July 28, 2011

Why did Little, Brown cancel Michael Hastings' book?


Last year Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” caused a shitstorm of controversy for the Obama Administration. The fracas forced President Obama to fire General Stanley McCrystal from his post as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and it thrust a previously unknown journalist into the spotlight, insuring that the book rights for his explosive article would be bought by a big publisher for a huge sum. And of course they were.

Little, Brown bought the rights and was scheduled to publish The Operators later this year. But as this story in the New York Post by Keith Kelly points out, it appears that LB got cold feet and has removed the book from their publishing schedule.

Why would Little, Brown, who had reportedly paid a “high-six-figure advance,” suddenly back down? Kelly mentions that the Department of Defense recently conducted an investigation into Hastings’ article and could not corroborate his claims. (No surprise, of course–one could hardly expect the Pentagon to be sympathetic to Hastings since his article ruffled so many feathers there.) But when confronted with the Pentagon investigation, Rolling Stone said that they “absolutely stand by the reporting.”

Kelly got no clarification from Little, Brown or his agent, Andrew Wylie, either. When he got Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch on the phone, Pietsch’s only response was, “I’m not going to talk about that,” and hung up. And Wylie wouldn’t return his emails.

Hastings will no doubt land another deal. There have been no revelations of a major breach of journalistic ethics and, if nothing else, the new controversy guarantees that he will be a much sought-after guest on all the talking head shows once the book comes out.

Which simply leaves us with a bunch of unanswered questions. Why would a publisher spend so much money on a book only to axe it so close to pub? Was Little, Brown worried they may have their own Operation Dark Heart on their hands? More importantly, might the Pentagon be giving them a reason to be worried?

All good questions for some intrepid reporter to take up…