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Wednesday, Jun 19, 2013, 10:40 am

RIP Michael Hastings: ‘We Punch Folks. They Punch Back. That’s the Deal.’

By Mike Elk

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Michael Hastings, a reporter for Rolling Stone and Buzzfeed, died in a car crash on Tuesday at the age of 33.
(Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Guardian)

Last winter, Michael Hastings emailed me asking me out for beer. I was beyond shocked—Hastings was a hero of mine for taking down Gen. Stanley McChrystal in his Rolling Stone classic “The Runaway General”. Why in the world a famous war reporter like Hastings would want to get beer with a lowly labor reporter like myself was beyond me, but he did. Somehow, through the miracle of Twitter, Hastings had become a fan of my work on organized labor.

Hastings and I got pretty drunk that night and I remember he told me that he felt there were only two ways to be successful as a reporter: either suck up to your sources, or be feared. Hastings told me he always preferred to be feared.

It was the most shit-kicking thing I have ever heard any reporter say, but it didn’t seem like blustering bullshit coming from him. Hastings had laid one of the biggest journalistic achievements of the last decade—the takedown of Stanley McChrystal—by using that same mentality.

Afterward, Hastings and I stayed in touch. Occasionally, when I would write the kind of stories that would prompt people to go after me, I would email Hastings asking him for advice about how to deal with the heat. On one such occasion when I was getting hit pretty hard over comments I had made about the Atlantic taking money from anti-union sources, Hastings told me to keep my cool and not go after those attacking me.

Hastings wrote in an email, “You have the high ground. You've made your criticisms in public, with your name behind it. The response (as is often the case inside the Beltway) has been to start bad mouthing you in the clubhouse. That's the price, though.” He added, “We punch folks, they punch back. That's the deal.”

Hastings’ comments about accepting the sacrifices of playing tough represents the core of what this profession is all about. Unfortunately, too many reporters are afraid of taking the punch; Michael Hastings wasn’t.

While Michael Hastings died yesterday, he will continue to inspire many younger reporters like myself. Hastings understood what being a real reporter was all about: “We punch folks, they punch back. That’s the deal.”

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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