He was one of the great journalists of our generation, possessing spark and insight and righteous indignation. But he was also funny and kind and irreverent. He took his work seriously but never himself.
He was fearless, for better and for worse, and that has become a kind of instant cliché about his character in the wake of his passing, passed along the Twitterverse he helped popularize. Hemingway once said that all writers must possess “built-in, shock-proof bullshit detector” and Michael seemed born with one of those. He hated bullies and lies and puffed up pretense. He was never afraid to call bullshit, even when the target in question was a boss or a general running a war he was covering.
Michael will always be known—at least in journalism circles—for his Rolling Stone“Runaway General” story that ended up leading to the resignation of a commanding general in wartime. At the height of the subsequent shit-storm, Michael was unavailable for comment, embedded with the troops who were his reality check.
Michael took some quiet pride in being a chameleon—this most subversive of cats would wear a coat and tie to coast into the corridors of power because, he explained, you’d be surprised at how few people would think to stop a man wearing a coat and tie. But despite the purposeful work-uniform, there was not an ounce of suck-up in him; he was all about pursuit of the unvarnished and often ugly truth while also believing that you could have some fun along the way. His storytelling style had touches of Hunter and Orwell, but he was an original American amalgam who built upon the best of the past, as all craftsmen do. His exasperated intensity was his hallmark—you always knew you were getting his truth, straight no chaser.
He achieved success in his chosen field at a young age—a war correspondent who returned to tell the tale to awed students at his high school in Vermont. His wrote a list of advice to aspiring journalists, worth reading here, that can stand along with his body of work—the books I Lost My Love in Baghdad; The Operators and Panic 2012—as an enduring memory of his voice and talent.
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