The Reading Room

Rolling Stone has still got its mojo

US Magazine Rolling Stone has set the news agenda once again by running an explosive profile of America’s senior commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal eventually leading to his dismissal. McChrystal and his army aides are reported making disparaging remarks about President Obama, his vice president Joe Biden and several other White House appointees.

Some of McChrystal’s comments were so shocking that Rolling Stone Editor Eric Bates hit the airwaves today defending his writer Michael Hastings. There were concerns about whether the General knew that what he was saying was on the record. Bates told MSNBC news that Hastings had been very clear with the General. “They knew when we were on the record. They said a lot of stuff to us off the record that’s not in the story. We respected those boundaries. This was all when they knew they were on.”

In a world where people are now reading tweets and blogs for their news consumption it is amazing that an old fashioned print magazine has trumped them all with the scoop of the year. The way Rolling Stone magazine got the story teaches us why the blogasphere will never get a scoop like this. Bates explained that the writer was given “really unprecedented access” to McChrystal and his staff over several months. “We were with him on a trip in Europe that wound up getting extended because of the volcano in Iceland. So our reporter was kind of trapped with him for about two weeks in Paris and traveling from Paris to Berlin. They couldn’t fly, so they had to take a bus. So we really spent a lot of time with him and really got to look behind the curtain, and hear how he and his men, top men, talk among themselves on their own.”

This kind of access to a top General allowing for a long piece of reportage (btw this is the best piece of reportage I’ve ever read) can only be granted to a trusted brand name or institution (a bit like the US army) which is what Rolling Stone really is. A certain generation will only speak to let alone give free wheeling access to vangaurds like the BBC or the FT or The Economist. But Rolling Stone has still probably gone further than most proving it still has its mojo. Most journalists would have pulled their punches in reporting some of these remarks – especially if they were dependent on proximity to power to do their job. But RS has gone back to its old instincts of peeling back the veneer. It has always felt most comfortable going off piste.

I for one am delighted that the magazine of Hunter S. Thompson (who first published Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas within its pages) can still reveal uncomfortable truths and turn the political world on its head. PS

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