"You always go a step further than I would have gone. But 9 times out of 10, I agree with you later."
I texted that to Michael Hastings one evening, when he asked me if I’d thought he’d gone too far with one of his oh-too-common tête-à-têtes with someone with power.
In one sense, Hastings, who died Tuesday at 33, was always going too far, but, in a more important way, he did what needed to be done because far too few of us journalists would go to the lengths he went to ensure that those in power answered the necessary questions — or knew that they would be pilloried for not answering.
Far too often — even if it’s only in rare instances — we decide that this time or in this situation, the tough question, the inconvenient fact, can wait. I have been that person before. There are always reasons, seemingly sensible ones, to put off practicing the tough, no-holds-barred journalism that Hastings embodied. In doing so, we tell ourselves we are simply reporting on a given story without rocking the boat too much at that moment to help us move the next story forward better in the future.
Those instances, though, can become a pattern, which can become a practice, which far too often, Hastings thought, can become the default behavior of reporters, from the battlefield to the campaign trail.
But, Michael was there to remind us that such behavior is not journalism. It is stenography, as he gladly told reporters who he felt did so.
And his death reminds us, so sadly and so abruptly, that the future always is precarious.
I think I have had moments of good journalism that made Michael proud. Seeing the hole that his death leaves not only in the hearts of those who loved him and worked with him but in the broader world of journalism, I also hope that I will get up tomorrow dedicated to ensuring that I have more of those moments as I continue to cover those in power.
We already miss you, Michael.