THE LAST MAGAZINE: A NOVEL by Michael Hastings

(President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished Speech,” May 1, 2003)

Recently, I saw an interview with Michael Hastings’s widow in which she described her husband’s last book published soon after his death.   I looked forward to reading it as her comments about the subject of the novel were very appealing, and having read some of his previous articles in Rolling Stone and Newsweek, I immediately picked up a copy of the book.  However, having just completed it, I am a little disappointed.  THE LAST MAGAZINE: A NOVEL encompasses a number of story lines.  The most important seem to be the battle that the print media faces as it tries to deal with the digital world of websites and blogs.  In addition, Hastings skewers the liberal media for its support of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Finally, there is the character, A.E. Peoria, a journalist on the international desk for The Magazine, and his journey to achieve personal fulfillment.  Employing a cynical and sarcastic methodology the novel is at times reminiscent of the works of Kurt Vonnegut, but it does not have the depth or the symbolism that one would hope for.  I admit that there are a number of humorous asides, like describing the Clinton-Lewinsky episode as the “Pentagon of blow jobs.”  Or analyzing the problems of an American occupation of Iraq after the invasion, as Hastings concludes that “no one ever accuses America of being a nation of historians.”  Despite many astute comments, the novel is missing a degree of cohesiveness despite the fact that the narrator, who happens to be named Michael Hastings periodically, inserts his personal situation into the story as he as he writes a novel.

Hastings, the author, not the character integrates historical events throughout the dialogue.  In discussing the promise of the Bush administration that the invasion of Iraq would take three months and that American troops would be home by Christmas, Hastings brings up Lyndon Johnson’s similar promises during the Vietnam War, promises made by Pope Gregory VIII during the Third Crusade, and Napoleon’s promise as he invaded Russia in 1812.  Hastings historical observations are dead on as his characters discuss the American occupation of Iraq in relation to Japan and Germany after World War II.  The problem is that those successful occupations do not apply to Iraq as their situations were totally different.  The only similar occupations were in Vietnam and the Philippines, and we all know how that turned out.

The subject that Hastings is most concerned with is decisions that THE MAGAZINE’S editorial staff made in covering of events related to the Iraq War.  The main characters involved are Nishant Patel, an intellectual snob of Indian descent, who is the international editor; Sanders Berman, a southerner, who is THE MAGAZINE’S leading reporter; Michael Hastings, an intern; and A.E. Peoria, an investigative reporter whose personal identity crisis interferes with his work.  As with most of the American media in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, the editorial board of THE MAGAZINE goes all in for war.  The arguments that are presented ring of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neo-con crowd as Patel and Berman prepare articles researched by their intern to support the invasion.  The episode dealing with the torture and demeaning of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib highlight Hastings condemnation of the liberal media.  When the magazine places the story on its cover it is confronted with Bush administration denials and as anger across the country increases because of the articles lack of patriotism, in conjunction with the predictable worldwide Islamic backlash resulting in numerous Iraqi deaths, THE MAGAZINE and its editors go into full damage control.  To save its reputation Patel and Berman choose Peoria as its scapegoat send him to appear on CNN which results in a media disaster.   Peoria seems to apologize for the cover and article while being interviewed by a “Wolf Blitzer type” and the magazine follows up by instituting “new regulations to prevent this kind of mistake from happening again.” (211)  Peoria is suspended and he continues his emotional spiral that in the end will lead to what appears to be personal renewal. During the episode Hastings, the character, leaks the truth of the story, but it gets little press as the governor of Virginia is caught receiving a “blow job” on an Amtrak Acela train.

Hastings, the character, emerges once again in relation to Peoria’s resurrection at THE MAGAZINE.  It seems that the magazine’s darling, and acting editor in chief, Sanders Berman is a guest on the Don Imus radio program.  When Imus describes the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos,” Berman seems to snicker at the comment, and now is being branded with the broad brush of racism that encompasses Imus and his staff.  After three years on the syndicated program, Berman is incredulous that he didn’t know that Imus was capable of such remarks.  THE MAGAZINE cuts its relationship with the radio talking head, but it needs to refocus public attention away from Berman.  Enters Peoria with a story about an Iraqi war hero who was wounded during the invasion in 2003 and as a result lost the lower region of his anatomy and became a transvestite, or as Hastings, the  writer, calls a “sheman.”  Peoria who had saved this soldier, Justin and/or Justina’s life during the invasion, and becomes his or/her lover has this story that could save THE MAGAZINE.  At the same time, Hastings, the character, the mole inside THE MAGAZINE fills in on a blog entitled, wretched.com as a hedge against losing his position at the magazine, or as wretched.com’s head Timothy Grave calls “dead trees.”

(ICIS execution of Iraqi citizen, June 12, 2014)

In the current unstable political climate in Iraq and the threat of ICIS, Hastings reminds us of what a mistake the invasion of Iraq was and the tragedy that has resulted.  He also sends a message to the liberal media’s complicity in the 2003 invasion.  The book is encapsulated best by James Rosen in his review in the June 16th edition of the Washington Post, “Here is the duality that appears to have gripped Hastings most profoundly: America as Good vs. America as Not Living up to the Hype of Good.  He sees this in the Green Zone and in Columbus Circle.”

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