key line:
In the article [“Obama’s War” in GQ], you describe it as a really beautiful scene, all the shooting stars and everything up there at the roof of the world.
There was the shooting stars, there was all the Americans shooting flares to taunt the Taliban to attack. It is a very scenic, I always thought, and I say this cynically and in jest, that at least in Aghanistan, it’s a scenic war, and in Iraq, I don’t remember too many moments of beautiful sunsets there.
Yeah, it just looks like Houston or something.
Yeah. (laughs) Houston with more concrete.
Uh, now, one of the things that you wrote about in your article that was pretty shocking, it’s the kind of reporting that we don’t usually hear, we don’t usually hear this kind of detail, anyway, in real narrative form, but the story of a suicide bombing at what I guess was the gate of the base you were staying at?
Tell us the story. What happened there.
I’d actually just got off the phone, I was standing outside this base, we were about eight miles from the border, the Pakistan border, and it was a beautiful sunny day, and all of a sudden there’s this loud boom, and I see over my shoulder about seventy five feet away, this plume of smoke comes up, the kid who was on guard, the American, yells, “Oh my God! We’ve been hit by a suicide bomber!” And there was some shooting, and- But what had happened was, this was really the sort of disturbing thing. That the suicide bomber had used local Afghan kids, seven-eight year olds, who used to hang out at the base, hang out at the base with the Americans, as cover to walk right up to the gate. And the kids ran away, a few seconds before the suicide bomber detonated it. And two- Luckily, no one was actually killed in the suicide bombing attack. Two Afghan security guards who were working for the Americans were injured quite badly. But the disturbing, more disturbing part was afterwards, the clean-up. They had to clean up the suicide bomber. Because his body had been spread all throughout the base. And to clean up…literally, they call it the police crawl, where all the soldiers, all the Americans sortof walk one step and then another step, trying to pick up different parts of the body and to put in a sortof plastic bag to bury it. And what I remembered, about this moment, I saw the guy’s leg, laying near one of the barbed wire fences, and on his foot was this nice high top with a yellow stripe. And later that day, the suicide bomber’s remains were buried, they had put his hightops on top of his grave about a hundred yards from the base. About an hour after that, a couple of guys from the village went to the grave to pay their respects, I guess, looked both ways, then grabbed the guy’s high tops, then left.
Nice. Well. I guess that doesn’t sound too much different than America. (laughs)
It’s part of a very bleak picture of the country that you paint in the article. And, I guess, it really goes to the question of whether the Center for a New American Security’s plan for a ten year occupation in the building of a nation has any credibility at all.
Sure, and I think…what I’m always fascinated with, is this human aspect of it. The effects of violence on the Americans who witness it, the Afghans who witness it, whether they’re children or teenagers or adults, and yeah, this idea that we’re going to buy into ten more years, and ten years, by that way, that’s the low estimate. You talk to David Kilcullen [senior counter-insurgency advisor], one of General Petraeus’s advisors, was one of General Petraeus’s advisors, who was also a major proponent of counter-insurgency, and he’s a really smart guy…but what he’s calling for is, literally, a twenty five year commitment, to Afghanistan and Pakistan as a region. So, even ten years is a very hopeful estimate.
Though Hastings is almost always on point with his answers, at the end of this interview, Horton asks about an Afghanistan occupation plan, but goes off on a tangent: “Sure, and I think…what I’m always fascinated with, is this human aspect of it. The effects of violence on the Americans who witness it…” and here, I do not think he is simply talking of the soldiers in the field, but himself.
Hastings distinguishes the contrast between the ideal of war, the beautiful brutal valor, the ideal that cannot be tarnished through defeat or atrocity, with the vile details of war in two prominent moments in his writing. There is a speech by Graeme Lamb, a British Special Forces Commando and one of McChrystal’s advisors in The Operators:
The arena: It was a favorite concept for men like Lamb, capturing a dangerous and seductive worldview when applied to war. The idea came from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, trashing critics and valuing the experience of risk over all else. “It is not the critic who counts…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, and who comes up short again and again…” I’d heard other generals use the quote in Iraq. What mattered wasn’t what the war was about, or what might or might not be accomplished; what mattered was that there was an inherent value in being a man, in going into action, in bleeding. There was little difference in victory or failure. The sacrifice of blood had an almost spiritual value beyond politics, beyond success, beyond good and evil; blood and sweat and pain made up its own ideology, existing within its own moral universe of a very narrowly defined concept of honor and bravery. It was as brave and honorable to take a bullet for the brotherhood as it was to cover up a bullet’s mistake. It didn’t matter that in Afghanistan, the U.S. military had come up short again and again. What mattered is that they tried. The simple and terrifying reality, forbidden from discussion in America, was that despite spending $600 billion a year on the military, despite having the best fighting force the world had ever known, they were getting their asses kicked by illiterate peasants who made bombs out of manure and wood. The arena acted as a barrier, protecting their sacrifices from the uncomfortable realities of the current war—that it might be a total waste of time and resources that historians would look back on cringing, in the same way we looked back on the Soviets and the British misadventures there.
And then there is the episode that Hastings brought up on Scott Horton’s podcast, from “Obama’s War”:
“There are body parts all over the place, all through the district center,” Hilt [Captain Terry Hilt] says. “Doc, we got plenty of rubber gloves? We’re going to get some and do a police crawl across the DC. If you find fingers, any of that stuff, don’t touch it. Call for one of the HIIDE guys. We might be able to get it to hit on the HIIDE system.”
Hilt pauses and then adds, “Pictures. Do not be taking pictures of friggin’ body parts. You’ll get in a lot of trouble if you try to take pictures of body parts home17. We got really lucky. Stay vigilant. Here’s the good news: The sandbags worked, the gate worked. Because of that, we’re not putting anybody in the ground.”
The soldiers pull on rubber gloves and go outside and begin walking slowly over the gravel, looking for pieces of the bomber. One soldier scrapes up a chunk of flesh with a shovel. “Mmm, pancakes,” he says. “Why the fuck couldn’t they have used a car bomb? I don’t mind cleaning up after car bombs. Everything’s burned up.”
They dump the body parts in a clear plastic garbage bag. The bomber’s legs are still there near the gate, intact from the knee down. His legs are hairy. He was wearing white high-tops with yellow stripes. The scalp is on the ground next to a Hesco barrier, a blood-wet mop of black hair.
Staff Sergeant Daniel Smith spots a blackened finger hanging off the concertina wire, and Staff Sergeant Aaron Smelley, who’s in charge of identification, takes it and places it on the portable HIIDE machine and presses hard to get a scan. After a few tries, he gets a reading, but the fingerprint doesn’t match any known terrorist in the database.
The Afghan police bury the leftover body parts a few hundred meters away from the base in a small cemetery. They place a pile of rocks on top to mark the grave, then lay the bomber’s yellow-striped high-tops next to the rocks. Later that afternoon, two Afghan men from one of the nearby villages come to look at the grave site. As they start to walk away, one of them turns back and picks up the high-tops and takes them for himself.
That night the dogs are back, barking and fighting over the bits of flesh that flew so far from the base they were missed during the cleanup.
There is nothing of the heroic or epic in Peoria as he stumbles around Iraq and Chad, and this is not Hastings mocking the lesser, weaker man in contrast to the truly heroic, but a depiction of how people act: you are scared, you want to get out alive, you don’t know what to do. When Peoria is in Iraq, the war experience we see is defined again and again by sex. There is a discussion before the fighting starts. Soldier #1: “That’s fucking gay, dude.” Soldier #2: “Ball flaps aren’t fucking gay…I want to start a family when I get back, not just give fucking blow jobs like you. I’m keeping mine on.” Soldier #3, to Peoria: “If you haven’t noticed, the Army is a twenty-four-hour gay joke,” and Peoria writes down an observation that Hastings had already made on his blog, “‘The Army Is A 24-Hour Gay Joke'”: “Over the last couple years, I’ve had the privilege to spend a lot of time with American combat forces in Iraq, and, more recently, in Afghanistan. If there is one persistent form of humor it is this: jokes about homosexuality. Lots and lots of gay jokes. So many that, on my last embed, a soldier told me this gem: “When my family asks what it’s like to be in the Army,” he said. “I tell them it’s like a 24-hour gay joke.”” Peoria has been told by his editors to come up for color for their package on the ground war, “examples of fear”: “Soldiers afraid of gay men wouldn’t cut it. But the fear of getting your balls blown off was something he could work with.” Whether it be cannonballs tearing through a ship’s wood and throwing splinters into sailor’s privates, or the Bouncing Betty, a mine that jumped up a few feet so the explosion would tear up a man’s balls and dick: “The soldier’s number-one fear, Peoria writes in his mind, throughout the history of human warfare.”
Peoria is embedded in a convoy that’s part of the initial approach to Baghdad, and they come under fire, with almost everyone in his Humvee killed. Peoria survives alongside a badly wounded soldier, Justin Salvador. This soldier’s number one fear has come true: his groin is torn up by bullets, but Peoria staunches the bleeding and manages to keep Salvador alive till reinforcements show up. Peoria reaches Baghdad. Hastings gives us a brief chapter, “Interlude”: “My attention strays from the war after the first summer of the invasion…Anyway, mission accomplished. You might forget that at the time, people took that seriously.” We follow Peoria on a vacation to Thailand, where he has sex with a series of whores. “After one come two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight . . . Like pills, like shots, like hands of blackjack and lines of cocaine and potato chips and cheese fries.” The colonialism of the past shadows his brief sense of supremacy now. He stays at the Bangkok Mandarin Oriental. “The Oriental: the hotel of Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham and James Michener.” He is entirely alone, speaking only to those who take his orders. “He has spoken only to whores and concierges and maids for two weeks now. Conversations, one-sided as was his way, but conversations with people there to serve him. Should he feel bad about that?” He meets with a frenchman, Marcel, and his wife, Valerie, with Marcel looking on while Peoria has sex with Valerie, Marcel fellating Peoria as well. This again is sex as a metaphor for war, the colonialist of the past looking on with rapture at the colonialism of today. “We have the Arabs in Paris and you must treat them like that—with spit and kicks.” But Peoria doesn’t have any ideas or attitudes of supremacy, he is simply here, a figure of chance. “It is all savage and torture and Islam,” says Marcel. “Oh, you can’t say that about just Islam, dude, all religions are fucked,” replies Peoria. Marcel, Valerie, and Peoria have sex, and just as there are things you see in war close-up that occasionally make it into the movies, that might make you say just like in the movies, Peoria glimpses something that is a highlight and theme of some pornography, but which he’s never seen in the actual before:
Peoria falls over onto the bed. Valerie rolls to her back. Marcel gets to his knees, and starting at his wife’s breasts, licks and caresses her body, moving toward her belly button, moving toward her pussy. Valerie puts her hand on his head and pushes lightly, her fingers tangled in her husband’s thinning hair. Valerie puts her left hand on the top of her pussy, and in a move that Peoria has seen only on a computer monitor and television screen, she squeezes and a dollop of his sperm pops up.
Clams, seashells, mollusks, mussels, oysters. White discharge. Membranes and inverse epidermal layers. Pink jowls, a string of soy milk drool. A raw baked good, doughy, whipped egg-white batter uncooked.
Pushing himself up on his elbows, Peoria sees for the first time—in the dimming lights of the HDTV and the digital clock and the faint city lights cutting through the open drapes—what a cream pie looks like.
Peoria returns to the United States, and though the book never speaks of Peoria being changed by the war, he is changed: this is a book where war merges with sex; Peoria has picked up a veneral disease and after a doctor removes some skin, he now has a bandage on his dick. The character of Hastings is honest, but merciless, in his assessment when the two see each other again: Peoria looks weak, unwashed, unhealthy, a wheezing wreck who can’t stop talking. He works on a story about the Koran being desecrated at the Abu Ghraib detention facility with Mark Healy, which provokes rioting and multiple deaths – an incident again based on actual life, when Michael Isikoff, on whom Healy is based, reported that the Koran had been desecrated at the Guantanamo Bay internment facility (see “Newsweek Reporter Michael Isikoff Discusses His Coverage of Koran Desecration at Guantanamo”, an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!). The various pundits and cable outlets are at a righteous boil. “Off to CNN?” Sanders Berman asks Nishant Patel when they meet by the elevator. “Oh, no, no time for television today,” says Patel. “Me either,” says Berman. If Peoria has ever had any political sense on what to do here, he has lost it completely after the war. “Peoria, man, I think they want you to take the blame for this,” Hastings tells him. Peoria goes on CNN. “I don’t think, I mean, you have to understand that I’m sorry that this rioting happened, but you know that cleric, that guy, he’s a real jerk—he’s not like a good guy, you know?” He is shouted down by the other panelist, a Daniel Tubes18: “Can I just respond to what Mr. Peoria said first? What he’s doing is classic. He’s blaming the victims for his own reckless reporting.” Peoria is suspended. Afterwards, he stabs himself in the leg with a pencil by accident, and he doesn’t feel it at all, doesn’t notice anything’s wrong except for the people screaming in horror. He takes a leave of absence, and falls into a depression when he’s no longer writing, and during a period when he confines himself to his bedroom, he speaks of his wounds, visible and invisible:
Back to the darkness he went. Back to the darkness, for another three-week stretch, the bills and dirty laundry piling up, redux. Resorting to reusing the coffee filter in his coffee machine after running out of paper filters, ordering groceries and deliveries, ordering everything and keeping the door shut. Vowing to never again check his email, never to look at what other news it would bring—the wound on his leg had healed, the puncture wound had healed, the molluscum contagiosum had run its course, but a new wound had opened up.
The darkness didn’t help him heal that wound. The darkness hid it from him, hid what he didn’t want to recognize. He went over the scenarios in his head again and again. This wound was deep, cut to his core. He tried to ignore the wound, tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but he knew he was burying his feelings, burying his emotions, burying the truth. I’m a journalist, he thought, and if I can’t look at truth within myself, how can I see the truth out there in the world?
Peoria tries to put his life together. He gets rid of the drugs, works out, starts teaching journalism at a college class. He tries to move on: “if every summer in his mind has a theme, the theme this summer is self-acceptance. I’m okay, I’m okay.” At his first class, his attention focuses on a female student who stares intently at him throughout. Afterwards, Peoria: “What’d you think of the class?” Student: “You don’t recognize me?” Then he asks, “You’re a friend of my ex-girlfriend’s, right?”, “Okay…we didn’t hook up before, did we?”, “Did I interview you for an immigration story?” No, no, no…“You saved my life.”
We know that Hastings was a big fan of the work of Norman Mailer19, and given his interest in and reporting on national security matters, I think it’s highly likely he read Mailer’s novel about the early CIA, Harlot’s Ghost. There are two hints in Last Magazine that he has read the book, one stronger than the other. In Ghost, there is a prostitute named Libertad La Lengua (from Ghost: “which in loose translation does not signify Freedom of Speech nearly so much as “Ah, Freedom—your tongue!””), who, it turns out is a transsexual. Ghost is filled with spies, double agents, truths given in the cover of falseness, and Libertad embodies this idea of double agency and deception, “She is all the beautiful women put together!” exclaims the narrator, but she is also undercover: “Libertad is an agent in the world of women”.
Peoria has had some skin shaved off of his dick, while Justin Salvador has had the whole thing sheared away. Just as Libertad is a symbol, Justina Salvador is a symbol as well, of the overwhelming change war effects, but her relation to Peoria also represents Hastings’ view of war and the war journalist: war is the woman you can never leave. The narrator of Harlot asks of his attraction to Libertad, “Was he, himself, a homosexual? That stands out, doesn’t it? To be so attracted to a transvestite, or whatever else you could call it—a transsexual?” Justina is a vivid, real character, so vivid that I regret that the book ends so abruptly after she comes onstage, but she’s also very much part of a metaphor, of Peoria wanting to stay close to war, and just the way ordinary life becomes dull to the war junkie, sex with an ordinary woman becomes dull to Peoria. He has the same doubts as Harlot‘s narrator about his attraction, but he is also specifically attracted because of this woman’s past identity:
But as he watched, he instinctively started to touch himself, and he started to hold the images in his head of Thailand, enhancing a sexual experience that he had avoided masturbating to at all costs—he was straight after all, it was his parents who were gay—but the transsexual porn brought these memories back, and he no longer felt revulsion, and in fact, started to get off on the idea that the man fucking the woman was actually fucking a man, a dirty little secret that wasn’t a secret but added a level of fantasy to the moving video clips, a level of fantasy that his own memories augmented.
This attraction is one step beyond what he’s already felt, appetites already sated, a man numbed to the violent intensities of erotica the way a war junkie becomes numb to the intensities of war:
As a young man growing up, photos in magazines were enough to get him off. First, publications like Playboy were good enough, but then he upgraded to Penthouse; the open vaginal and anal shots of Penthouse, still done respectfully, were the next level. Then, he discovered Hustler, and his masturbatorial bar was set even higher—Hustler, now that was explicit, threesomes, full penetration, dripping cum shots, and a new and enticing category called Barely Legal, which forever altered the way he viewed young female teenagers running cash registers at ice cream stands and in grocery stores and Japanese school uniforms and cheerleading outfits.
The Internet proved to be a disruptive force for self-abuse. With the Internet, the sheer range of digital images did the job at first—he was able to stop watching videos on the VHS and start watching, on his computer, acts that he had read about but never seen—women sucking off farm animals, women urinating on the faces of other women, women urinating on the faces of other men, men urinating in clear streams into the open mouths of women, defecating even, strapped and bound with metal and leather contraptions, penetrated with massive objects like baseball bats and giant rubber dildos, a foot in diameter, or shaken soda cans stuffed in rectal canals, and on and on. These images—who was putting them out there? Where was it all coming from?
What he’s watching is changing him in ways that he’s not sure of at all, blankly indifferent to the violence of the imagery, and the connection to a growing numbness to war’s atrocities is obvious. Though the following excerpt is no more grim than that of the suicide bomber aftermath in Afghanistan, I do have to preface that the following is very explicit:
He was not terribly concerned about the moral implications until June 2002, when he’d gotten the fastest speed available and clicked on a link that said “vomit porn,” and at that moment he had a crisis of faith, or the closest thing one who does not believe in anything can have to a crisis of faith.
A white girl, wearing a blue skiers’ tuque with an embroidered golden star, had been kneeling down in front of a crowd and giving head to a black male of significant perpendicular length. Using the now ancient deep-throating technique, she worked the man’s cock avidly, eyes watering, his large hands clasped around her ears, occasionally pulling out to the left or right to make a popping sound against the suction on her cheek. At minute 2:33 into the clip, the standard degradation went off course; at first, the male performer responded as if it were still part of the performance, but then she ripped his hands away and started to crawl away, a desperate move, as if she were a child with motion sickness in the back of the car trying to unroll the window, or a coed searching for a bathroom stall after expecting to come into the restroom only to touch up her makeup. She started to puke, a yellow and a watery flow, all over the ground, and the camera first zoomed in on her face as she vomited, and then the camera pulled back to get the reaction of the cheering crowd and the still-hard penis of the black performer, and then the video ended, and A.E. Peoria himself felt sick, he felt ill, and wondered if maybe he shouldn’t be watching this stuff, maybe it was destroying his soul, if there was such a thing.
That didn’t last long.
This is not, I think, about a man becoming comfortably numb to the images of a girl vomiting, but about becoming comfortably numb to a clump of scalp being picked up, a blood soaked mop of hair, a chunk of flesh, where you become so used to the gore, you make jokes. “Pancakes,” says the soldier shoveling up the flesh, and you’re thinking the same thing. You are repulsed by the image, and yet you end up somehow wanting to see it again and again, going back one more time to Afghanistan or Iraq. Peoria is reminded of this moment of getting into vomit porn when he starts watching the transsexual stuff: “He thinks of it now because he’d had the same first reaction to the transsexual performers: that something was somehow unholy or desperately sick in the acts that were being performed, that it was somehow disturbing to his subconscious that the women being fucked in the ass used to be men.” Peoria and Justina sleep together, and when they are together they both are brought back immediately to the intimacy of war, and maybe that previous intimacy is why they’re attracted to each other now:
He usually has a hard time coming in hot water—he never masturbates in the shower, for instance—but he lets his imagination go, and his imagination goes back to the memory, the first time he had touched Justina, while he was still Justin, his hand warmed by blood, bodies pressed together, the absolute fear and excitement of death enveloping him, a memory so powerful he had pretended it didn’t exist, and with the warm water falling off his short, five-foot-seven frame, splashing to the top of the long black hair at his knees, he lets the memory wash over him, maybe even washing it away however briefly, and he comes.
Swallowing, Justina looks up.
“I know what you were thinking about,” she says. “I was thinking it too.”
They both start to cry.
In the epilogue, we are told Peoria and Salvador eventually get married; Peoria is chained to the war, he cannot let it go, does not want to let it go. Before that, there is the possibility that Peoria will publish Salvador’s story – the war, the gender reassignment, everything – because he’s a reporter and this is what he does. “Justina will be happy to help me tell this story,” he tells himself, but she isn’t. “You can’t do this. You can’t write about me. I’m not ready, I’m not ready for it,” she says. “I’m a fucking story to you,” she says. “I’m a fucking story.” He briefly falls apart, but they are reconciled by the morning. The book ends with Hastings taking Peoria’s notes, and doing the story instead. “I know by taking Peoria’s story, I’m putting the last nail in the coffin of his career, and I know that I’m also jeopardizing the privacy and future of Justina,” he says. But but but, and this is one of the last lines before the epilogue: “But I don’t agonize over it.” If the longing for sex in this book can be seen as a lightly guised account of the longing for war, then this betrayal by Hastings of Justina, and her near betrayal by Peoria, can be seen as Hastings reckoning with something else very real to him, something of the past almost entirely forgotten, something disgusting and outrageous, something to do with Gawker‘s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel”, the one identification they get very wrong and the one that’s prominently missing.
INTERMISSION: KARATE DOG
From “Hack: Confessions of a Presidential Campaign Reporter” by Michael Hastings:
In the weeks after New Hampshire, I went down to Florida to watch Giuliani lose for good. I received a press release saying academy award–winning actor jon voight endorses mayor giuliani, which seemed as good a death knell as any. Voight joined the mayor on the campaign trail. Most of Rudy’s senior staff were hiding from the press, so Voight filled the void with an impromptu press conference. He explained how being cast in Midnight Cowboy was similar to Rudy’s decision-making ability on 9/11. It didn’t make sense then, either. After running out of campaign questions—and since nobody cared what Jon Voight thought—a reporter from The New York Observer asked him about his daughter, Angelina Jolie. This was an answer worth listening to. He couldn’t confirm the rumor that she was pregnant, but he did “wish her the best in life.” Then a Fox News embed posted a blog item featuring clips of a movie he did called Karate Dog.
THE KILLING JOKE
“Before we get into it, your career owes a lot to a volcano in Iceland, doesn’t it?” radio host Leonard Lopate asked Hastings about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which resulted in flight delays that allowed Hastings to spend more conversation time with McChrystal and his aides. “My career owes to a lot of things,” answered Hastings, “that have put me in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time.”20 And one instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time which may have led to all his later work, which made this ambitious, driven reporter even more driven was the killing of his fiancé, Andrea Parhamovich, on January 19, 2007. Parhamovich had followed Hastings to Iraq, where she worked for the National Democratic Institute while Hastings was a correspondent for Newsweek. Hastings would make clear the importance of this for everything he did later in an interview with Scott Horton21.
So, now onto our next guest. It’s Michael Hastings. He is a reporter who’s got a new article in GQ magazine, you can find it in men dot style dot com…it’s called “Obama’s War”. Welcome to the show, Michael. How are you?
Great. Thanks for having me.
Well, you’re very welcome. I’m really glad you’re here. I’m sorry, I did not take sufficient notes…I know that you wrote a book about, I Lost My Heart in Baghdad or something, tell us about that.
Yeah, I wrote a book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story. It came out last year. It was about my girlfriend and fiance, Andi Parhamovich, who worked for the National Democratic Institute, and she had joined me while I was the Newsweek correspondent in Baghdad. She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write (laughs) I’m going to write the truth about what the war’s really like, and what the actual cost is. So, that’s what that book was about.
And so that’s why you’re not at Newsweek any more?
Well, you know, I had a great time at Newsweek, you know, great place to sortof come up as a reporter, but one of the things I felt…I wanted to say, I needed a different sort of venue for that. So to speak.
Hastings, in all the appearances I’ve looked at and listned to, comes across as congenial everyman, and despite being very knowledgable in the areas of politics and war, he never affects smugness or superiority – and yet there is a brief moment in that interview, a moment that recurs in several other places, that is always haunting, and that briefly makes him an alien figure, taking him out of the ordinary. It’s here in the interview, when he says “She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write”, and then he laughs, and it’s not like his other laughs, it’s like a laugh at a sick joke nobody back in the world, back in a peaceful United States, back in a country that doesn’t even remember that it’s at war, would know. It’s a laugh without cruelty, a strange mix of being very much a sincere laugh by someone full of passion and energy, but one that stands out as so empty – like the laugh of a ghost or a dead man.
“Reckless and Inspired”, the interview with Jonathan Hastings by “Paleo Retiree”, underlines, if necessary, the impact:
PR: How did your family feel about her [Andi Parhamovich’s] decision to follow Mike to Iraq?
JH: We definitely had misgivings about her going to the mideast. The last time I saw her my parents and I had just had dinner with her. Mike was already back in Iraq, and she was waiting to hear back about whether or not she had gotten the job with NDI in Iraq. I told her, in all seriousness, that I hoped she didn’t get the job. I also talked to Mike about her going and said that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I don’t think HE thought it was a great idea either, but he said that ultimately the decision was up to her — which was true.
PR: How did her death affect him?
JH: He was a real wreck. My parents — my father especially — got him through the first part of all of it.
The second half of the Last Magazine devoted to “Michael Hastings” is about his attempts to be published somewhere, anywhere, while he interns at Newsweek – I mean, The Magazine – and so he starts posting to Wretched.com under the pseudonym K. Eric Walters, and this is entirely based on real life. Wretched is actually Gawker (“HA. Subtle.”, Jessica Coen, the site’s then editor would write22), which is edited by “Sarah” (Magazine intro: “She’s cute, and I recognize her face because her picture is always up at Wretched.com”), who is actually Coen. “I remember taking him to random media parties (Molly Jong Fast’s book party at her mother’s condo comes to mind),” and this very item, published as “Team Party Crash: Molly Jong-Fast’s Book Party” by “lock” (Lockhart Steele), is there in the book:
The book party is for a daughter of a famous writer who wrote a women’s liberation classic back in the ’70s. The daughter’s memoir is one of those tell-alls about what it was like growing up around all these other famous writers. About all the fucked-up shit she saw at a young age, about the different men who passed through her mother’s life, and how that led, inevitably, to promiscuity, drug addiction, expulsion from high-priced schools, and, finally, a career in writing, the shadow of her mother looming over her.
The shadow has its advantages, like the fact that her mom is a famous writer with a really nice corner apartment on 81st and Park, a perfect place to host a book party.
Afterwards, Hastings is brought in to guest edit, and he uses the same pseudonym, K. Eric Walters (Magazine: “the name of a little-known and short-lived Irish revolutionary who had accidentally punched out a Brit in a drunken brawl, sparking a rebellion that Michael Collins would later take credit for”), that Hastings had when he edited Gawker for a week, from the first post, “Guest Editor: A Brief Introduction” (5/16/05) to the last, “Guest Editor: Acknowledgments, Feedback Still Welcome” (5/20/05). The workload is grueling, ten posts a day. “Ten posts a day. Where to find them?” There’s a press release on Steven King’s son publishing a collection of short stories. “Think he deserves this on merit?” asks the tipster. Answer: No. “I copy a chunk of the press release then write a few lines about how Stephen King’s son got a book deal because he was Stephen King’s son. Scathing.” Again, from life. “Owen King: In Praise of Nepotism Redux” by “kewalters”: “We don’t envy writers who have to scribble away in the shadows of their superstar parents. (See: Amis, Martin; Bellow, Adam.) Actually, we re lying. They get book deals! We’re so sick with envy we can’t even finish our own ‘works in progress.'” It was through this job that he met Andi Parhamovich.
“How did Mike meet Andi?” asks “Paleo Retiree”. Jonathan Hastings: “I’m pretty sure Mike met Andi when she was working at Air America and he was trying to get on the radio more.” From one epitaph, “Activist slain in Iraq `was an idealist'” by Louise Roug: “Parhamovich met Hastings when he came to interview Jerry Springer, who was on an Air America show in New York.” This interview is in “A Moment With Jerry Springer For Air America”, a post made two weeks after his guest editing stint23: “So we sent Gawker rentboy K. Eric Walters to brave the salsa at Rosa Mexicano on the Upper West Side”. Interview high point: “Springer: That’s where Democrats are getting it wrong. They’re talking about a strategy to win an election without first understanding that we have to offer a combination that reflects the culture. Hastings: And since your show has been called the lowest point in American culture, you think you can help the Democrats understand?”, though the overall high point is the disclaimer: “K. Eric Walters has never watched a full episode of the Jerry Springer Show, nor listened to any program on Air America. His political biases include NASCAR, Neo-Stalinism, and the Church of Scientology. In fact, he was totally unqualified to conduct this interview.” From “Activist slain”: “”It was the most boring Jerry Springer interview in history,” Hastings recalled. But an e-mail exchange about the story led to that first date — diner milkshakes.”
Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack that took the lives of the 28-year-old and three bodyguards — a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi. Two other security workers were wounded. None of these other victims’ names had been released.
“She was an idealist,” Hastings said of Parhamovich, who grew up in Perry, Ohio. “She always believed that people were good. Certainly, those ideals were put to the test when she came to Iraq.”
Parhamovich, known as Andi, followed heart and ideals when she came to Baghdad. Hastings, a reporter with Newsweek, was working in Iraq. But Parhamovich was also drawn to political work in Baghdad, teaching Iraqis about voting and how to establish a functional government.
She worked first for the International Republican Institute, joining the National Democratic Institute a few months later.
On Wednesday, Parhamovich had gone to meet a group of Sunni politicians from the Iraqi Islamic Party. “She was really excited about the meeting,” Hastings said.
After Parhamovich conducted her training seminar for the Sunni politicians, she left in a convoy with her armed guards. Moments later, the convoy was ambushed. The guards fought back but were outgunned by the attackers, whose arsenal included grenades.
“With God’s assistance, we have succeeded in the destruction of two SUV vehicles belonging to the Zionist Mossad, killing all who were in them, attacking them by light and medium weapons,” wrote the group that took responsibility, in a statement on a well-known Sunni insurgent website.
The group often refers to its targets as members of Israel’s intelligence service.
But in fact, Hastings said, “they killed a wonderful, unarmed girl.”
Shortly after this incident, Hastings would write a book about Parhamovich, her death, and their time in Iraq. Scott Horton: “I know that you wrote a book about, I Lost My Heart in Baghdad or something, tell us about that.” Hastings: “Yeah, I wrote a book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story. It came out last year. It was about my girlfriend and fiance, Andi Parhamovich, who worked for the National Democratic Institute, and she had joined me while I was the Newsweek correspondent in Baghdad.” Three weeks after her death, Hastings had sent the book’s proposal to agent Andrew Wylie, and there has been some questioning of his Hastings’ motives in coming up with a book so quickly, but I can think of one reason why he did so: Hastings wrote to survive that moment.
In “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel”, Gawker identifies a character named Brennan Toddly, a journalist who writes for a prestige magazine like The New Yorker, someone who meets with Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, someone who’s an advocate for the war, and Gawker names, wrongly, Jeffrey Goldberg. It was left to Tom Gallagher in his review in the L.A. Review of Books, “Michael Hastings Skewers Them From the Grave (with a Scoop of Gawker)”, to do excellent work making the case that this writer is actually George Packer. He notes that Toddly’s books – A Peaceful Village (1989 memoir about the Peace Corps), The Typewriter Artist (1996 novel), Awash in Red (1999 memoir of self-discovery on whether to stay a socialist) – line up almost exactly with Packer’s: The Village of Waiting (1988 memoir about the Peace Corps), Central Square (1996 novel), Blood of the Liberals (2000 memoir about deciding to leave the Democratic Socialist Party of America). One other similarity that Gallagher leaves out is Packer’s pre-war 2003 “Dreaming Of Democracy”, which features a meeting with Maikya whose elements are slightly re-written for Magazine, but whose source remains obvious.
This is an excerpt from one of Toddly’s articles in The Magazine:
After the panel discussion, I made my way backstage, where I encountered Kanan Makiya. I introduced myself to Makiya. He invited me to his home for tea. We walked across the campus yard, where a new class of coeds had just arrived, playing Frisbee and hacky sack. Easy, carefree thoughts. The opposite of what Makiya was thinking. “This is what Iraq was like when I was a child, before I had to leave,” he told me. “You Americans are finally paying attention. You must finally take action.” Three hours later, I had left his office, a bladder full of sweet chai, convinced. But the arguments with myself would continue.
This is “Dreaming”:
Last summer, the State Department convened a number of Iraqi exiles to advise the United States government on the problems that Iraq would face after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was called, rather grandly, the Future of Iraq Project. Among the topics was democracy, and among the Iraqis invited to join was a dissident named Kanan Makiya.
“It’s the architect in me,” he says, nursing a cold over Japanese tea in Cambridge, Mass., where he lives. Makiya is a balding and somewhat disheveled Brandeis University professor of Middle East studies with a soft, intense manner. His office in a Cambridge apartment is lined with leatherbound books on Islamic history and literature. When his cellphone rings, he apologizes for having temporarily acquired one — “a disaster for a writer.” The immediate world of waitresses and crosswalks constantly surprises Makiya out of his thoughts, which these days are elsewhere. This unlikely revolutionary is taking the huge gamble that by riding on the back of an American war, he can hold the Americans to their own talk and help direct the outcome.
There is no single sentence substitute for “But the arguments with myself would continue”, but there is this paragraph later on:
The unease among Americans, even those who support the president, about the war and its aftermath is certainly due to fear of unknown consequences. It might also come from the sense that we’re trying to have it both ways — guns and butter, war without sacrifice, intervention without commitment. If Iraq succeeds in becoming a democracy under American protection, it will represent the triumph of hope over experience for both countries. It’s a notion that I always found easier to imagine when I was within earshot of Kanan Makiya.
“Frankly, I was tickled to see George pilloried in this book — even though it appears that few have realized he was part of its inspiration,” is one sentence filled with Gallagher’s glee over his ideological opponent being made a target. Though he does excellent deductive work, Gallagher does not seem to know why Hastings has picked out this particular war advocate, that the choice was not arbitrary, and Hastings’ animus is not due entirely to Packer’s position on the war. It was Packer who reviewed I Lost My Love in Baghdad for the New York Times, “What She Did for Love”. It is not an uncharitable or unnecessarily cruel review. There are two stories in this book, and “[o]ne senses that the war story, conveying an experience that consumed Michael Hastings during a crucial period in his mid-20s, is the book he really wanted to write. It is better written, more vividly rendered, more intensely felt,” writes Packer. And there is the second storyline: “The love story is told with greater insistence and less conviction, without memorable passages or surprising recognitions. It accounts for the embarrassing title and the whiff of exploitation that hangs over “I Lost My Love in Baghdad.”” Packer compliments Hastings’ succinct descriptive skill, as a journalist who “learned his trade and kept his eyes open amid the grotesque history being made around him”, and picks out this description of Saddam Hussein in a courtroom, after the nimbus of power was gone: “He had the look of a depressed businessman, a former C.E.O. in a corporate fraud case.” When it comes to the second plot, this writer’s power fails: “Why is Hastings unable to summon anything like this facility when describing Andi Parhamovich, the young woman whose death prompted him to write this book?”
There are many sections in the review that might have roused Hastings’ anger, none more than the last:
Hastings comes close to blaming the N.D.I. [National Democratic Institute, the NGO which Parhamovich worked for] for Andi’s death. It seems senseless to him, inevitably — not just because of his anger and grief, but because he has little to say about the substance of her work there and her attitude toward it. Beneath the literary shortcomings in the love story there is a deeper flaw. Hastings didn’t take the time to struggle with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face: the nature of Andi’s motives and his own, the conflict between work and love, between ambition and a normal life, and his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility. That effort would have made a better — though more painful — whole of the book’s two halves.
Hastings would release his venom toward Packer in two places besides the The Last Magazine. Packer would review Mark Danner’s Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War in the Times in 2009, “Heart of the Matter”. This would provoke a lengthy letter from Danner, “‘‘Stripping Bare the Body’: Letters”, where Danner took exception to Packer not making his early support for the war explicit and clear in the review: “Whatever this may say about eccentric attitudes toward journalistic fairness or personal integrity, it certainly shows contempt for Times readers, who might have found themselves puzzled by the oddly personal and defensive tone of the review and many of its gratuitously nasty and distinctly strange observations”. Hastings would send in his own letter during the controversy to Editor & Publisher, “UPDATED: Packer Responds to Hastings Letter on ‘NYT’ Book Review”:
I saw your story [“UPDATED: Danner Challenges ‘NYT’ Choice of Book Reviewer in Lengthy Letter — Packer Responds”] on the Mark Danner versus George Packer controversy. This isn’t the first time George Packer has reviewed an Iraq book in the New York Times that should have raised conflict of interest questions. In April 2008, he gave a fairly negative review of my book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story.” My book was also very critical of the war in Iraq, a war that Packer supported. He did not disclose his support for the war in that review.
The more egregious conflict of interest, though, was his close relationship with the National Demoractic Institute, an NGO that I was highly critical of. (Andi Parhamovich, the women I was set to marry, was working for NDI when she was killed, in a large part due to NDI’s failure to provide proper security.) Packer had even met with the president of NDI, Kenneth Wollack in the spring of 2007; in the meeting, her death was discussed. A year later, the negative review in the Times came out, defending NDI, and parroting NDI’s talking points against the book. (NDI refused to cooperate with the writing of the book, and it was only under great pressure that they even shared details of what happened with Andi’s family, almost nine months later, another fact Packer failed to mention.)
At the time, I decided to take my lumps–bad reviews are part of the deal, and the majority of reviews the book got were favorable. However, I actually happen to have just read Mark Danner’s “Stripping Bare the Body.” It is an excellent work, and for Packer to have reviewed it seems quite unfair. Obviously, I’m not a neutral observer, but there does appear to be a pattern. (For the record, I have great admiration for Danner’s reportage, and I think Packer is a talented journalist, though I’ve never met either of them.)
What seems to bug Packer about Danner’s book is similar to what bugged him about mine: the books focus on the what Packer calls the “creepy” details of the consequences of war, details which clearly make him uncomfortable. That is, what war actually does to human beings, and how human beings actually behave. After having been one of the many thoughtful cheerleaders for the war in Iraq, Packer has never been able to come to terms with the human cost of the bad ideas he promoted. I fear he suffers from the anxiety of getting it wrong — it’s certainly a blow to the ego for a self-styled foreign policy writer to have whiffed on the most critical foreign policy question of this generation. So it’s easier to attack others who got it right, to criticize a writer like Danner who saw the folly of the Iraq excursion before the fact, not after.
(the writer is currently in Baghdad)
Packer would respond:
You’re right: my review of “Stripping Bare the Body” didn’t say “history proved Danner’s position on the war right.” That was a loose (maybe too loose) paraphrase of what I did say: “[His] point of view has served Danner well in his far-reaching criticisms of the foreign policy of George W. Bush, especially on Iraq.” The meaning is similar.
I conveyed to the Times in advance that Danner and I knew each other but had no history of friendship or enmity.
The length of Danner’s letter (1400 words, about the length of my original review) and my reply (300 words) might say something about prolixity but not about wrongdoing. I answered Danner’s charges as succinctly as I could, in the belief that readers shouldn’t be subjected to drawn-out quarrels between authors and reviewers.
In my review of Hastings’ “I Lost My Love in Baghdad” (New York Times Book Review, April 20, 2008) [hyperlink added], I wrote that I had met members of the National Democratic Institute on several trips to Iraq. In other words, they were sources of mine, and I was capable of coming to my own conclusions about NDI’s responsibility for Andi Parhamovich’s death (mixed: “a terrible mistake, but not an incomprehensible one”). By Hastings’ standards, it would be unethical for a reporter with sources in the Bush administration to review a book that criticizes the Bush administration. These are the provisional standards of an author who didn’t like the review he got. I gave his book a not-so-good review because it was a not-so-good book–in fact, a bad book, and undeserving of mention alongside Danner’s.
Although it goes unmentioned specifically in Hastings’ letter, I would think the sentence that would upset him the most was one of the last in Packer’s review: “Hastings didn’t take the time to struggle with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face: the nature of Andi’s motives and his own, the conflict between work and love, between ambition and a normal life, and his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility.” Why, Hastings, might ask, is he being charged with confronting responsibility for Parhamovich’s death by someone who advocated in favor of the war? Hastings would underlie this issue on his own blog post devoted to the Danner-Packer argument, “Mark Danner versus George Packer, and the nature of a bad review”: “Packer, a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, seems to like to trash books that are quite critical of the war in Iraq. And in doing so, he always fails to mention that he was a vocal supporter of war in Iraq.”
So, this is the misidentification that Gawker makes, and that was caught by Gallagher. There is a missing identification, however, of a very minor character, who is nonetheless given a relatively lengthy descrption. His appearance will puzzle most readers, and certainly he puzzled me. Why give so much space to a man who simply appears briefly and then disappears? Gawker most certainly would have been able to make the ID, as he was a prominent and highly placed employee, but they make no such naming. The character appears at a party held at a club called The Dark Room, and we might contrast this figure with the far briefer overview of these other cameos, almost all of whom are limited in appearance to only their names in this paragraph, all of whom are based on actual characters:
There is Allan Tool, who holds some kind of deputy managing editor title for Wretched; Franklin Liu, who blogs on Mediabistro; the other Sarah, Sarah Klein, who does Gothamist; some guy named Arnie Cohen, most notorious for his ability to get mentioned on everyone else’s blogs without actually doing anything of note, except hitting on Sarah Klein in the back of a taxicab and then blogging about his rejection; Jennifer Cunningham, who would later have a “crisis of conscience” and leave Wretched to focus more clearly on herself; and on and on, names with a “blogspot” and a “dot com” attached, names that I’ve heard of before by reading one referring to the other. The closest thing to someone from a traditional media outlet, besides myself, is a kid with short dark hair and beady eyes and a skinny tie who works for the New York Herald named Jonathan Lodello—he is here, Sarah whispers, to do a story on the new new media scene, a story that will surely then be linked to on all the blogs of everyone sitting around the table, generating traffic and page views that can help with the advertisers and buzz.
Allan Tool is Lockhart Steele, the managing editor of Gawker Media in 2005; Franklin Liu I have a very good guess for, but since the character does cocaine and people remain uptight about that habit, I’ll keep it to myself; Arnie Cohen is, I think Joshua David Stein, who would go on to write “The Dangers of Blogger Love”, which, disappointingly, is not about a herpes outbreak in the wordpress community; the self-absorbed Jennifer Cunningham can only be Emily Gould, infamous for her self-absorbtion24, and I’ll take a guess later as to why Hastings puts crisis of conscience in such poisonous quotes; Jonathan Lodello is…who knows? Maybe Ben McGrath, who would write probably the best profile of Gawker founder Nick Denton, the New Yorker‘s “Search and Destroy” and whose piece about an artists’ collective which designed habitats for writers, “Writers at Work”, was linked by K. Eric Walters in “The New Yorker Unlocks Secret to Blogging”: “The New Yorker‘s always enterprising Ben McGrath made the harrowing, God-awful trek to Queens last week to visit Flux Factory, an alleged artist’s collective.” Maybe Andrew Ross Sorkin, who profiled Denton in 2003 for the Times, “Building a Web Media Empire on a Daily Dose of Fresh Links”. However, a blogger party at some horribly fashionable bar with a journalist looking on, if not partly taken from Hastings’ own experience, is very much from “Everybody Sucks: Gawker and the rage of the creative underclass” by Vanessa Grigoriadis.
Sarah Klein is just about the only character in the paragraph who stays a while on the stage, with her and “Michael Hastings” hooking up that night. Jessica Coen, on Gawker’s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel”: “I am pretty sure he briefly dated Rachel Sklar. Relevant, I know.” “Michael Hastings’ Dangerous Mind: Journalistic Star Was Loved, Feared and Haunted” by Gene Maddaus: “Writer Rachel Sklar met him, and dated him for a few months, when he was living in New York and working for Newsweek.” Sklar in 2005 wasn’t at Gothamist, but MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY (she was, however, profiled on Gothamist: “Rachel Sklar, co-editor and writer of FishbowlNY”, an interview with Rachel Kramer Bussel), would go on to run the Eat the Press blog at the Huffington Post (including the insightful piece on Gawker, “Wow, Everybody Really DOES Suck: Drowning In The Bile Of Gawker, Page Six, and New York”), and now works at The Li.st, a tech start-up. That Sarah Klein is “the other Sarah” might be a joke on the fact that Jessica Coen and Rachel Sklar bear a passing resemblance to each other. Both Literati voyeurs and those doubtful that the sex in the book is anything other than an expression of Hastings’ pervy impulses might wish to note that the moment between Sarah going to his apartment after the party and her leaving the next morning is left chastely unspoken.
There is one character, the one already referenced several times, who is set aside from this paragraph, and who is given a considerable amount of space, seemingly for no purpose, leaving the reader to wonder: why? Here is the full excerpt in which he appears. I bold the most important lines:
I sit down next to another kid.
“Kelly,” he says.
“Mike,” I say. “Kelly, as in Kelly Treemont?”
“I’ve read your blog. I thought you were a woman. The name.”
“I get that. You don’t do the powder either?”
“Nah, I used to do that shit a lot but stopped.”
“Me too,” he says. “I’m very boring now. I live with cats. I’m in recovery.”
“Great. I work for a magazine.”
“Dead tree, oh no.”
“Yeah, the trees are pretty dead.”
“You know, to be honest, I take a little Adderall still,” he says. “It helps me in my writing. I’m working on a memoir. About my experiences with drugs and alcohol, and I don’t know if you know, but I’m gay, so it’s about my experiences with drugs and alcohol and being gay and everything.”
“Sounds great,” I say.
“You know, I think it’s been out there, a little, but my experience, I think I have a really unique perspective.”
“How long have you been working on the book?”
“Three years. This blogging, you know. But I found an agent. She’s excited.”
“Very cool. Having fun?”
“I’m waiting for Timothy. He’s supposed to show.”
“Of course. He doesn’t like these places—he prefers Balthazar, a place where he can pretend he’s Anna Wintour or Graydon Carter—I think coming here reminds him too much that he’s not really one of them, no matter how hard he tries. He’ll always be more Larry Flynt. But you should watch out. He’s a collector of straights.”
“Is that right?”
“Aren’t you the one they have guest blogging this week?”
“There are things you could do, you know, if you want to make it permanent.”
“Good to know. Is that how, uh, I mean, has anyone else ever done those things?”
“Me, of course, but it was brief, and I thought I loved him, though he is such a fucking scumbag.”
“Yeah, sounds like it.”
“Oh, watch this, this should be good.”
The other Sarah, Sarah Klein, stands up from the table and grabs Jonathan Lodello’s hand.
“She has such huge tits,” Kelly says. “You know the backstory?”
“Franklin broke up with her three days ago. She’s totally pissed about it, and she is totally convinced that Franklin is going to go and sleep with Sarah, and so she has to make him jealous by dancing with Lodello. If you want to get laid tonight, you should really talk to her, I’m mean, she is going to be ready to go away with someone cute like you.”
“Oh, thanks, right.”
“You have very nice eyes.”
“Yeah, I appreciate that. They work okay.”
Timothy Grove is a very, very obvious Nick Denton. Kelly Treemont: “He doesn’t like these places—he prefers Balthazar”. Nick Denton runs things from his apartment, according to “Everybody Sucks” by Grigoriadis, “which is around the corner from the Gawker offices and across the street from his unofficial office, Balthazar (hence his faux IM name on Gawker.com, DarkLordBalthazar).” Magazine gives this caricature a guise ridiculous in being so obvious in its inversion. Magazine: “In all the profiles I’d read about him, the writers mention his unusually tiny head on a skinny six-one frame.” From a 2005 New York Observer profile by Tom Scocca, who will be mentioned later and who would go on to be a Gawker editor: Denton’s face “is mounted on a gigantic head, a head worthy of Linus Van Pelt or Antoine Walker.” Kelly Treemont and Timothy Grove have been in a relationship together – “it was brief, and I thought I loved him” – and this is the detail that makes me certain that Hastings had read Harlot’s Ghost. Two major characters in the novel are a high level spy chief and his wife, a researcher-analyst, and we are given their full names on the day of their wedding: “Hadley Kittredge Gardiner [Garden-er] to Hugh Tremont [Tree-mont] Montague.”
One might compare how Hastings views this character, and the man who may be its inspiration, by looking closer at his George Packer, Brennan Toddly. Tom Gallagher might take overwhelming joy in seeing a one time advocate of the Iraq war skewered, but in this case, Hastings’ venom overtakes him, and I think he draws Packer very wrong. He re-makes Packer as a fussy intellectual, whose thoughts are full of inflated, exhibitionist portent. In Packer’s “Dreaming”, he writes of Maikya’s office to establish some sense of the man; in Hastings’ re-writing of the article, the campus details are there to ennoble and elevate above the ordinary folk, who are indifferent to great issues: “We walked across the campus yard, where a new class of coeds had just arrived, playing Frisbee and hacky sack. Easy, carefree thoughts. The opposite of what Makiya was thinking.” There is the final line, “Three hours later, I had left his office, a bladder full of sweet chai, convinced. But the arguments with myself would continue,” which makes Toddly the center of all things: Toddly is important, the arguments with himself are important, his bladder is important. Again, we can contrast this with the last section of “Dreaming”, where the doubts are not Packer’s, but the entire country’s: “The unease among Americans, even those who support the president, about the war and its aftermath is certainly due to fear of unknown consequences. It might also come from the sense that we’re trying to have it both ways — guns and butter, war without sacrifice, intervention without commitment.” Packer represents himself as a member of that national body: “It’s a notion that I always found easier to imagine when I was within earshot of Kanan Makiya,” and the idea that Iraq could be re-made through American invasion and war was sold through the very equation he gives, “the triumph of hope over experience for both countries.”
I think of Hastings’ animus as rooted in that last paragraph of Packer’s review – that Hastings did not struggle “with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face”, most specifically, “his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility.” My responsibility, I imagine Hastings thinking. I was against this war from the outset and you were for it. Who are you to speak of my responsibility? Hastings re-builds Packer entirely out of this paragraph of occluding self-importance, and in doing so, makes a caricature that rings false. The question is not whether Hastings is fair or unfair for me, or whether Packer has sufficiently repented, and I make no attempt to involve myself in the fracas between Mark Danner and Packer; only whether we, as readers, think that’s him, and this reader does not. Hastings makes you think Brennan Toddly must be some academic who writes of everything at a great distance, and it’s this quality that made me certain that the ID of Jeffrey Goldberg, who worked for years as a crime reporter25, must be wrong, and that Hastings was aiming for someone more like Paul Berman or Michael Ignatieff. Packer’s book on the Iraq war, The Assassins’ Gate is a devastating history, and its power lies with the diligent, detailed, closely observed reporting, in D.C. and Iraq. The same is true for his recent account of inequality and dysfunctional American life, The Unwinding. The Assassins’ Gate may not have been a sufficient mea culpa for Hastings – perhaps nothing could be – but anyone familiar with the book will find Toddly a false, bad impersonation.
Hastings feels a passionate, live wire anger for Toddly and Packer, a man he feels worthy of hatred, someone with sufficient intelligence and influence to help bring about the war. Hastings may not acknowledge Packer’s skills in his caricature, but he does in his letter – “I think Packer is a talented journalist” – and part of his anger stems from this very fact, the ends to which he put his talents. Hastings’ anger erupts in the one scene where Toddly makes a live appearance, rather than a simulacrum, and the last time he’s referred to in the novel, and the only moment that Toddly and A.E. Peoria meet. It takes place at the Baghdad Hamra Hotel26, at a party after the invasion, when Peoria gets hold of a spray can:
Holding the spray paint, he steps up to where the water laps against the filter, and he stares at the concrete, water from the pool gathering in small rivulets.
He thinks of two words
There is no “No Diving” sign, no warning!
Christine swimming, the crowd getting noisier, louder.
Peoria bends over, arm outstretched, the spray paint can good and shaken.
He starts spraying, in large, yellow, sloppy letters: NO DIVING.
The next few hours: black, image, black, black, image—a face.
The face of Brennan Toddly.
A conversation—no, an altercation.
“I think,” says Brennan Toddly, sitting next to Christine, Peoria sitting next to her poolside, “that what you did was disrespectful.”
“Christine jumping in?” Peoria says.
“No, you. Your spray-painting. That was a sign of disrespect.”
Peoria, yelling, now five months or seven months of what—of anger, of disillusionment, and thinking about the dead Americans and Chipotle without a dick and how cold he was that night in the desert and thinking of those slaughtered goats and donkeys and Iraqis he’d seen on the side of the road on the way into Baghdad, the piles of man shit in the terminals at the newly liberated international airport—is screaming: “Aren’t we a little late for that, Brennan, disrespect? You’re the motherfucker who said this was going to be a great idea, you’re the motherfucker who advocated bombing a city and occupying a country and killing all sorts of fucking people, and you think I’m the one who is being disrespectful? I read your shit, man!”
A salsa bowl spills, a table gets turned over, crashing drinks.
In his review, Gallagher chortles at this, “On behalf of at least a few of Packer’s former colleagues, I’d like to say, “A.E., I couldn’t have said it better.””, and in doing so, he misunderstands why Peoria is made to be so angry at this moment, and it’s for the same reason missing from his review as for Hastings picks out George Packer, of all people, to caricature. Toddly has only two lines, and one of them is crucial: “I think that what you did was disrespectful.” Why does he say this? Because Peoria is spray painting “NO DIVING” near the pool. Why does he do this? Because a woman, a correspondent, has dived into the pool, not knowing how deep it is, not knowing how dangerous it is. “Peoria, with his years of being trained in the art of American safety…realizes it is very dangerous, the pool.” And so, Peoria writes a massive warning for others. Again, what does Toddly say right afterwards? “I think that what you did was disrespectful.” Packer doesn’t accuse Hastings of this exactly in his review, but I think he says something of equal meaning: “The love story…accounts for the embarrassing title and the whiff of exploitation that hangs over “I Lost My Love in Baghdad.”” Peoria yells back: “Aren’t we a little late for that, Brennan, disrespect?”, and here we see why, once again, it’s a mistake to think of Peoria as Adam Piore. This is Hastings yelling at Packer, and this scene about graffiti and a pool isn’t about those things at all, but about Hastings’ writing an account of the death of Andi Parhamovich, to give a sense to others of how dangerously wrong things had gotten in Iraq, and Packer alleging that it exploited the dead.
Again, I make this detour to contrast the intensity of feeling that Hastings has for Brennan Toddly, and what he has for Kelly Treemont. There is the passionate anger that Hastings has for Packer and Toddly, and there is the low volume disdain he has for Kelly Treemont. Almost every detail of Treemont’s character renders him a pathetic figure. He loves Timothy Grove, but he is only badly used in return. “I’m working on a memoir. About my experiences with drugs and alcohol, and I don’t know if you know, but I’m gay, so it’s about my experiences with drugs and alcohol and being gay and everything,” says Treemont, as if such a book by a New York City writer would stand out in any way now, but Treemont thinks it will, thanks to something that’s intended to convey a sense of self-delusion: “I think I have a really unique perspective.” Hastings wrote quickly and wrote a lot, four books including The Last Magazine, and there’s an exchange here to prick writerly self-indulgence. “Michael Hastings”: “How long have you been working on the book?” Kelly Treemont: “Three years.” Treemont has only gotten his position at Wretched by sleeping with Grove, he tells Hastings that he has a chance with Sarah in the sleaziest way possible, he is attracted to Hastings but Hastings wants nothing to do with him. Hastings, the writer, has contempt for this man, but he also feels sorry for him; there is nothing of the deep, lasting anger that he has for Toddly.
The reader is given a few clues as to who this might be. “Kelly, as in Kelly Treemont?” “That’s me.” “I thought you were a woman. The name.” Also this: “I’m very boring now. I live with cats.” “How long have you been working on the book?” “Three years.” I think these small details lead you to one person, involved in one incident which again dealt with Andi Parhamovich and I Lost My Love in Baghdad, and which would have affected me deeply as well. It’s an incident that has been almost entirely forgotten, and I would never have known about it, were it not for its mention in David Weigel’s obituary for Hastings, “”I’m Asking You a Question. That’s My Job.” Michael Hastings, R.I.P.”:
Hastings was a cynic blessed with talent and purpose, and he was a survivor. When he was 25, he moved to Baghdad. His girlfriend followed him there, and died there. He wrote a memoir about his heartbreak and it was leaked to snotty New York literati, who mocked it on the Internet [archive.today link]. The controversy (Hastings would tell people later, with a remarkable lack of bitterness) opened the gate to legal purgatory.
That link, “was leaked to snotty New York literati, who mocked it on the Internet,” goes to a story, “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'” (link at archive.today) by Jonathan Liu (stories at Gawker credited to “jliu”), which, as Weigel says, was a vicious mocking by the writer and Gawker‘s commenters. Liu was one of the weekend Gawker writers, along with his fellow Harvard grad Leon Neyfakh (stories at Gawker credited to “lneyfakh”)27, and this post was made at noon Saturday. They had obtained the manuscript through the New York Observer, and when literary agent Andrew Wylie asked the Observer to take down the manuscript and for Gawker to stop linking to the material, Gawker mocked the request the following Monday with “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill” (link at archive.today), a post written by the site’s then editor, Choire Sicha. For the longest time, I thought this writer was a woman because of their first name, and for the longest time I mispronounced it as SCHWOIR, when it’s got a much simpler sound: Co-ry. Kelly. Cory28.
“I’m very boring now. I live with cats,” says Kelly Treemont, and Sicha mentions his cats quite often. Sample: “Q: How many cats do you have? Do you ever let them drive? etc. Sicha: “I only have two cats…One of them is a fucking ENORMOUS cool black-and-white frat boy. The other is this tiny neurotic gray lady. THEY ARE IN LOVE.”29 Sicha was working on a novel, or non-fiction or memoir presented as a novel, or whatever, for what seems like the longest time, with the book announced in 2009, “It’s going to be about being young in recession-era New York, and it will be published…when he finishes his reporting about a year from now” (from “Choire Sicha, An Ancestor of Ephemeral Gawker, Writes a Book” by former Gawker weekend writer Leon Neyfakh), and Sicha’s Very Recent History finally coming out in 2013.
Though it was published several months after Hastings’ death, it was a novel that felt like it had been conceived entirely so that Sicha could say to the man: yes, you got me entirely. Though Sicha emphasized the reporting he did for the book, it appeared to follow a protagonist who worked for the New York Observer till it was taken over by Jared Kushner, just as Sicha did, who suffered tax problems, as Sicha did, and which very much feels like a not badly written, but very undistinct autobiographical tale of a gay man in New York City in 2009. The unremarkable story is burdened by a unique perspective where mundane aspects of political and economic life are explained in the most tedious, abstract, and unnecessary detail, a kind of “explain our present world to the ten year olds of the distant future.” One example, part of a multi-paragraph explanation on currency:
Those who had very much money, who retained these markers of value, even if the value was very abstracted, could avail themselves of other people’s money. They used their money as an insurance of the borrowed monies’ return. This sort of money might not even be in paper form but might instead just be distributed through banks, whose job it was to hold money, and therefore the “actual” money might be put to thousands of different purposes by those banks and only be registered as attached to the current “owner” of the money by means of records.
These explanations mean that you make it through the familiar points of a narrative about young social life with agonizing slowness, with the young social life itself not terribly interesting. This novel appears to a preparatory exercise for what it’s like to live in a rather spartan home for the elderly, to know what it’s like to eat milkless cereal after you’ve had a massive stroke. I’ll put in a link to a contrasting perspective from the New Yorker, “Choire Sicha, the Anti-Blogger” by Alice Gregory, which credits Sicha not only with a great novel but with changing the way we speak now, and which, to my mind, has the delusional quality of promotional brochures for real estate inside war zones.
However, I do not want to come off as uncomfortable about literary experimentation. Perhaps the best way, I think, to present Jonathan Liu’s “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”, whether it’s because I’m possessed by a desire to be overly clever, or perhaps something else, something darker, is by interweaving his work with the articles on the death of Parhamovich.
“(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”: “April Fools’ Day? Tomorrow? No way! That’s it, we’re out for the weekend to plan some cyber-pranks to do on AOL.” “American Killed in Iraq Was Set to Marry” by Kim Gamel: “Andrea Parhamovich was fully in control of her impending engagement, detailing the ring she wanted as well as helping to plan the formal engagement trip [to] Paris, Valentine’s Day.” “April Fools”: “But we won’t leave you hanging without fin-de-semaine reading material.” “Killed in Iraq”: “Parhamovich was killed in an ambush in Baghdad, and the Newsweek reporter in Baghdad who planned to marry her said Friday she had e-mailed him just last week with specifications for the ring.” “April Fools”: “Thanks to the Observer, we’ve read the 131-page proposal for Newsweek reporter Michael Hastings’s upcoming I Lost My Love in Baghdad, which we’re told agent Andrew Wiley has sold to
Random House Scribner for a cool north of a cool half-million.” “Killed in Iraq”: “”We were going to formalize everything,” said 26-year-old Michael Hastings, recalling that Parhamovich’s ring finger was a size 6.” “April Fools”: “Far as we can tell, ILMLIB — which begins with epigraphs from Iraq General George Casey, Prussian icon Carl von Clausewitz, and “Angel of the Morning, 1960’s pop song” (!!) — is some sort of experimental memoir about Green Zone romance leading up to the literal (that is, literal literal) January death of Hastings’s gf Andi Parhamovich.” “Activist slain in Iraq `was an idealist'” by Louise Roug: “Hastings hoped they would spend their lives together. But on Wednesday, Parhamovich died in a hail of bullets, ambushed outside a Sunni Arab political office in Baghdad. Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack that took the lives of the 28-year-old and three bodyguards — a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi. Two other security workers were wounded. None of these other victims’ names had been released.” “April Fools”: “And, yes, it is called I LOST MY LOVE IN BAGHDAD. Needless to say, this portends the end of Western civilization as such; highlights from the 75,000-word manuscript after the jump.” “Activist Slain”: “”She was an idealist,” Hastings said of Parhamovich, who grew up in Perry, Ohio. “She always believed that people were good. Certainly, those ideals were put to the test when she came to Iraq.””
“Activist Slain”: “Parhamovich, known as Andi, followed heart and ideals when she came to Baghdad. Hastings, a reporter with Newsweek, was working in Iraq. But Parhamovich was also drawn to political work in Baghdad, teaching Iraqis about voting and how to establish a functional government.” “April Fools”: “Yikes. Before “The Day,” Hastings and Parhamovich were just your typical twentysomething Baghdad power-couple:”
The week before a major battle had taken place on Haifa Street, a five minute drive from the bureau but outside the Green Zone… I wanted to get to Haifa street, what was being called “an insurgent stronghold.” It took two days to process the request.
Andi had come over to the bureau Thursday afternoon. Everything was going well until I was about to leave her alone in the office. I got worried she would check my email on the screen of my computer.
“I have to close my email account, I don’t want you looking at my email.”
“What are you hiding,” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said,” but I know if you see the name of any girl you’ll get upset.”
She didn’t like this, and for about fifteen minutes I apologized, before we went to my bedroom.
This time, she forgave me quickly; she seemed to have gotten upset only because that was what was expected, the role we were so used to playing. I say something stupid, or do something stupid, she gets angry at me, I beg and apologize, tell her she is the love of my life, and we make up. We layed down for about an hour or so. We didn’t have sex.
“Activist Slain”: “After Parhamovich conducted her training seminar for the Sunni politicians, she left in a convoy with her armed guards. Moments later, the convoy was ambushed. The guards fought back but were outgunned by the attackers, whose arsenal included grenades.” “April Fools”: “So much smoldering emotion. Almost makes you forget about the massive human suffering taking place out on Haifa Street. There are also text messages involving pandas:”
The messages I sent her from my Iraqna gives me space for only 25 of them, and they don’t have a date.
Love you cub [jan 17.
Love jan 17
Hug panda [jan 17
Cub love you
Leaving now love
I miss you
Love you cub
Love you baby
Be careful love
Going home soon
“Activist Slain”: “After graduating from Marietta College in Ohio, Parhamovich worked in the Massachusetts governor’s office. In 2005, she got a job doing fundraising and publicity for Air America.” “April Fools”: “It’s hard to know what to think.” “Activist Slain”: “”She was beautiful,” [Hastings] said. “Funny. Intuitive. Really brilliant. And a bit of a nut.”” “April Fools”: “Personal tragedy bleeds into History; insurgents; lovers’ squabbles; suicide bombs; $500 K book deals.” “Activist Slain”: “Parhamovich thrived, hitting the ground running, Hastings and several of her friends say. “She wanted to be here, at the center of things, helping people,” Hastings said. “She was fearless.”” “April Fools”: “Yeah, someone get us a coping mechanism: things are pretty fucked up.” “Activist Slain”: “”She is pure at heart,” [Hastings] said, bringing her to life — momentarily — in the present tense.” “April Fools”: “April Fools! —Jon”
The follow-up piece, “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill” by Choire Sicha, had no sympathy whatsoever for Hastings:
On Friday at a little after 5 p.m., the New York Observer posted up a 131-page book proposal by Michael Hastings, a Newsweek Baghdad correspondent. The memoir is about his time overseas and the death of his fiance. The Observer post promptly disappeared. Besides the obvious copyright issues with making the whole shebang available, there was another reason mega-lit agent (and poet!) Andrew Wylie wanted the proposal disappeared from the internet: it was going to get people killed in Iraq.
While al Qaeda doesn’t obsessively monitor Gawker yet, despite the frequent aid we supply to terrorists by means of identifying ideal targets (Simon Hammerstein’s Box theater and Schiller’s Liquor Bar—plus all of Blue States Lose!), there is the question of why then it’d be acceptable for Wylie to distribute a book proposal that identifies targets in the first place.
The letter from law firm Covington & Burlington gave another reason for why the document should be taken down – there were details that Parhamovich’s family didn’t know about, including that Hastings was writing a book about their daughter:
In addition, please take notice that Mr. Hastings advises us that the Work contains information that relates to the security of personnel at the Baghdad bureau of Newsweek and identifies certain news sources by name. Obviously such material was never intended for public distribution [actually, sic: It’s a manuscript], and by publishing the Work in its website, the Observer is potentially endangering all of these persons. Continued posting of the Work on the Observer’s website only increases the chances that some harm may result.
Furthermore, Mr. Hastings advises us that private and information [sic] regarding the late Andrea Parhamovich, as yet not know [sic] to her own family, is reflected in the Work.
Choire Sicha thought this all was hilarious:
Okay, so, that’s just messed up. The military-industrial-entertainment complex that was so quick to encourage young Hastings to sell his diaries at a tasty price is in way over its head. They felt compelled to put this on the market so fast that no one even did any sort of clearance, including with the family of the woman the book is ostensibly about. Sick. Was there some reason this had to rush to market? Was there a competing, equally tragic memoir? Are purchasing editors going to be “over” Iraq memoirs in the next couple months?
We sorta figured that the whole Didion death memoir thing would go seriously wrong on the next iteration anyway.
Apparently the person that we understand is the purchasing editor, Scribner’s Nan Graham, is qualified to possess material that supposedly endangers Americans abroad—material that, given all these claims, will need to be removed before publication anyway. Meanwhile, Andrew Wylie can’t be enjoying that he’s spending down his $75+K commission on lawyers with minimal English skills. —choire
In his flattering profile of Nick Denton, “The Gawker King”, Tom Scocca, the future Gawker editor, would compare this kind of writing to that of the Algonquin Round Table: “the kind of Internet astringency that Alexander Woollcott and his crew of gossip-wits would almost certainly have been sprinkling on the blog world if they were around to click and cluck in 2005.”
There were various comments for “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal”.
Good thing I took my fucking Zoloft today. All tears aside, good one! Im totally throwing this one at my ex-Marine husband tommorrow. I’ll keep him on edge (weary,forlorn) just long enough to get that new Marc Jacobs bag Ive been dying for. Muhahahha
You really had me at “Ever wonder why first-person accounts of terrorism can’t read more like haikus?”
Because I have, dammit.
I Brad Pitt pre-purchased the film rights, it wouldn’t be such a stretch. Watch what happens. Your April fools post will spur someone to actually do this.
I’ve written better Gawker comments. Not that they’ve been published or anything. Buncha fuckheads.
Best Gawker T-Shirt Ever:
I lost My Love In Bagdad [sic]…
April Fools Douches!
There were various comments for “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”.
what is up with the androgynous spellings of “fiancé/e” these days? when I see “fiancé,” I expect the affianced to be a man — so either there have been a lot more gay weddings and engagements recently, or people just can’t be bothered with literacy. Actually, either of those is pretty likely.
I more often see people referring to “fiancees” with XY chromosomes and external genitalia to match. That’s even more wrong.
And the perfect first line for this book is:
What can you say about a twenty-eight-year-old girl who died IN BAGHDAD?
@JupiterPluvius: A 500k advance means (almost) never having to say you’re sorry?
Another T-Shirt suggestion, this time from JupiterPluvius:
Gawker T-Shirt suggestion:
MY GIRLFRIEND DIED AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY HALF-MILLION DOLLARS!
There was a single comment that expressed anything like sympathy with the subject, from cabbage:
That book proposal is all kinds of redonkulous — but I know Mike and he’s a really decent, friendly guy. Also, have you forgotten that he once guest-edited this site?
There was a disclosure at the end of “Book Proposals Kill”, of the time before Iraq, before Michael Hastings came home and started keeping a gun by the bed: “[Disclosure: According to Radar, Hastings briefly guest-blogged on Gawker anonymously some time ago.]”
In the December 5, 2007 Gothamist interview “Choire Sicha, Ex-Gawker Editor” by John Del Signore, which came after Sicha’s resignation from Gawker, there would be the following question and answer:
Are there any Gawker posts you regret? I don’t know that I regret anything. I know I’ve definitely done misinformed or knee-jerk things. But I think it’s important not to regret anything.
They had not finished entirely with Hastings, yet. There is the line in the blogger party about “Jennifer Cunningham, who would later have a “crisis of conscience” and leave Wretched to focus more clearly on herself,” and this, as said, can only be Emily Gould. For a post made at the end of that week on April 6, 2007, “Gold Star Motel: Trumping In Her Kushner” (archive.today link), a curation by Gould of the site’s best comments of that week, she had picked out a lucky winner from “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”. Stand up, JupiterPluvius, you get a prize: “And the perfect first line for this book is: What can you say about a twenty-eight-year-old girl who died IN BAGHDAD?” This post was made on the same day that Emily Gould would make an infamous appearance on a “Larry King Live” episode hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, devoted to the new paparazzi and Gawker‘s often questionably sourced gossip.
This very moment would be well known enough to be re-played, with dialogue almost verrbatim, in an episode of The Newsroom (via “Sorkin Recreated This 2007 Fight Between Kimmel and Gawker on The Newsroom” by Matt Wilstein):
From the transcript, “Paparazzi: Do They Go Too Far?”:
KIMMEL: My problem is you post things that simply aren’t true on the site and you do no checking on your stories whatsoever. I’ll give you an example. There was a story about me that popped up on my Google search. It said “Daily Gawker Stalker, when isn’t Jimmy Kimmel visibly intoxicated?” And there’s a story about me being visibly intoxicated. I know it may be funny to you but I didn’t find it that amusing.
KIMMEL: And a matter of fact, the story that talks about me being drunk, I was coming home with my cousin’s — my cousin’s 1-year- old birthday party with my elderly aunt and uncle and my kids and my cousins and I was — I may have been loud but I was far from intoxicated and you put these things on there. I mean I know you’re an editor. What exactly are you editing from the website?
GOULD: There’s a whole other aspect of our website that doesn’t have anything to do with the Stalker Map. But what the Stalker Map is citizen journalism. People don’t read with the expectation that every word of it will be gospel. Everyone who reads it knows that it isn’t checked at all.
GOULD: What they read it for is immediacy.
KIMMEL: I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
GOULD: You don’t unfilter sort of the way people that perceive celebrities in real time that you don’t get from any other media. And that’s what I think is great about it.
In a long confessional, “Emily Gould – Exposed – Blog-Post Confidential”, Gould would write of the appearance, “Called upon to defend Gawker’s publication of anonymous e-mail tips of celebrity sightings, I was dismissive and flip. My untrained, elastic face betrayed the shock and amusement I was feeling about being asked, somewhat aggressively, to justify something that I thought of as not only harmless but also a given: the idea that anyone who makes their living in public was subject to the public’s scrutiny at all times.” She would react badly to the exposure and the hateful reaction to her appearance: “I started having panic attacks — breathless bouts of terror that left me feeling queasy, drained and hopeless — every day. I didn’t leave my apartment unless I absolutely had to, and because I had the option of working from home, I rarely had to.” Only when she read “Gawker and the Rage of the Creative Underclass” did she realize the harm she was doing: “The article painted Gawker as a clearinghouse for vitriol and me as a semisympathetic naïf who half-loved and half-loathed what her job was forcing her to become,” and this prompted her to resign. Gould would publicly quit the site in November 2007, announcing it in the post, “A Long, Dark Early Evening Of The Soul With Keith Gessen”, but then it was because of the exposé, “Gawker: 2002–2007″ written by Carla Blumenkranz and published in n+1, the magazine edited by Keith Gessen, Gould’s future husband. “I took a phone call and when I got back, Choire had told Keith he was quitting Gawker.” Gould: “Yup, we’re quitting!” Gessen: “Because of this?” Gould: “Sort of. Well, not because it was written. But because it’s not untrue.” It’s this context that perhaps makes Hastings’ reference to her, “Jennifer Cunningham, who would later have a “crisis of conscience” and leave Wretched to focus more clearly on herself,” understandable, and why he was filled with sufficient malice to make sure she was on the Wretched staff in 2005 so he could make this crack, even though Gould only joined Gawker in 200630.
A year after Hastings had died, Gould would say the following, in Aaron Hicklin’s “Overstepping the bounds: how blogger Emily Gould has been oversharing”:
“If I wanted to get really melodramatic about it, I could say that I feel like I was punished,” Gould says today. But whatever remorse she feels, it is not for stalking celebrities; it is for making fun of other writers — once a meat-and-potatoes target for Gawker’s editors. “I don’t think people understand that writers, with very few exceptions, aren’t rich and don’t have power,” she says. “I don’t think I understood that when I was at Gawker, and now it’s been made abundantly clear to me, by a God who has a sense of humour, if you want to believe in stuff like that.”
Though the posts making fun of I Lost My Love in Baghdad appear on the second page of results for a search of the name “Michael Hastings” on Gawker (link), this moment was never brought up in his obituary, “Journalist Michael Hastings Killed in Car Accident at 33″ (archive.today link) by Taylor Berman – though it did feature links to his older posts as K. Eric Walters, which preceded the “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal” and “Book Proposals Kill” posts. It was given no mention in the post, “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” by J.K. Trotter, and as emphasised here, the Choire Sicha caricature of Kelly Treemont was left un-IDed. This was a little surprising, since the allegation that someone only got an editor’s position by sleeping with the publisher is the sort of thing that the old Gawker gorged on.
Jessica Coen, the former editor of Gawker and the later editor of Gawker Media site Jezebel remembers the book party for I Lost My Love in Baghdad, in her letter: “He went back, then his fiancée died over there and I recall going to the memorial/book party (which was weird and felt a little garish but sincere at the same time, if that’s possible), and that was when we started to really lose touch.” No mention is made of the leaked proposal to the Observer or Gawker, though I find it difficult to believe that Coen, either now or then, did not know about the leaks and the mocking posts on Gawker.
“The darkness, the darkness, oh the darkness…The darkness in his bedroom had even taken on his scent.” The Magazine‘s A.E. Peoria collapses into a depression when he’s given forced leave after an outcry erupts about his reporting on abuse at Abu Ghraib. He suffers from the memories of the war, his girlfriend has broken up with him, he is utterly alone, and working as a journalist gives him life – but he no longer has his job. “A.E. Peoria had hated the lights at the office, the radiating lights…sucking the soul, draining life from the skin. But how he missed those lights now.” He wants The Magazine to go to hell, he wants it to burn. “But then, like a slave, he thought, he wanted The Magazine to forgive him, he wanted The Magazine back.” This is not, I think, Adam Piore’s life, but Hastings’ life after Andi Parhamovich was killed and his memoir proposal was published in the New York Observer and Gawker. The manuscript showed too much angry criticism towards the American occupation, which Newsweek felt was detrimental to his reporting, and so they gave him leave. This is mentioned in one of the few news pieces to cover the episode, “A death in Baghdad echoes in blogosphere” by Simon Houpt in The Globe & Mail:
A few days after the funeral, possibly to help himself work through what had happened, Hastings did what reporters do: He began to write. He wrote furiously for a month straight, churning out 75,000 words about Parhamovich’s death, about their relationship (the good and the bad), about his past battles with substance abuse and Parhamovich’s own dark past, about the abysmal security situation in Iraq. His ground-level view of Baghdad is eye-opening and depressing, and he is nakedly dismissive of those at the top. (“Bush proclaims a war and lists excuses for it,” he writes.) Hastings produced a very rough manuscript, bitter and raw and forthright, and it was full of spelling and grammatical errors and some embarrassingly intimate and cheesy prose, but still he gave it to someone at the Wylie Agency, the powerful literary shop with an office across West 57th Street from Newsweek, and they sent it to publishers around town with the title I Lost My Love in Baghdad and sold it on March 29 for a reported $500,000 (U.S.).
The next afternoon, Friday, March 30, someone (perhaps someone at a publishing company that lost out on the book, it’s unclear) e-mailed the manuscript to the New York Observer‘s media blog. Someone there — evidently a junior someone there, possessing limited experience with copyright law and a similar lack of good taste — followed the bloggers’ dictum about information wanting to be free and figured it would be a great idea to post the whole manuscript, all 131 pages of it. The post went up without the participation of the blog’s editor. (The Observer didn’t return requests for comment.) The next day, someone working the weekend shift at Gawker.com — evidently a junior someone there — decided the news about the book and its contents would make for fine comic fodder. He riffed on the text messages between the two lovers that were included in the manuscript, and joked about, “the literal January death,” of Parhamovich.” Never mind that Hastings had actually been on a freelance assignment for Gawker on the night he met Parhamovich; in the blogosphere, it’s all fun and games until someone gets — oh. Sorry.
By Monday, the grown-ups were back in charge. The Observer eradicated the post from its website after receiving a lawyer’s letter which suggested that the manuscript, aside from being copyrighted, contained information about the Baghdad operations of Newsweek that, if disseminated, could endanger people over there.
But there are other consequences to the Observer‘s post. The lawyer’s letter suggests that the manuscript contained private information about Parhamovich that Hastings had not yet related to her family. That’s putting it mildly: In fact, as I discovered over the weekend, Parhamovich’s family didn’t even know Hastings had been working on a book about their daughter.
He’d planned to tell them at some point, perhaps after sitting down with them and telling them about how Parhamovich had died. They don’t yet know all the details. But then, neither does Hastings. He’s back in Baghdad, searching for the truth about her death. That’s the only work he can do over there now. When the book contract was being hammered out, he was in transit to the Middle East, intending to do more reporting for Newsweek. But last Friday, Mark Miller told me the manuscript’s release by the Observer had suddenly scuttled those plans because it exposed Hastings’s cynical view of the war. “We don’t normally want our correspondents to be expressing these kinds of views,” said Miller. “Given that it is out there, I think it’s best that he not be reporting for us from Baghdad. There is a perception issue.”
There is the major misperception here of this being a rogue, unintended action by a Gawker staffer; a weekend writer posted the initial piece, but his editor, the then over-thirty Choire Sicha, backed him up entirely, and piled on in the mockery and ridiculed the idea of taking down the manuscript. Because this moment has been ao little looked at, a central remains unanswered, in this article and after: how did this manuscript that was at the offices of the Observer, end up at Gawker? Both weekend writers, Jonathan Liu and Leon Neyfakh would go on to work for a long period at the paper, and both Liu and Neyfakh had already published several articles there31. The manuscript was originally excerpted in the Observer’s “Media Mob” section, which was edited by Tom Scocca, who, two years earlier had done the Denton profile, “King of Gawker”, and would later join Gawker Media, first as an editor at Deadspin, than at Gawker32. Those who’ve read Scocca’s Beijing Welcomes You will know that he was in China at the time, covering the preparations for the Olympics. Scocca is, however, good friends with Sicha. They shared a by-line on “Miracle on 33rd Street”; Scocca has a regular column on The Awl, the site co-founded by Sicha after he left Gawker in 2007; Scocca and Sicha thank each other in their book acknowledgements – Beijing: “Choire Sicha was a good-enough friend and adviser to read the first pile of words, before it even qualified as a manuscript”, while Very Recent History features a half page of names, including Scocca and Emily Gould. Choire Sicha would start out as an editor for Gawker from 2003 to 2005, then go to the Observer as an editor until early 2007, when he returned to Gawker as editor again, before quitting in November and going back eventually to the Observer33. So maybe, while Scocca was in China, Sicha helped manage that section, and that’s how I Lost My Love in Baghdad made it from Point A to Point B.
(From left to right: Tom Scocca, who was editor of the Media Mob section which first published the “I Lost My Love…” proposal; Jonathan Liu, who wrote “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”; Choire Sicha, who was his editor at Gawker, and who afterwards wrote “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”; Emily Gould who would pick out the best comment in “Book Proposals Kill” for their weekly comment round-up, that week titled “Gold Star Motel: Trumping In Her Kushner”. Photo credits, respectively: Riverhead Books, Capital New York, Rachel Sklar, Lisa Corson)
Hastings did not let any feeling of violation show easily through. “I remember getting an e-mail from Mike that was like, ‘Fuck them, I’m on Haifa Street,’” said one close friend34. He did, however, remember. In the obituary, “Michael Hastings Popped The Press Bubble, From The Campaign Trail To The Front Lines”, Michael Calderone would write “The first time I met Michael Hastings, he confronted me.” Calderone had worked at the Media Mob section when they’d published the proposal, and Hastings wanted to know if he’d had anything to do with it. “Despite his suspicions, I had nothing to do with the story. And after a contentious back-and-forth, we ended up chatting over drinks.” For what it’s worth, I believe Calderone’s account. And Hastings must have remembered the incident with some animus at least until 2009: given the shared material of the book and the May 2009 post, “‘The Army Is A 24-Hour Gay Joke'”, he was working on the book as late as then. He remembered what had happened, and he made sure to put in a caricature of Choire Sicha as an inconsequential, pathetic figure.
We do know what someone else felt after their proposal was leaked onto Gawker and published, someone who’d already had to grow a thick skin to all manner of slights and insults, and that was Lena Dunham. “Dunham says the worst Internet-related experience of her career came in December 2012, when Gawker got hold of her book proposal and posted all 66 pages of it,” writes Meghan Daum in “Lena Dunham Is Not Done Confessing”. Dunham: “It felt like such a violation to put my unedited work out into the world. As a writer, there is nothing more violating. I would rather walk down the street naked — no surprise — than to have someone read my unedited work.” This was a much smaller violation than what Gawker did to Hastings, but one can understand the sense of being exposed raw, of being out of control, and one can fathom that Hastings was in an even deeper pit than A.E. Peoria in The Last Magazine: “he had faced the darkness for three days and he didn’t want to move.”
We think of those in mourning as inhabiting a sacred space, a place not to be violated, that we too will feel the same depths that they will when we suffer loss, and that is why we feel the Westboro Baptist Church protests to be obscene, and that is why I think this act was obscene as well. I picture Nick Denton, Choire Sicha, and Jonathan Liu as a bunch of schoolboys coming across a stray dog wailing in the cold, a stray that simply wanted the biting cold to stop, and these schoolboys were bored, so they decided to set this dog on fire to hear what awful cries it would make.
“He’s not a fully human person,” says a former colleague about Nick Denton in Ben McGrath’s profile “Search and Destroy”. “He almost sees people as Legos moving around,” says another. Michael Hastings was a lego piece that didn’t act the way it was supposed to. He was supposed to break here, I guess, to wander off into some job in advertising in the Midwest, to stay away from journalism and war and all the horrific excitement of the world. The only problem was that they had miscalculated how exactly Hastings had been broken by war. He didn’t stay away, but instead kept going back again, and again, and again. I think, against my choice, I am without sentimentality now, but there is a moment in Hastings’ writing that truly gets to me, a small moment in his post from early 2010, “My advice to journalists: Smoke crack, Twitter occasionally”, and it’s not his facetious “I have smoked crack. I recommend it for all writers to try at least once, especially to New Yorker staffers,” but right after the line “It might be that the journalist’s life will be more of a hustle, more entrepreneurial than in the past few decades”, the small parenthetical: “I mean, really, how many times will I have to email Glenn Greenwald before he links to this blog…” Whenever I read that, I make myself ridiculous and have to fight back tears, and I might guess at why: Michael Hastings had no idea how successful he would be, in just a few short months. He would end up lauded one of the best reporters of his generation, a better reporter than Tom Scocca, a better reporter than Choire Sicha, better in this field than any hack to come out of Gawker, whatever small compliment that might be. He did his passionate best to fight against what he thought of as an insane, unending spectacle of death, he committed so much to it in a world where some people couldn’t even be bothered not to laugh at a mourning man. If you were to ask me if I thought his manuscript being leaked and jeered at was a part of the steps which led to his young death, I’d say: these things are somewhat like charity, and every little bit helps.
Let me be clear. The anger displayed here is entirely my own. It does not flow out of any connection to family or friends, or that I think I am acting on their behalf or Michael Hastings. It is my anger. This does not come out of snobbishness, or disdain for the low brow: I love the lowbrow, and I used to read Gawker every day. I’ve promoted Gawker in the past, I’ve promoted The Awl in the past, and I now feel like a fool for doing so. You need look for no other motive for my anger but this vile act. It is this, only this. This. It is a disgust that you can treat someone with such contempt, that someone in the depths of misery should be seen as nothing but one more shattered man, one more near dead body, to be spat on. I hear the ghostly laugh of Michael Hastings when he says “She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write,” and it inspires a ghastly, malevolent wish in me, that all those involved in this, all those who abided this, should have the person they love dearest, to whom they are closest, to have that love torn from this life, and as they collapse into weeping over the senselessness of it all, when they are falling in that pit of despair, when they truly wish for some sense of warmth or comfort to reach out in the world, that some fiend cackles at their pathetic form. That is my wish when I hear that laugh, and it is toxic, vile, and inhumane.
Choire Sicha would speak on the subject of reporters’ ethics in a 2012 interview with Ernst-Jan Pfauth, “The blogger and the murderer – an interview with Choire Sicha”, where he cited the usual touchstone on the subject, Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer:
I often profile people for magazines and one of the things I take from Malcolm’s book is being superconscious about what you know and what you assume about your subject. So, if I were to interview you, we would have an engagement, a personal involvement. I’d ask you all these personal questions and then, I could basically betray you and write down my coloured version of everything I thought about you. The book is a reminder about the fact I’m continuously selling people out.
I’m not sure why he felt the need to make such a high minded reference, since he appears entirely okay with betraying the sources of another journalist. In “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”, Sicha writes that Andrew Wylie “wanted the proposal disappeared from the internet: it was going to get people killed in Iraq.” Then: “While al Qaeda doesn’t obsessively monitor Gawker yet, despite the frequent aid we supply to terrorists by means of identifying ideal targets…there is the question of why then it’d be acceptable for Wylie to distribute a book proposal that identifies targets in the first place.” That this material might be redacted or that sources would be given aliases in the published version is never brought up. Hastings’ lack of discretion when writing the proposal could be attributed to a torrent of feeling over the dead, and this is enough to give license to Sicha, Liu, and Gawker to print anything they want. That has nothing to do with Janet Malcolm. That’s just being a scumbag.
Hastings knew Malcolm’s words as well, and he brings her up in The Operators, when he discusses the editing of “The Runaway General” piece:
Over the next three weeks, Eric [Rolling Stone editor Eric Bates] and I went through two more drafts of the story. Under his guidance, the piece took shape. Eric had more than twenty-five years’ experience in reporting and editing investigative pieces, earning seven National Magazine awards, the industry’s highest honor. I knew McChrystal’s team wouldn’t be happy with the way the story was shaping up. It was the classic journalist dilemma. Janet Malcolm had famously described journalism as the art of seduction and betrayal. Any reporter who didn’t see journalism as “morally indefensible” was either “too stupid” or “too full of himself,” she wrote. I disagreed. Without shutting the door on the possibility that I was both stupid and full of myself, I’d never bought into the seduction and betrayal conceit. At most, journalism—particularly when writing about media-hungry public figures—was like the seduction of a prostitute. The relationship was transactional. They weren’t talking to me because they liked me or because I impressed them; they were talking to me because they wanted the cover of Rolling Stone.
It was one thing for Hastings to speak of a complicit subject like Stanley McChrystal, and another to write of the intimate dead. I sometimes wonder how much Sicha actually knows about the things he cites35, but I have no such questions about Hastings, or that he took such questions seriously. We have, I think, the evidence in The Last Magazine, which ends with A.E. Peoria nearly betraying the trust of Justina Salvador, and then “Michael Hastings” betraying it. The person who publishes the Justina Salvador story, who prints it without her permission, isn’t some otherly villain, but the old Michael Hastings, the earlier Michael Hastings who was working at Gawker, Michael Hastings before he went to war, “Michael Hastings”:
I’d like to say that I agonized over the decision, that I thought twice about it—because I know by taking Peoria’s story, I’m putting the last nail in the coffin of his career, and I know that I’m also jeopardizing the privacy and future of Justina. Who knows how the military is going to react to this? Most likely they’ll strip her of the GI Bill benefits. Who knows how the liberals at Barnard are going to react to having been deceived? Maybe they will support her, maybe not.
But I don’t agonize over it. I don’t want to lose my job, and if Sanders finds out that I’m the leak, then I’m done for too.
Plus, this is a great opportunity. My first cover story for the magazine.
I see this ending as Hastings genuinely struggling with the question of violation when writing about someone dear. They betrayed you, Andi, when they posted the leaked proposal, I imagine him thinking. But did I betray you first? If I was still at Gawker, would I have done what Jonathan Liu did? The book is an attempt to reckon with this whole moment again, but to tell it as fiction, to tell it slantwise, at such a slant as to be an obscurity to most. The graffiti sprayed poolside is writing about the mourned. Rather than to try and get at describing the sick addiction of war, war becomes sex, so The Last Magazine has “unusually detailed sex scenes that are just plain bizarre”, but whose toxic essence is easy to read if you’ve been following the writer’s intent.
Death makes things sacred, properly sacred, a nimbus of protection that is the right of the humblest of souls and which no amount of wealth (such as Nick Denton being worth around $70 million36) or education (Denton is an Oxford grad, Liu is a Harvard grad37) gives you a right to violate. It is the sacred quality of death which makes “Owen King: In Praise of Nepotism Redux” mere rudeness, while “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal” is morally vile. It is death which disuades the raising of questions, and death which impels us to raise them, as Hastings so often did. It is death, unexpected youthful death, which casts a nimbus of depth and mystery on the most ordinary moments, such as this one, Hastings first appearance on the Sam Seder podcast, “The Majority Report”38.
Alright folks, we are back. This is Sam Seder on The Majority Report. On the phone, it is a pleasure to welcome to the program as he traverses, apparently a snowstorm, on Route 87, he should be able to handle that, I mean the guy’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan, reporting, 87 is a fairly straight road, so uh, I think we’re safe. Michael, welcome to the program.
Thanks for having me, yeah, long as the state police don’t mind that I’m probably violating some sort of law while talking on a cellphone while driving, but we won’t tell them about it.
Alright. Let’s assume you’re talking on a headpiece, and…
(laughs) Yeah, hands free.
Hands free. In which case, I’m no longer, I’m not aiding and abetting anything.
“I mean the guy’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan, reporting, 87 is a fairly straight road, so uh, I think we’re safe,” is the line, of course, I dwell on. The unfinished, the unexpected blank space, the abrupt silence is thought to contain an exotic conspiratorial mystery, when the mystery may be more tangible, may be elsewhere: that Hastings never arrived home safe, that Hastings never quite left Afghanistan and Iraq.
Death grants a nimbus to this final moment of Hastings’ last appearance on “The Majority Report”, where he discussed the David Petraeus-Paula Broadwell scandal39, and it’s with this exit that I end here.
I have a feeling there’s more to drop. I mean it just seems…
This thing has a lot of different aspects to it. So, drive carefully. Don’t text while you’re driving. Don’t check your email.
Take care man.
“Whom? In the immortal words of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, ‘Whom? Whom does this all benefit?’”
TO BE CONTINUED
(On January 22nd, 2015 the footnotes, which were out of sync were corrected. On January 24th, the second section’s heading was changed to “My Reality, Your Entertainment” to “The Killing Joke”. Originally this post wrongfully refered to Jessica Coen as the current editor of Jezebel; this post was made on January 21, 2015 and Coen stepped down as Jezebel editor on July 7, 2014 – see “Mixed emotions as Jezebel gets new editor” by Peter Sterne, for one reference. On February 12, 2015, this error was corrected.)
1 This criticism of Hastings’ work can be found in the long footnote to a long piece on Anthony Pellicano, “Rising Sun: The Image of the Desired Japanese Part Three, foonote #214″, and it dealt with his article on John McTiernan’s dealings with the Hollywood detective, “The Tragic Imprisonment Of John McTiernan, Hollywood Icon”. My language is strong, but I do not regret it. I think his editor should have passed on the story as submitted, and he should have either built up his case more against the prosecutor, or made a complex, nuanced piece, where McTiernan was no innocent, and where Pellicano acted illegally under McTiernan’s orders and with his knowledge, but where people who had used Pellicano with far more frequency had escaped prosecution.
I will also say that if you told me that Hastings came across the writing on this site during the 2012 campaign and thought it was the most awful, sycophantic garbage out there, it would not surprise me – I say this to avoid any charges of sentimentality in this post.
2 That Hastings, after a decade of sobriety, had relapsed in the period before his death is not a point of speculation. From “Reckless and Inspired: An Interview With Jonathan Hastings About His Brother, the Journalist Michael Hastings”:
PR [“Paleo Retiree”]: I know you flew out to check in on Mike just a day or two before the crash.
JH: As I told the police out in L.A., a few days before he died, Mike called me and I got the impression that he was having a manic episode, similar to one he had had 15 years ago which he had referred to in his writing. At that time, drugs had been involved, and I suspected that might be the case again. I immediately booked a flight to L.A. for the next day, with the thought that maybe I could convince him to come back to Vermont to dry out or (less likely) get him to go to detox/rehab there in L.A. When I got to L.A. and saw him, I immediately realized that he was not going to go willingly. I started to make arrangements with our other brother to fly out and help me possibly force Mike into checking himself into a hospital or detox center. I’d thought that I had at least convinced Mike to just stay in his apartment and chill out for the next few days, but he snuck out on me when I was sleeping. He crashed his car before anyone could do anything to help him.
Curiosity will presumably bring lots of readers to Emily Gould’s debut novel, Friendship. Gould earned a certain level of internet notoriety (neteriety?) as a star blogger for Gawker, back when Gawker was a publishing-industry gossip blog and not an edgier Huffington Post. One of the two main characters in Friendship, Amy, has a job as an editor for Yidster (“the third-most-popular online destination for cultural coverage with a modern Jewish angle”), where every day she chooses “a few posts from other blogs for [her employees] to, er, reimagine” and works at the whim of a dilettantish wealthy man who has no idea how blogs are supposed to function. Everybody loves romans à clef, especially when the à clef is cracking open a media outlet that leered at everyone else’s dirty laundry for years.
This suggests that Gould’s writing about Yidster is a veiled look at Gawker, when it’s most certainly not, and most definitely a look at the far more obscure Jewcy, another website where Gould worked. This is not supposition, but something Gould said explicitly in an interview with Maureen O’Connor, “Emily Gould Didn’t Mean to Provoke Lena Dunham”:
So when people say that your foil is Amy, the character who “stood up for her right to be mean on the Internet” by quitting a gossip-blogging job, or that Bev is your Emily Books co-founder Ruth Curry, that’s not the case?
It’s just more complicated than that. Bev definitely has some of Ruth’s background, in terms of her midwestern, evangelical upbringing. Amy looks like me, and I gave her a job that is similar to one I had. The people at that job are made up, but the location of the job, in Dumbo, and also its ridiculous name, Yidster, is something like Jewcy, where I worked for a glorious three months right after I quit Gawker. But now I’m trying to think about what else is autobiographical in the book, because clearly none of that shit happened. Neither Ruth nor I has ever been pregnant. Sally is completely made up. And even though Amy looks like me and does some things that I have done, she’s not me. She’s more like some aspects of me that I’m trying to exorcise.
4 Hastings gives us some sense of Patel’s books in one conversation where a co-worker asks the character “Michael Hastings” whether he’s read Patel’s most recent book and what he thought:
“I thought it was good,” I say. “Especially the parts about transparency and corruption.”
“What’s it about again?” says Jerry, who makes a point not to pay attention to anything Nishant Patel–related that does not directly affect his stories or mood or job security. “Outsourcing, right? That fucking bastard.”
“Uh, sort of. It’s really about benevolent dictatorships.”
The editors are listening to me.
“Benevolent dictatorships. How, you know, democracies evolve, and how they really take time to evolve, and so, though human rights activists like to push for changes really quickly, stability is preferable to quick or immediate change, and expecting immediate change, you know, is really, really a folly. Illiberal democracies. You know, like Tiananmen Square was a good thing, because look at the economic growth of China, when a democracy there could have really fucked—sorry, excuse my language—really slowed everything down.”
“What countries does he talk about?” says Anna.
“Oh, you know, the Middle East, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, the, uh, warm countries. But America too, and he makes this kind of interesting argument that the problem with our government is that it’s too transparent, that it should, I guess, be a little more secretive—that the transparency sort of paralyzes us and prevents good decision making.”
A contrasting global perspective, Hastings’ own, can be found in The Operators, during his brief stopover in Dubai:
This was the role model we’d been pushing on the world. If only Baghdad and Kabul and Kandahar could be like Dubai! If they could all be tax havens and resort towns and business friendly. How beautiful it would be, to remake the entire “arc of instability,” as American war planners called the area stretching from the Middle East to Central Asia, into an archipelago of city-states like Dubai, which boasted the largest shopping mall in the world, the Mall of the Emirates, with boutiques for terrorists and tyrants and businessmen alike. What a model it was! Just ask the Uzbek who had brought up my luggage and the Paki who drove me to the Palm. The world was flat, the edges of the empire jagged and bloody, but we could smooth it all over, eventually.
So, talk to me about it. So, if you guys don’t know, obviously, Michael, huge story about Michael…about General McChrystal, and eventually General McChrystal stepped down, because of the revelations in Michael’s story…that’s old school journalism, he documented it, he was there, et cetera, and i remember when it came out, I praised you to high heaven, not knowing you at all, because I was like, this is what you’re supposed to do, you’re supposed to cover them, then reveal to people what your government is doing, et cetera et cetera. So, it had real impact. Now, a story like that, Newsweek in the old days, you would think, would have loved, right?
Right, right. Depending on the…I’ll do a caveat. Newsweek when Jon Meacham was editor, they would not have printed my story. I can guarantee you that, because-
Why do you think that is?
Political reasons, for reasons that there’s a sense that at Newsweek we were supposed to uphold…that we are supposed to reinforce our societal myths, not deconstruct them, and not kindof expose them. And there’s a real mission there, certainly under Meacham, Meacham sucks. He’s on my eneemies list. One of the people I wanted to go a rant on at some point this week. They’re not going to push the button. Senior military officials, despite how they lied to us through a number of wars, despite the Pentagon Papers, despite all we knew from what we knew from that Newsweek mainstream perspective, we’re going to put them on this pedestal, and we’re not going to criticize them in that way. And I know this for a fact. You can actually go back and read Newsweek‘s profile of McChrystal [most likely “General McChrystal’s Plan for Afghanistan”, which came out September 2009] which was done by a really great reporter, a guy named…I don’t want to get him in trouble [Evan Thomas], but they took this great reporter’s stuff, and then they buried it. So, one of the reasons that I kinda knew there’d be an interesting story here, is when I read this original Newsweek story, a year before mine came out…wow, the reporter is trying to tell the truth here, and the editors are killing it. If you have editors who are kinda willing to let that stuff free, uh, let it go, maybe there can be something.
6 The initial Zakaria scandal is discussed in “A Media Personality, Suffering a Blow to His Image, Ponders a Lesson” by Christine Haughney, while the second scandal is discussed in “Fareed Zakaria’s anonymous pursuers: We’re not done yet” by Dylan Byers, on the work done by @crushingbort and @blippoblappo, at Our Bad Media.
7 From Magazine:
Tabby Doling’s thing is that she’s friends with a bunch of famous and important people, media types, heads of state, Academy Award winners from the ’70s. Though she’s partial owner of The Magazine’s parent company, on the masthead she’s listed as “Special Diplomatic Correspondent,” which is kind of a joke, because that would lead readers to assume there are people above her in the hierarchy, which there are not—she even has a floor to herself, the notorious twenty-third floor.
Tabby is one of those people who, if you bring up her name in conversation around New York, you’ll most likely get three or four really great anecdotes about. Everyone who’s met her has a moment to recount, told with the bemused acceptance that if you’re that rich and that eccentric, it’s par for the course. Gary’s [Gary, no last name, Sci/Tech editor at The Magazine] Tabby Doling story, for instance, is that he was standing in the hallway on the sixteenth floor when he heard a knocking on the glass; someone had forgotten their ID. When Gary went to answer it, he saw Tabby through the glass and decided to make one of his customary jokes. “How do I know you’re not a terrorist?” he said, as if he wasn’t going to let her in. And she responded, “I’m Tabby Doling,” with a real flourish and emphasis on both her first and last names. Gary thinks that’s why he got passed over for the domestic sci/tech gig and has been stuck in international. That’s a pretty low-level story, too, not one of her best.
I don’t know her at all and haven’t spent time with her, which isn’t surprising, as she has a $225,000-sticker-price Bentley and a driver I always see idling outside the entrance on Broadway for her—though she did say hello to me in the hallway once, so in my book that’s a plus.
Perhaps one of the best, and easily the most acerbic profiles of Weymouth is in the bygone Spy, “Mom Always Liked Him Best: Why Lally Weymouth, Katharine Graham’s Difficult Daughter Does Not Run The Washington Post” by Henry Alford:
By virtue of being a multimillionaire third-generation V.I.P. – and despite being an occasionally very charming person, a devoted mother and an extremely hard worker—she represents to many people all that is feudal and high-handed in the world, And each time Weymouth confirms These preconceptions—such as the time she ran into an acquaintance at an airport, allowed him to lug her bags aboard the plane and then, once seated, turned to him and said, “So I hear you like Hitler”; or the times she has walked up to Newsweek employees and regally informed them. *My mother is really mad at you—Weymouth’s critics feel slightly more justified, a bit less surprised by her behavior. In effect her critics lower their expectations. Over the years, they have con• tinued to lower their expectations — and Lally Wemouth keeps on meeting the challenge. She is zealous, She is abrupt. She is noisy. In the manner of a rich. brattish child, she throws a brilliant party but can make an unpleasant guest: once. when required to wait about five minutes for a table at a Manhattan restaurant, Weymouth became incensed, screamed at her companion and proceeded to fly into a thrashing, flailing rage She was according to one of the restaurant’s owners, “uncontrollable, completely wacko.”
8 From Magazine:
At that moment, a semicircle of people starts to form, the employees and famous and semi-famous guests (Kissinger, Stephanopoulos, Brokaw, etc.) step away, leaving Sanders Berman, Tabby Doling, and Delray M. Milius in the center. Milius holds up his glass and taps it, chinking and bringing silence to the room.
Delray M. Milius is doughy-faced and five-foot-seven, and I don’t mention his height pejoratively, as I’m only five-foot-nine, and I’ve never put much stock in how tall somebody is in relation to their character. I know big pricks and little pricks, as I’m sure we all do. He’s Sanders Berman’s right-hand man, his hatchet man, if you will, or if you believe the story—and I believe it because it’s true—he’s “that glory hole ass gape cocksucker.” I don’t choose those words lightly, or to offend homosexuals, some of whom are my closest friends, but because those were the words that Matt Healy, a correspondent in the magazine’s Washington, D.C., bureau, put in an email, accidentally cc’ing the entire editorial staff. This was back in ’99, before my time, and when email mistakes like that were more common. It was also back when Healy was in New York. After that email, he was sent to DC in a kind of exile, while Delray M. Milius leveraged the potential sexual harassment suit to get a big promotion to assistant managing editor, where he’s twisted Sanders Berman’s bow tie ever since.
As you can probably guess, Milius isn’t too popular at the magazine. There’s a strong anti-Milius faction, and within this faction, there’s always a running bet about how long Milius is going to last—this time. He’s left and come back to the magazine five times in twelve years. “Don’t let Milius bother you” is the conventional wisdom in how to deal with him. “It’s just a matter of time before he wakes up one morning and just can’t get out of bed and quits again. Paralyzed. By depression, fear, anxiety, who knows—it’s happened before.”
9 From “The Leonard Lopate Show: Michael Hastings on the Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan – WNYC”, this excerpt runs from 2:24 to 2:42 on the audio file.
11 This clip is taken from “Journalist Michael Hastings Interview: The Reporter Who Took Down Stanley McChrystal (2011)”, segment runs from 27:17-28:58.
13 This excerpt is taken from an email sent in from Coen to J.K. Trotter, and published as a comment to “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” (direct link).
14 One can contrast this with Hastings’ perspective, expressed on his blog, The Hastings Report, in the post “McNamara and America’s nostalgia for 70 million deaths, part II”:
I think the Greatest Generation mythology that’s taken hold in recent years, and the festishization of World War Two, is a rhetorical trump card that is played too freely when discussing the necessity of going to war. World War II should not firstly be remembered as a triumph of the American Spirit; it should be seen as the most horrible man-made tragedy we’ve yet produced, a conflict that left 50 to 70 million dead.
This nostalgic love for the Great Patriotic War wasn’t always that widely held: contemporary WWII writers saw it as an abomination–read what James Jones and Norman Mailer had to say about it, or the fact that the greatest anti-war classic, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, is about the insaneness of WWII. That being said, I don’t have a good one or two sentence answer to explain how we could have got around fighting it in a way that seems either convincing, or moral. Either did the man who started this debate, Robert McNamara.
The best I can come up with is this.
There are two kinds of wars. Wars of tragic neccesity, and wars of unnecessary tragedy. WWII is about the only one I can think of that falls into the former category; almost every other war we’ve been involved in seems to fit firmly in the latter. Since the atom bomb, we’ve come up with all sorts of ways to still wage war without ever going as far as we did towards total annhilation from 1939 to 1945. These tippy toe wars have been a mistake, I think, from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq. We’ve convinced oursleves that the best way to stop the Ultimate War III is to keep fighting little wars to prevent it. We fought Korea and Vietnam with an eye to avoiding a deadly nuclear confrontation with Russia and now we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid a deadly nuclear confrontation with Islamic terrorists. It has established a dangerous pattern. It encourages our leaders to think that war is something that can be tamed, contained, and waged in a way that seems lawful and just, when really, war is rarely any of those things.
15 This quote is taken from the excerpt fround at footnote #5.
16 From “Scott Horton Interviews Michael Hastings (April 21, 2009)”, segment runs from 19:05-23:12.
17 A moment which makes me recall a fragment from The Last Magazine when the character Michael Hastings talks about the seemingly arbitrary rules of what is allowed and not allowed in pornography on cable:
I am disappointed. I should never have trusted Time Warner Cable. They’ve given a nod to some kind of strange decency regulations. Is it a legal thing? Why did they edit it out? Who sets these standards? Who sat around the table, saying gaping assholes okay, assholes to mouth not okay? What does that look like in legal language? Was there a board meeting? “Non-explicit or internal visualizations of sex organs.”
18 In a book where the identities of the roman a clef characters are often obvious, but their pseudonyms carry no linkage to their real names, this one is an exception: “Middle East expert” Daniel Tubes is very obviously “Middle East expert” Daniel Pipes.
19 There is much proof on-line for this, such as “Interview: Writing a ‘big, big, life’ Plus: What Hemingway wrote to Norman Mailer”, his interview with Mailer biographer Michael Lennon, which also mentions his time at the Mailer Writers Colony. There is this question and answer from “Reckless and Inspired”, an interview with Jonathan Hastings:
PR: Did he admire much popular-type writing?
JH: Pop fiction-wise, he loved Stephen King. He also liked some sci-fi, especially what I would characterize as the liberal strain of military sci-fi: Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War,” John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War.” As I mentioned, he liked Philip K. Dick a lot, too, in his case for the ideas more than anything else. I don’t know that he ever finished reading too many of Dick’s novels, but the PKD vibe was important to him. But I’d say that the writers he and I talked the most about over the years were: (1) Stephen King, (2) Norman Mailer, (3) Philip Roth. Although that was probably because I didn’t have too much to say about Hunter S. Thompson … and he didn’t really need to talk about Thompson.
From “Michael Hastings’ Dangerous Mind: Journalistic Star Was Loved, Feared and Haunted “ by Gene Maddaus:
In his 20s, Hastings stayed clean and channeled his manic energies into journalism. Writer Rachel Sklar met him, and dated him for a few months, when he was living in New York and working for Newsweek. She remembers his apartment overflowing with books — Hemingway, Mailer, Roth, A.J. Liebling and many volumes on war.
20 From “The Leonard Lopate Show: Michael Hastings on the Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan – WNYC”, this excerpt runs from 1:04 to 1:17 on the audio file.
21 From “Michael Hastings « Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton” (2009/04/21), this segment runs from 0:14-1:32.
22 From a reply to “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” (direct link):
WRETCHED DOT COM—HA. Subtle.
Anyhow, I liked Mike a lot—we spent a lot of time together, actually. It was 2004-06, we were all living on the LES and out and about all the time (though I remember Mike was already sober at that point; he had problems in hs and college, I think). I can’t remember for the life of me how we met. He was really friendly but also intense, and intensely ambitious…but also good-natured, at least from where I was standing. He struck me as a lot more “real” then many of the people I was meeting and socializing with at the time. He didn’t care about media hierarchy bullshit, didn’t blow smoke up my ass about Gawker. I remember having a lot of deep and honest conversations over coffee, but also taking him to random media parties (Molly Jong Fast’s book party at her mother’s condo comes to mind).
Mike was enthusiastic about Gawker and kind of game for anything—I think he was freelancing at Newsweek at that point, but I didn’t see a lot of contempt from him towards Gawker. Then again, we were paying him, so he was likely just biting his tongue. But I didn’t love working at Gawker, either—it was a brutal job at the time, I was terrified of Nick and worked 13 hours a day. I know I opened up a lot to him about that.
Eventually Newsweek sent him to Iraq, and after that he was different. He said there was a lot of stuff that I just couldn’t understand. He wasn’t crazy or anything, but he also kept a gun under his bed (futon, actually, in a shitty Allen Street walkup down the street from my shitty Orchard Street walkup). I also remember him saying that he was incapable of relaxing, not even in NYC, after that experience. He was also 100% certain he would go back. It was what he wanted to do. Very Hurt Locker-esque, like one of those people who just couldn’t return to regular life.
He went back, then his fiancée died over there and I recall going to the memorial/book party (which was weird and felt a little garish but sincere at the same time, if that’s possible), and that was when we started to really lose touch.
AJ was probably the last of us to hang out with him, like 2011-ish I think, and Mike was drinking again. But I hadn’t talked to him for years so who knows when that started back up.
Also, I am pretty sure he briefly dated Rachel Sklar. Relevant, I know.
23 Though the majority of posts by K. Eric Walters were made during his guest editing stint, he did several, mostly as part of “Team Party Crash”. Before his stint as guest editor: “WSJ: Who’s Wrong First?” (4/26/05 6:10pm), “Team Party Crash: The F-Word Premiere” (Party Crash 4/27/05 3:10pm), “Team Party Crash: Air Tahiti Nui Launch” (4/29/05 12:06pm).
After this his guest editorship begins: “Rita Cosby: MSNBC Snags Well-Fed Blonde” (5/16/05 9:00am), “Slate: Charles Manson is Hilarious!” (5/16/05 9:33am), “NYT Makes Your Weekend More Boring” (5/16/05 10:55am), “The Drudge Radio Report Report” (5/16/05 12:15pm), “Blind Item Guessing Game: Sphincter Held Tight Edition” (5/16/05 12:40pm), “iPod Wars Spread To Brooklyn” (5/16/05 2:03pm), “NYT: Watch David Brooks Dance for Only $50″ (5/16/05 3:00pm), “Radar: The Longest 15 Minutes Ever” (5/16/05 4:06pm), “Bret Easton Ellis: When Does Stalking Become Art?” (5/17/05 10:50am), “The New Yorker Unlocks Secret to Blogging” (5/17/05 11:54am), “Fake News Sweeps Peabody Awards; Journalism Dies Another Death” (5/17/05 1:15pm), “Radar: Your Party Crashing Guide” (5/17/05 4:52pm), “Media Bubble: What do AOL and Joey Have in Common?”(5/17/05 5:39pm), “The Anderson Cooper Real Estate Contest Results: A New Roommate?” (5/17/05 6:50pm), “Remainders: Fresh Intelligence on the NBC Peacock” (5/17/05 7:19pm), “FNC: Bill O’Reilly is Not Part of Aqua Team” (5/17/05 3:46pm), “What Bouncers Think When Guidos Attack” (5/18/05 8:48am), “Clarification: Radar, Not to be Confused with Swedish Magazine of Same Name” (5/18/05 9:30am), ‘Cheap Date’ Takes on Whole New Meaning at Midtown Hotel Bar (5/19/05 8:36am), “Donald Trump: Lower Manhattan Needs to be Saved” (5/19/05 10:22am), “Owen King: In Praise of Nepotism Redux” (5/19/05 11:30am), “PIEGATE: GAWKER MEDIA LAUNCHES OWN INVESTIGATION…” (5/19/05 12:39pm), “Sylvester Stallone: Fake Heavyweight Champion Turns Real Magazine Editor?” (5/19/05 2:07pm), “Radar: 15 Minutes of Fame?” (5/19/05 2:14pm), “Emailing Scary Norwegians From Brooklyn” (5/19/05 3:20pm), “Media Bubble: As Words Die, Popularity of eBay Rises” (5/19/05 4:40pm), “Remainders: The Nothing About ‘Radar’ Edition (Seriously)” (5/19/05 6:20pm), “Drudge: Friday Morning, All is Well” (5/20/05 8:18am), “NYT: Putting Us in Our Poverty-Stricken Place” (5/20/05 9:20am), “Bill Hemmer: Producers Are There For a Reason” (5/20/05 11:25am), “Death by Literature? Or Another Reason to Read Magazines?” (5/20/05 12:20pm), “Bill O’Reilly Asks More Tough Questions” (5/20/05 12:56pm), “Marquee Bouncers Incite Violence, Bruises At Radar After-Party” (5/20/05 1:35pm), “Media Bubble: Unabated, The Mark Burnett Invasion Continues” (5/20/05 4:55pm), “Remainders: All Blogs, All the Time, All Wrong” (5/20/05 5:40pm), “Team Party Crash: Hamptons Magazine Party” (5/26/05 10:52am), “Team Party Crash: The Beauty Bar Glam Pageant” (6/06/05 4:40pm).
He also occasionally did correspondent work for Jessica Coen, such as “A Night Out With Page Six’s Chris Wilson”.
24 Exhibit A of this phenomenon is usually her essay, “Emily Gould – Exposed – Blog-Post Confidential – Gawker”. Essays by others are “5 Things About That Times Magazine Piece On Masturbatory Blogging” by Moe Tkacik, Daily Intel’s “Emily Gould’s ‘Times Magazine’ Story: Give Me an ‘I’!”, and “Emily Gould: New Gloss On An Old Story” by Rachel Sklar.
25 Examples of the past reporter work of Goldberg, often excellent, include “The Don is Done”, a profile of the post-Gotti mafia for the New York Times; “Sammy the Bull Explains How The Mob Got Made” a brief portrait of Gotti’s lieutenant for the Times; for New York magazine: “The Mafia’s Morality Crisis”; “All the Wrong Moves”, about Israeli owned moving companies; “The Decline and Fall of the Upper West Side”; “The Overachievers”, a profile of New York’s Korean community.
26 The Hamra made the international news after it was hit as part of a massive bombing attack in 2010. See “Baghdad Blasts Shatter Sense of Security in Capital” by Anthony Shadid and John Leland. Shadid, another excellent foreign correspondent, would die in 2012.
Beginning this weekend, and ending whenever we feel like it, please enjoy Gawker Weekend. On Saturdays and Sundays, Gawker Weekend editors Jonathan Liu and Leon Neyfakh will delve deep into the weekend lifestyle and culture media so beloved, or presumably beloved, by the sorts of people who actually get weekends to shop, relax, and, you know, just be themselves in pictorials with nice furniture. Come with us—if you’re not too busy antiquing!—to the land where newspapers believe that books are extremely decorative and the hustle and bustle of the financial district pales in comparison to the joys of extreme boating, film-going, fun apartment-hunting and the enjoyment of the other advertiser-friendly weekend lifestyle arts.
That Liu and Neyfakh both went to Harvard together is a piece of information that can be found in “Blogging: The I-Banking of Harvard’s Journalists” by Annie Lowrey (archive.today link):
Chen is the most obviously successful of a dozen or so Harvard students who have used their blogs as stepping stones to larger writing opportunities and careers. Harvard Law alum Jeremy Blachman wrote the farcical Anonymous Lawyer blog and the eponymous book. Jonathan C. Liu ’07 and former FM [Fifteen Minutes, the Harvard Crimson magazine] editor-at-large Leon Neyfakh ’07 now write the weekend edition of Gawker. Former FM Chair Elizabeth W. Green ’06 blogs and reports for U.S. News & World Report.
I saw a tweet of yours the other day of your two cats in the backseat of your car. It appeared that the cats were in charge. How many cats do you have? Do you ever let them drive? Which of your cats would theoretically make the best driver? Where do you think they would go?
I only have two cats. (“Only.”) They are Miami street rescues. One of them is a fucking ENORMOUS cool black-and-white frat boy. The other is this tiny neurotic gray lady. THEY ARE IN LOVE.
The car thing comes from our last cat, Cat The Cat, RIP. When he was about 18 years old we moved down to Miami for a little while and he spent his last year there. I was back in New York a lot for work, and when I was away, my husband used to drive him around at night. He was this scrawny old beast, but he’d stand up on his hind legs with his front feet on the dashboard and stare out the window, or stand on my husband’s lap while he drove. Cats love cars!
So… yeah. We drive cats around a lot. Looks around awkwardly
In the fall of 2006, I got a call from the managing editor of Gawker Media, a network of highly trafficked blogs, asking me to come by the office in SoHo to talk about a job. Since its birth four years earlier, the company’s flagship blog, Gawker, had purported to be in the business of reporting “Manhattan media gossip,” which it did, sometimes — catty little details about writers and editors and executives, mostly. But it was also a clearinghouse for any random tidbit of information about being young and ambitious in New York. Though Gawker was a must-read for many of the people working at the magazines and newspapers whose editorial decisions the site mocked and dissected, it held an irresistible appeal for desk-bound drones in all fields — tens of thousands of whom visited the site each day.
I had been one of those visitors for as long as I’d had a desk job. Sometimes Gawker felt like a source of essential, exclusive information, tailored to the needs of people just like me. Other times, reading Gawker left me feeling hollow and moody, as if I’d just absentmindedly polished off an entire bag of sickly sweet candy. But when the call came, I brushed this thought aside. For a young blogger in New York in 2006, becoming an editor at Gawker was an achievement so lofty that I had never even imagined it could happen to me. The interview and audition process felt a little surreal, like a dream. But when I got the job, I had the strange and sudden feeling that it had been somehow inevitable. Maybe my whole life — all the trivia I’d collected, the knack for funny meanness I’d been honing since middle school — had been leading up to this moment.
31 Prior to “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”, Liu had published at the Observer in 2006, “A Disappointing Pharrell Nurses His Contradictions” (08/07/06), “When Sexy Met Indie: Junior Boys Grow Up Fast” (09/18/06), “The Old Campus Quarrel, Fought to a Standstill Again” (10/09/06), “Fearsome Extremists Massing in Their Pews” (01/22/07), “Neon Bible: Topical Fairy Tales” (03/12/07). He would go on to publish numerous book reviews at the Observer: “Better on the Box: Colbert Book Bombs”, “Maladjusted Men (And Gals!) In Mannerist Short Fiction”, “Bush-Cheney as True Novel”, “Semi-Persuasive Pentagon Paranoia”, “Is America Fiddling at Its Own Funeral?”, “John Edgar Wideman’s Fanon Is Pure Electroclash”, “A Nation of Uncommitted, Distracted Dilettantes”, “Babble On, Revisited”, “Black and White, North and South”, as well as journalism such as “Dinner With the Unknowers: The NYC Skeptics Break Bread”, “Times Art Critic Michael Kimmelman to Take Over as Paper’s Architecture Critic”, “Play It Again, Sam…But Don’t Forget to Pay the 9.1-Cent Mechanical Reproduction Royalty”, etc.
These review links were taken from his blog, jonathanliu.webs.com: reviews (books) (archive.today link), though the links featured there are frequently broken. Later non-literary work was for Vice, “The Rise of Wikipedian Statecraft: How Azawad, Spurned by the U.N., Earned Its Recognition Online”, “The Rise of Wikipedian Statecraft, Part 2″, “The Rise of Wikipedian Statecraft, Part 3″, “Dear Mainstream Media: On the Internet, It’s Clear You’re a Sloppy Arrogant Cur Who Hates Your Readers”, and “The Problem with Christopher Nolan? He’s Fundamentally Uninterested in Cities”. At Capital New York, he would write “Lady Gaga flunks out of the College of American Pop Vestals” and “Taylor Swift’s immodest proposal: One million units of blond suprematism”.
Liu omits any mention of his writing credits on Gawker, except in one place, on his reviews made at The Barnes & Noble reviews listed on his site: “The Birth of Classical Europe” (archive.today link), “Our Tragic Universe”, “A Moment in the Sun”, “Witz”, and “The Sacred Book of the Werewolf”, all of which mention a fuller list of his credits: “Jonathan Liu is a reviewer and journalist who has written for The New York Observer, Gawker.com, and The Harvard Book Review.”
Leon Neyfakh filed many stories at the Observer (link to archive under his name), many on the tech, art, and literary worlds, such as “Salon 2.0: Baby Hackers Gorge on Twizzlers and Red Bull, Coding Till the Sun Comes Up”, “Good Nerd, Bad Nerd” about Mark Zuckerberg, “In Facebook’s Crosshairs”, “Don’t Blow It! New York Tech’s Top Investors Have Bubble Trouble on the Brain”, “David Karp Explains How Companies Can Win Points With Tumblr Users By Boosting Their Self Esteem”, “Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley Talks to Mary Kate Olsen at a Tech Party: A Dramatization”, “OK, Cupid! Baby Angel Alexis Ohanian Comes to New York”, “The Facebook Effect on New York”, “Getting Followed by Kanye On Twitter Will Make You Sad”, “Alternet Uncovers Right-Wing Group Conspiring to Manipulate Digg’s Front Page”, “The Pitchfork Frankenstein Effect: Indie Powerhouse Now Spawns Bands in its Own Image”, “The End of the Empire” (closing of the Empire Diner), “Leo Castelli: This Charming Man”, “The Curious Case of the Missing Naipaul”, “Screech’s Saved by the Bell Tell-All Dropped by Gotham Books, Resold”, “Is Alain de Botton Sorry About Angry Comment Left On Critic’s Blog?”, “Dueling Foster Wallace Bios: Two Hit Market, One Sells”, “John Updike Loved New York” (an epitaph), “Washington Post Kills ‘Book World’ Section”, “Why Do Young Male Writers Love Icky, Tough Guy Deadbeats?”, “In Harper’s, Colson Whitehead Accuses James Wood of Being (Gasp!) an Aesthete and a Traditionalist”, “Judith Regan: Michael Wolff ‘Absurd'; ‘Simply Wants to Spin Facts in Favor of Defaming Me’”, “Michael Wolff Wonders: Why’s Judith Regan After the Spotlight Again?”, “Publishing Bigshots Told to Open Canned Tuna, Eat at Desk”, “Why Obama Can’t Win Author Curses ‘Stupid, Silly Title’”, “Hugh Hewitt’s How Sarah Palin Won the Election…and Saved America Does Not As Yet Have a Publisher”, “Philip Roth Confirms: Indignation’s Narrator Not Dead, At Least Not Until After the Book Ends”, “Roth: Indignation Narrator Not All the Way Dead! Maybe Just On Morphine”, “David Foster Wallace Is Gone—Did He Leave Some ‘Larger Thing’?”, “Postcards From the Red Zone” (a discussion with foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins about his book, The Forever War), “Lady in Maine Insists on Being Stubborn; Refuses to Return ‘Obscene’ Sex Book to Local Library”, “Cindy Adams Is Really Mad About This New Bill Clinton Book”, “Same Photo of Bonobos Doing It Appears on the Cover of Two New Books; Daphne Merkin Blurbs Both”, “James Frey: ‘There Isn’t a Great Deal of Difference Between Fact and Fiction’”, “Jonathan Franzen: Michiko Kakutani Is ‘The Stupidest Person in New York City'”, “Mike Huckabee Gets Book Deal For ‘Optimistic Vision For America’s Future'”, “Rumsfeld Book Deal Will ‘Add to People’s Information About These Times'”, “Edgy Novelist Goes Mainstream”, “Photogenic Calamity Physics Author Goes Random”, “O. J. Simpson’s Former Agent to Publish Book: How I Helped O. J. Get Away With Murder”, “L. A. Times Editor O’Shea Forced Out For Resisting Budget Cuts”, “Canseco Finds New Publisher For Steroids Book, Hires O.J.’S Ghostwriter”, “As Ennui Strikes ‘Creative Class,’ Self-Help Beckons”, “Publisher Shelves Parenting Memoir By Britney Spears’ Mom”, “N+1 on the 5th Anniversary of Gawker”, “The Id (and Imp) of American Literature” (Norman Mailer epitaph), “Norman Mailer in Critical Care at Mount Sinai, Recovering From Surgery (UPDATE)”, “New York’s Liberal Intellectuals Are Back at Each Other’s Throats—Buruma and Berman Slug It Out Over Political Islam”, “Kurt Vonnegut’s Final Interview(s)”, “Ivy League Chick Lit: Extracurricular Exposé” etc.
All these were posted after the Lost My Love in Baghdad posts at Gawker; “Extracurricular Exposé” has a post-date of 07/17/06 12:00am. “A Dean’s Exhortation: Stop Coddling, Harvard!” was posted in the year before, post date: 06/19/06 12:00am, as was “Postcolonial Makeover For Harvard-Bound Girl” (04/03/06 12:00am), “Upbeat, Warm and Sunny, A Band Bids Angst Adieu” (11/06/06 12:00am), “A Mogul in a Muddle: The Un-Retired Jay-Z” (11/27/06 12:00am).
Of special note is a profile of book editor David Rosenthal, “David Rosenthal Puts on His Penguin Suit”, noteworthy because Rosenthal was Hastings’ editor for The Operators, and “After Years of Pursuit, Wylie Signs Updike”, about the Updike estate hiring literary agent Andrew Wylie, as well as “Andrew Wylie Puts Roberto Bolaño On the Market”, “Andrew Wylie Still Hungry For the Dead, Pursuing Graham Greene Estate”, “Wylie in Academe: Students Meet Reality On Topic of Agent”, “Week of the Jackal: Andrew Wylie Devours 3 Giants, One Living”, “Wylie Agency Adds Nabokov Estate To Its Client List”, “Helen DeWitt Trashes Andrew Wylie on Portfolio.com”, “Ooh—Fuzzy! A Kinder, Gentler Jackal (So Far) Settles In at Wylie Agency” also about Wylie, who was Hastings’ literary agent and the man that asked that the Hastings manuscript be taken down.
32 The old “Media Mob” section at the Observer was discontinued; the original page from the week before the item on I Lost My Love in Baghdard was published, can be found at archive.org, with a saved version from April 10, featuring items going all the way back to March 30th (archive.org wayback machine link), though the Lost My Love item is already deleted. Items specifically filed by Michael Calderone bear his name. A screencap of their March 29 archived page with Scocca credited as section editor:
The introuctory text for the item can be found in the Gawker “Book Proposals Kill”:
New Iraq Book Will Chronicle War, Challenging Relationship
This proposal for a new Iraq memoir was just passed on to The Observer. Written by Newsweek Baghdad correspondent Michael Hastings, it’s called I Lost My Love in Baghdad and chronicles his time there as well as his tumultuous relationship with his fiance Andi Parhamovich, who was killed in Iraq in January while working for the National Democratic Institute. We will refrain from commenting further about the book’s eye-catching title, or what’s inside.
We hear that the book sold for a hefty sum, and to a big name publisher. Guesses?
Posted by The Media Mob on March 30, 2007, 5:12 PM
Holy poop you guys, did you get that IM from the intern down the hall? Something totally crazy is going on at Gawker!! Writer Emily Gould and managing editor Choire Sicha, are QUITTING. Sicha is that hot gay who helped shape the site as its second solo editor from 2003 to 2005. He left to work at the Observer and then came back early this year. Gould has been working on the site since November of last year. Neither have jobs lined up, we hear. SO BRAVE.
Sicha’s trajectory from Gawker to the Observer and back to Gawker again is also described less succintly in Carla Blumenkranz’s essential history, “Gawker: 2002–2007″.
Three weeks after her death, Hastings’s agent Andrew Wylie had a 131-page book proposal in hand, and five weeks later, he sold it to Scribner for an advance reportedly above $500,000. The speed of the deal, and the inclusion of intimate e-mails and texts between Hastings and Parhamovich, riled some in the publishing world. (Gawker dissected the proposal mercilessly, and after the Observer published the document, it received a lawyer letter complaining that it included information that Parhamovich’s family didn’t yet know—such as the fact that Hastings was even writing a book about their daughter.)
Hastings, back in Baghdad after crashing the book, seemed to take the criticism in stride. “I remember getting an e-mail from Mike that was like, ‘Fuck them, I’m on Haifa Street,’” Darman says.
35 From “Let Me Tell You About the Most Heartfelt $200 I Ever Made” by Choire Sicha: “Mark’s Church on the Bowery, once known as the site of the first performance by Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye and then suddenly an HBO backdrop…Carrie Bradshaw was the Bernie Goetz of the Bloomberg era, shooting at the walls of heartache, bang-bang,” and I’m not sure if the shift from Patti “Because the Night” Smith to Patti “The Warrior” Smyth is interpolation or mistake.
Last year Denton made his first appearance in the Sunday Times Rich List, at number 502. He was valued at £140m. As one of our mutual friends put it: ‘Even if they’ve overstated his wealth by a factor of 10, Nick is still a hell of a lot richer than you or me.’
Exchange rate of pound to dollar for March 2008 when that article is published, with one dollar equal to 0.499758 pounds, is taken from X-rates, (link for March 2008).
37 Denton’s Oxford background is discussed in “The new élite who run our equal society” by Simon Kuper, with the helpful subhead, “Behind the mask you’ll find the new ruling caste is just like the old”. Liu’s Harvard background is discussed in footnote #27.
38 This segment runs from 28:10 to 29:00 in the “Majority Report” podcast, “2/29 Dave Weigel, Ruin of GOP & Michael Hastings, DHS monitors OWS”.
39 This segment runs from 46:21 to 46:35 in the “Majority Report” podcast, “11/13 Michael Hastings, The Real David Petraeus Scandals & the Surveillance State”.