A new home for The Hastings Report

Just wanted to drop a note: The Hastings Report, the blog I started last year over at True/Slant, now lives at michaelhastings.wordpress.com. Not sure what the new blogging schedule is going to look like–probably pretty light for the foreseeable future. That being said, anyone interested can follow me at Twitter @mmhastings. Thanks very much for the support, and a sincere thanks to everyone who read the blog over the past year.

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Afghanistan: Canadian general, fired in sex scandal, misfired rifle

My headline is actually not a play on a words. General Daniel Menard, the Canadian fellow who was relieved from duty over the weekend for (allegedly?) having an affair with a female staffer, wasn’t the most popular fellow in Kabul, I’ve been told.

Why? He was recently charged with a “negligent discharge,” or ND. Meaning his rifle accidentally went off, which doesn’t exactly endear you to your fellow soldiers(or at least that’s what soldiers I know tell me.)Apparently, this didn’t endear him to reporter Michael Yon, or anyone else for that matter. From an earlier newspaper account:

Menard is accused of “neglect to the prejudice of good order and discipline. ” In revealing the incident to reporters on April 17, Menard said his gun fired while he was loading it. No one was injured in the incident.

He was found guilty and fined $3500.

I’m probably way behind on this story, and it does seem a tad gratuitous of me to post on it again: kicking the man when he’s down. I’ve been doing a bit of that lately, much to my feigned dismay. (See Newsweek post here, though, as an aside, it looks like they’ve got some decent bids.) I think I also spent a year blogging without ever mentioning ‘sex’ in my headlines–not ideal for search engines!–and now, thanks to General Menard, I’ve done it twice in a week.

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Newsweek: Should Jon Meacham get the blame?

As I write this, we are 15 minutes away from seeing what bids have come in to buy Newsweek. So I did a bit of Googling to catch up on the press coverage to see how my old Alma mater was fairing.

The Conventional Wisdom doesn’t look good. Newsmax, TV Guide, some 91 year old guy…But, hey, you never know. And as I wrote at length here–along with my own personal biases and disclosures–I hope the magazine survives.

I did notice a new theme pop up in the last 48 hours. If Newsweek does survive, should editor Jon Meacham be allowed to keep his job?

Lee Siegel, writing over at the New York Observer, does not think so. In fact, he rather strongly believes that Meacham should have been tossed overboard before the Washington Post Company even thought of selling the magazine. Writes Siegel:

Newsweek is bleeding money. By every law of capitalism, Jon Meacham should have been replaced. And yet rather than replacing him, Mr. Meacham’s overlords allowed him to strip the magazine, precious component by precious component. They stood by while he bought out and laid off some of the magazine’s best editors and writers, reduced the magazine’s guaranteed circulation base in order to attract a more exclusive class of advertiser-a fancy accounting gimmick that had the effect of  alienating advertisers looking for a large, guaranteed circulation base-and completely transformed the magazine’s decades-old identity, a gimmick that had the effect of bewildering advertisers eager to match their product or service with a magazine’s familiar identity.

AS NEWSWEEK WENT under, Mr. Meacham went higher. The quarterly financial reports brought news of impending ruin, and yet there he was, night after night, beaming before the cameras on every talk show and comedy show you could think of. It was as if Mr. Meacham had decided that rather than save the ship from going under, he would turn it into his own private submarine. His editorial policy mostly amounted to his publishing famous friends and acquaintances, whose shopworn names did nothing for the magazine’s fortunes but everything for Mr. Meacham’s expanding quid pro quo. There is nothing wrong with being a political animal: on the contrary. But Mr. Meacham’s deft maneuverings reaped him recognition and acclaim while his magazine tumbled toward irrelevancy.

Siegel’s last point is echoed by media writer Jeff Bercovici over at The Daily Finance. It’s also something that I’ve pointed out. Getting on TV all the time doesn’t really help the magazine brand as much as it helps the personal brand of said pundit. Jeff writes:

The idea that editors of print publications need to be multi-platform brand ambassadors has gained a lot of currency in the past few years, for fairly obvious reasons: As consumers spend ever less time with print and ever more with digital media, it’s logical to follow them. But merely getting on TV a lot, as a guest on Morning Joe or Charlie Rose or the Meet the Press, is a pursuit with costs but no obvious benefits, at least for so-called “thought leader” magazines that, like Newsweek, depend only to a minimal extent on newsstand sales. When editors and writers are helping TV producers fill their airtime, they may be “sharing their opinions” in “important conversations,” but what they’re not doing is editing or writing or conducting the type of groundbreaking journalism that sparks those conversations.

Alas, it’s now 5 pm, and all those bids are supposed to be in. Perhaps by the time I hit publish, Newsweek will have a new owner and the same editor…Or a new owner and a new editor…Or no owner and no editor…

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Afghanistan: Canadian commander fired over sex scandal

More trouble for the Kandahar “non-operation operation?” The Canadian general who was supposed to be leading the offensive got fired over Memorial Day weekend for (allegedly?) sleeping with a female staffer. Clearly, the strange news was announced on a day when it would get buried under the weight of the American holiday weekend. From AOL:

Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, who is married with two children, was Canada’s top soldier with a decorated 26-year career. He was based in southern Afghanistan and was due to lead what’s expected to be one of the largest battles so far of the nine-year Afghan war. NATO’s push to oust Taliban fighters from their spiritual stronghold in Kandahar is expected to start within weeks.

But Menard, 42, was relieved of his command over the weekend after Canada’s military brass became aware of allegations that he was having an affair with a female subordinate on his command staff.

The Canadians, btw, are leaving Afghanistan next year.

And from the Canadian press release, on a web page complete with an appropriate number of maple leaves:

Gen Lessard made this decision following allegations concerning BGen Menard’s inappropriate conduct related to the Canadian Forces Personal Relationships and Fraternization directives, which caused Commander CEFCOM to lose confidence in BGen Menard’s capacity to command.

An investigation into the circumstances related to the allegations is being launched.

Oh Canada.

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Afghanistan: Marjah? Ulcer? This ain't no bleeding ulcer!

And so the war turns: I highlighted McClatchy’s story on McChrystal and Marjah earlier in the week, wherein the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF, to his friends) was quoted calling Marjah a “bleeding ulcer.” The headline of the story, apparently, didn’t go down well with the folks at ISAF HQ. To wit, Admiral Smith, the chief public relations man in Afghanistan, wrote a letter to the lads at McClatchy:

…The key part of that dialogue that Dion witnessed was “You don’t feel it here, but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside.” That would have been further clarified by the quote Dion asked to use (which did not appear in the final edited copy) about Gen. McChrystal being asked in Europe and the U.S. whether we are failing. The essence of the comment is not that Marjah itself is going badly: as he said to Dion in a follow on interview on the plane ride back to Kabul — it’s largely on track. It’s that it’s misperceived to be going badly. It’s a distinction, but one I’m sure you grasp and one that could have been better conveyed, even accounting for the motive of wanting to generate interest in the story using the sensational quote: “McChrystal calls for action against perceptions of ‘bleeding ulcer’ in Marjah,” etc.

Okay, so the command would have preferred a headline of ‘calls for actions against perceptions of ‘bleeding ulcer.’ Editor Roy Gutman responds by standing by the story, and pointing out that, in general, headlines like the one suggested above don’t actually exist.

On the headline, though, we’ve discussed it and do not see it as intellectually dishonest or a mischaracterization. It was drawn from the first part of Gen. McChrystal’s statement; “This is a bleeding ulcer right now,” and your staff cleared that statement. Moreover, in the context of the opening anecdote, which suggested that outside pressures are intense and political leaders have limited patience, the further exchange Gen. McChrystal had about force levels and the facts on the ground, Marjah is a very problematic place in the short term. It adds up to being a “bleeding ulcer.”

Good headlines always pick the most salient point of a story in order to grab reader’s attention, and this one did its job. On the issue of balance, the story portrays Gen. McChrystal’s trip as a reality check for himself, the troops on the ground and the American public. The news was in his warnings to the troops about the level of political impatience in Washington and in Europe with the operation in Marjah. Our reporting back here confirms the accuracy of his assertions.

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Afghanistan: 'A bleeding ulcer'

Here’s an update on the progress of the Marjah offensive, straight from the mouth of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

“This is a bleeding ulcer right now,” McChrystal told a group of Afghan officials, international commanders in southern Afghanistan and civilian strategists who are leading the effort to oust the Taliban fighters from Helmand.

“You don’t feel it here,” he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, “but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside.”

That’s from the excellent Dion Nissenbaum for McClatchy.

I’ve been working on a rather lengthy Afghanistan piece that should be out in the next couple of weeks, in which Gen. Stanley McChrytsal plays a big role. About Marjah–I’ve been hearing criticisms that the expectations were too high, and the military, in a sense, oversold its importance.

There is also the bigger strategic question: why are we fighting for Helmand? It’d be like occupying the U.S. and fighting over Arkansas. No offense, Little Rock. But, I’ve been told that even when McChrystal got to Kabul last year, and the Helmand operation had started, there were serious doubts about whether or not Helmand was worth it. Regardless, they went ahead with Marjah, thinking that it actually was an important piece of the country to take control over.

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Iraq: If you helped us, watch your back

Wanted to direct your attention to a must read in Foreign Policy by Kirk Johnson. He highlights one of the least talked about yet troubling aspects of our Iraq withdrawal plan–all the Iraqis who’ve allied themselves with us are going to be left behind.

Why do we need to worry? Johnson cites what the insurgent-types have planned for those their fellow Iraqis who they view as collaborators:

I recently came across a frightening document that outlines another group’s designs for the coming U.S. withdrawal. Published in Fallujah by the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella organization composed of numerous insurgent and terrorist groups (including al Qaeda in Iraq), the manual sets forth their “balanced military plan” in chilling simplicity: “1) nine bullets for the traitors and one for the crusader, 2) cleansing, and 3) targeting.” They are practical: “This cannot be accomplished within one or two months, but requires continuous effort.” Those who believe the group’s threats have been rendered hollow by the surge might reflect upon the scores of victims from its triple-suicide car bombing that targeted foreign embassies just weeks ago. This past Friday, upon a string of attacks that killed another hundred Iraqis, the group’s “minister of war” declared: “What is happening to you nowadays is just a drizzle.”

Check out Johnson’s ‘The List To Resettle Iraqi Allies’ project here.

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