The late investigative reporter Michael Hastings’ much-buzzed-about posthumous novel, The Last Magazine, a thinly veiled account of his time at Newsweek (and Gawker!) in the mid-2000s, finally landed in bookstores and Amazon warehouses earlier this week. But where’s the fun in thin veils?
Below, our field guide to deciphering Hastings’s very insider-y novel about the weird world of newsmagazine journalism in the 21st century.
The Last Magazine takes mostly place in New York City, Iraq, and Thailand in the mid-2000s, beginning with the run-up to the Iraq War. The novel’s narrator, a twenty-something intern named Michael M. Hastings, lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and works in Midtown at a print weekly called The Magazine, which appears to be heavily based on Newsweek, where Hastings (the author) worked in the mid-2000s.
“Michael M. Hastings”
Rap sheet: Narrator of The Last Magazine. Twenty-something intern at The Magazine and resident of a second-floor Lower East Side apartment on Orchard and Rivington. Eventually becomes an assistant editor at The Magazine’s website. Briefly moonlights as a weekend editor at a media gossip website called Wretched.com under the pseudonym K. Eric Walters.
Is based on: Michael M. Hastings, former Newsweek staffer, Rolling Stone contributor, and BuzzFeed correspondent. Briefly moonlit as a weekend editor at the gossip website Gawker under the pseudonym K. Eric Walters. (Hastings died in June 2013 in a Los Angeles car crash.)
Rap sheet: Thirty-something Magazine correspondent who abuses drugs and suffers from Compulsive Disclosure Disorder. A.E. Peoria, is about a decade older than Hastings (the character), and spends the novel reporting from Cambodia, where he is tasked with writing about the popularity of mobile phones; embedding with an Army platoon deployed to Iraq, where he witnesses a soldier’s genitals blown off; and flitting about Thailand, where he solicits prostitutes and consumes lots of drugs. Frequently dwells on the fact that both of his parents came out as gay after he was born.
Is based on: Adam Piore, former Newsweek correspondent, according to an essay he wrote for Slate last week.
Rap sheet: Editor of The Magazine’s international edition, who spends the novel vying to become the periodical’s top editor-in-chief. Possesses “a melodious voice, British with a hint of the refined castes of New Delhi—the voice of an internationally flavored school tie.” Writes a cover story advocating for invading Iraq. Car service bill: $7,323.
Is based on: Fareed Zakaria, former editor of Newsweek International, who advocated for the Iraq War.
Rap sheet: Managing editor of Newsweek and Nishant Patel’s competition for editor-in-chief. Ranked #6 on a list titled “Top 20 Media Players Under Age 38.” Speaks in a Southern drawl. Described as a “thirty-seven-year-old trapped in a sixty-seven-year-old's body.” Snappy dresser. Car service bill: $9,356.
Is based on: Jon Meacham, former managing editor of Newsweek, who eventually became the top of editor of Newsweek.
Rap sheet: The Magazine’s Chief Investigative Correspondent, most notable for breaking two stories: President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and the existence of a classified Pentagon report alleging that military personnel had flushed a copy of the Quran down a toilet at an overseas American detention facility. Healy’s report about the latter was eventually retracted after deadly riots broke out in the Middle East. Hastings (the narrator) obliquely suggests that Healy “smok[ed] crack” and had “rumored affairs.”
Is based on: Michael Isikoff, former Investigative Correspondent for Newsweek, who is most notable for reporting President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and, nearly a decade later, the existence of a classified Pentagon report alleging that military personnel had flushed a copy of the Quran down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay during a prisoner interrogation. The latter report was later retracted after deadly riots broke out in the Middle East. According to multiple Newsweek sources, however, Isikoff has never smoked crack, and was never rumored to have had affairs.
Rap sheet: Middle-aged “new media genius” and owner of media gossip website Wretched.com. Possesses an “unusually tiny head on a skinny six-one frame” and speaks in a “heavy British accent.” (Sample: “Ah? Another dead-tree’er come to say hullo.”) Surrounds himself with a “coven of straight males” at parties where bloggers and other media types congregate.
Is based on: Nick Denton, the publisher and owner of Gawker Media.
“Sarah” (no last name)
Rap sheet: Overworked editor of Wretched.com. “Her job at Wretched.com is all-consuming. Up at six a.m. reading at least four newspapers and ten other blogs by seven a.m., twelve posts a day, a thirty-minute lunch, and then at night she goes to different events across the city to stay on top of things.” Brings the narrator to a few blogging parties on the Lower East Side, and eventually recruits him as a weekend editor. Tells Hastings that her boss, Grove, “likes to surround himself with twentysomething straight guys.”
Is based on: Jessica Coen, former editor-in-chief of Gawker and current editor-in-chief of Jezebel. In an email, Coen wrote:
Mike was enthusiastic about Gawker and kind of game for anything—I think he was freelancing at Newsweek at that point, but I didn't see a lot of contempt from him towards Gawker. Then again, we were paying him, so he was likely just biting his tongue. But I didn’t love working at Gawker, either—it was a brutal job at the time, I was terrified of Nick and worked 13 hours a day. I know I opened up a lot to him about that. (Full email below. )
Rap sheet: Staff writer for a “middle-highbrow magazine”—“the only [magazine] that the editors at The Magazine read on a regular basis”—where he publishes an article that makes the argument for the American invasion of Iraq. Appears on Charlie Rose to support the case for invading Iraq in February 2003. Approvingly cites Kenneth Pollack’s 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Describes having tea with a source in The New Yorker.
Is based on: Jeffrey Goldberg, former staff writer at The New Yorker, where he published articles that made the case for the American invasion of Iraq. Appeared on Charlie Rose to support the case for invading Iraq in February 2003. Approvingly cited Kenneth Pollack’s 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Described having tea with a source in The New Yorker.
Rap sheet: Per Hastings (the narrator): “Another up-and-coming media guru (also on the list of ‘Top 20 Media Players Under Age 38’). Grove’s been directing his bloggers [at Wretched.com] to post at least a half-dozen items on Rohan’s own start-up print publication—he sees him as ‘homo-competitor’ for the crown of new media guru.”
Is based on: Maer Roshan, the former editor of Radar magazine, which Gawker relentlessly covered when it launched in 2005. In response to Gawker’s coverage, Radar revealed that Michael Hastings (the author) was blogging for Gawker under the nom de blog K. Eric Walters:
Gawker, which is currently helmed by a revolving roster of underemployed freelancers, is this week being anonymously co-edited by an actual journalist, Newsweek staffer Michael Hastings, who’s planning to write a piece about the experience. Drop him a line and tell him how he's doing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of all the barely-veiled Newsweek gossip Hastings prints, perhaps the most intriguing (if not the most scandalous) appears on page 43, after A.E. Peoria asks whether the Hastings character is “one of those Mormon interns”:
The Magazine had a special relationship with Brigham Young University, which meant Mormons had three guaranteed internship slots a year.
We’ve heard the same thing. A former Newsweek staffer with knowledge of the magazine’s internship program told us that the magazine had a special program for BYU students: “Newsweek had a paid summer program that was competitive and by application. Then, on the side, BYU placed a few unpaid interns.” (The BYU interns received college credit.) One of those BYU interns was McKay Coppins, who ended up working with Hastings at BuzzFeed, where both wrote about politics. Coppins did not return a request for comment.
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