Defense Department officials are outraged about a new interview with Michael Hastings, the reporter who wrote a Rolling Stone piece last June that compelled the White House to fire General Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The latest interview, conducted over the phone with a U.S. army official two weeks ago, was for a story Hastings is doing on the Kiowa helicopter program and is slated to appear in "Men's Journal" magazine. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan acknowledged to reporters Tuesday, "Certainly we were surprised."
He explained that interview requests are routinely a question of the individual command who's been approached making the decision whether to grant the interview.
When pressed if the interview request was coordinated with DOD officials, Lapan offered, "Not to the level that we would like it to be...the coordination that should have occurred didn't necessarily in this case. It needs to happen in the future."
The Army defended its decision to grant the interview, insisting Hastings simply needed more information for a story he was trying to finish on an Army aviation unit deployed to Afghanistan.
Hastings had embedded with the unit earlier this year, and according to U.S. Army spokesman Col Thomas Collins, "Had some follow-on questions about the aircraft, so we granted his request to talk to one of our experts." Hastings wrote "The Runaway General" for the June issue of Rolling Stone magazine, an article that painted a grim picture of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan based on conversations with McChrystal and his inner circle. The report also included accounts of statements from McChrystal and his staff critical of the president's national security team. President Obama immediately relieved General McChrystal of his duties and replaced him with General David Petraeus.
The Army interview came after Hastings was denied an additional embed request by U.S officials in Kabul.
Colonel Lapan explained the issue of an embed as a choice made between units and individual reporters, and that a key element of an embed is having trust, that the individual would be willing to abide by the ground rules.
"In that instance the command in Afghanistan decided that there wasn't the trust requisite and denied his request...it is a request, not a right."
Lapan added, "Situations of turning down requests for embeds are fairly rare, but they have happened in the past."
When asked if Hastings had been blackballed by the U.S. military, Lapan responded, "No, we don't have anything akin to blackballing."