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Today Show Invites on Rolling Stone Reporter to Complain About Pentagon Ban

NBC's Today show invited on the reporter, whose Rolling Stone article essentially got General Stanley McChrystal fired, on Thursday's show to complain that the Pentagon denied him an embed because the war in Afghanistan isn't going well. After Today co-anchor Meredith Vieira questioned Michael Hastings for his explanation as to why the Pentagon denied him an embed, Hastings concluded "This is a symptom of essentially the war, and how the war is going...The war has hit its all-time low." This caused Vieira, herself, to cry censorship, as she asked: "Do you think the military is trying to say to reporters,'We will stifle you, if you don't tell the story the way we want it told?'"

MEREDITH VIEIRA: So why do you think, ultimately, you lost this, this right to an embed? I mean, what do you think is going on? Is it the McChrystal article or is there something much bigger than that?

MICHAEL HASTINGS: I think it's, I think it's much bigger. This is not just about a Rolling Stone reporter being banned from an embed. This is a symptom of essentially the war, and how the war is going. June and July were the deadliest months that we've ever seen in the war in Afghanistan. The war has hit its all-time low in approval ratings, so clearly there's great concern in Washington about how the war is going, and the response to this embed. The response to me on this embed sort of indicates that. I think it's important to, to just let you know, with this helicopter story, these are stories that I'm very passionate about telling. And it is a great privilege to tell the story of the troops.

VIEIRA: But do you think, but do you think the military is trying to say to reporters, "We will stifle you, if you don't tell the story the way we want it told?"

The following Jim Miklaszewski set-up piece and entire interview with Hastings were aired on the August 5 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: And now to the war in Afghanistan. It has been a difficult summer for U.S. troops there. July was the deadliest month yet for Americans. And a new commander took over after a controversial Rolling Stone article led to the end of General Stanley McChrystal's military career. Well now the Pentagon is refusing to let that reporter, the reporter who wrote it, embed with another unit in Afghanistan. We're gonna talk about that with Michael Hastings in a moment. But first NBC's Jim Miklaszewski is at the Pentagon. Mik, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Pentagon Payback? McChrystal Reporter Not Allowed Back With Troops"]

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Good morning, Meredith. It's been a couple of months since the story broke that forced General McChrystal out of the Army, but the fallout over media military relations is far from over. On his last day as a soldier, General Stan McChrystal managed to joke about the article that ended his career, with a word of warning to his fellow soldiers.

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: I have stories on all of you, photos on many, and I know a Rolling Stone reporter.

MIKLASZEWSKI: That reporter is Michael Hastings. In an interview on Today in June, Hastings explained how he landed that Rolling Stone scoop.

MICHAEL HASTINGS: The access I got was almost a throwback to the old days of "fly on the wall" reporting, where, nowadays, access is almost so controlled, it's always very so controlled. So it was very rare to get this kind of access anyway.

MIKLASZEWSKI: But not any more. The U.S. military has revoked Hastings' recent request to embed with American forces in Afghanistan, after first granting the request last month. Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lepenn insists it's not retribution but explains "a key element of an embed is having trust," and essentially commanders in Afghanistan no longer trust Hastings. But as a freelancer, Hastings has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for various publications, and Internet news blogs with no apparent complaints. Military officials have, in fact, praised Hastings' upcoming piece in the Men's Journal on Army combat helicopters saying "It accurately portrays the Army's warrior mentality." So what is going on here? Media watchdogs claim the military is striking back.

LUCY DALGLISH, THE REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: Since they have all of the power, all of it, once he's published his story they have, if he wants back in, they have all of the power. If they say they don't trust him to do what they want him to do anymore, they're just not going to play in the sandbox with him anymore.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Meanwhile, the Army Inspector General is still investigating whether if any of McChrystal's aides who were blindly quoted in that article should face disciplinary action. And as a reporter who's often been embedded with the military, there is, indeed, a fine line between trust and control. And while the military can control a reporter's access, there must be no control over the reporter's content. Meredith?

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Mik, thank you very much. Michael Hastings is with us, exclusively. Good morning to you.

MICHAEL HASTINGS: Good morning, thanks for having me.

VIEIRA: Not at all. Just so people are clear on this, you were offered this embed in June, then the article on General McChrystal comes out at the end of June, between then and now you didn't hear anything, and then you get this letter this week. Who is it from, and what did it say?

HASTINGS: The letter was from a public affairs official in Kabul, named Colonel Wayne Shanks, and it just basically laid out the case that I, noting that I had, had approval and that approval was being revoked because the military was unhappy with, first, the helicopter story, and actually, they, they, they mentioned the helicopter story, and then they mentioned the story that I wrote about General McChrystal for Rolling Stone.

VIEIRA: So they specifically pointed out two stories?

HASTINGS: Two stories, yes. But the more important part of their case being, what seemed it to be the General McChrystal story. And in fact, what they refer to as the "political fallout" from the General McChrystal story. So nothing to do, really, or there was no specific cases where they mentioned accuracy or anything I got wrong, or, or any, any rules I supposedly broke.

VIEIRA: Well when asked about this, a spokesperson for the Defense Department said this, and I'm quoting here, "There is no right to embed. It is a choice made between units and individual reporters. And a key element of an embed is having trust that the individuals are going to abide by the ground rules. The command in Afghanistan decided there wasn't the trust requisite, and denied your request." In other words, they didn't trust you to accurately report.

HASTINGS: And that's what's very troubling about this. I've been doing this for five years. I've gone on dozens of embeds with American troops, accompanied them on many combat missions, traveled regularly with senior military officials and I've never had an issue. In fact I have many great friends, both Marines and soldiers, who, who I've met along the way for this. I think what also should be made clear is that my travels with General McChrystal were not considered an embed at the time. And if the military's position now is that it was an embed, then the rules for embeds are very clear. Rule number seven says all comments are on the record. All interviews with service personnel are on the record.

VIEIRA: Did you take comments off the record-

HASTINGS: No.

VIEIRA: -in that, in that interview with General McChrystal at all?

HASTINGS: No, and, in fact, if you look at the, the people who are sort of making that assertion, and what, and what appears to be their case about why they're, why they're saying I can't do this embed, those assertions are being made by people who, unfortunately, lost their job as a result of the article, and they're currently under investigation. So they're not necessarily the most credible sources.

VIEIRA: So why do you think, ultimately, you lost this, this right to an embed? I mean, what do you think is going on? Is it the McChrystal article or is there something much bigger than that?

HASTINGS: I think it's, I think it's much bigger. This is not just about a Rolling Stone reporter being banned from an embed. This is a symptom of essentially the war, and how the war is going. June and July were the deadliest months that we've ever seen in the war in Afghanistan. The war has hit its all-time low in approval ratings, so clearly there's great concern in Washington about how the war is going, and the response to this embed. The response to me on this embed sort of indicates that. I think it's important to, to just let you know, with this helicopter story, these are stories that I'm very passionate about telling. And it is a great privilege to tell the story of the troops.

VIEIRA: But do you think, but do you think the military is trying to say to reporters, "We will stifle you, if you don't tell the story the way we want it told?"

HASTINGS: That appears to be the case. You'd have to ask the military if that's what they're doing. But, but I think if we look at just, say, the, the, the story about the Kaiwa pilots - the Kaiwa is a kind of an attack helicopter - you know, sometimes, sometimes reporters will do a story about policy. Sometimes that's going to be very critical. I think that's a good thing to be critical about policy, especially if the policy is not going well. And sometimes you do it about the people who are fighting the war, the American men and women over there who are actually implementing the policy, and whose stories deserve to be told. And for that I've always said it's a privilege to, to be able to see that.

VIEIRA: Alright, Michael Hastings. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate it.

HASTINGS: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here