The volcanic eruption in Iceland didn't just disrupt flights across Europe for a few weeks in April, it also played a role in the downfall of the commander of the United States' operation in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

President Obama yesterday sacked the four star general after comments in a Rolling Stone profile piece came to light. (By the way, here's the full article).

The reporter that wrote the piece, Michael Hastings, was initially meant to spend two days in Paris with McChrystal and his entourage.

After that it would be on to Afghanistan where he would then shadow him further.

The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull kept them grounded in Paris longer than expected, and eventually they had to take a bus to Berlin.

Hastings used this extended time to his advantage, immersing himself within the General's close knit circle, encountering a candour and forthrightness that has caused a media storm.

One of the questions to emerge from this story is as follows: would a 'beat' reporter have been as willing to expose the comments made by McChrystal and co? Hastings is a freelance and Thomas Ricks argues that this should have made McChrystal cautious. Jack Shafer doesn't think it makes a difference:

"A popular theory endorsed yesterday by Politico before the site tossed it down the memory hole today—is that Hastings was inherently dangerous because he's a freelance reporter.

"According to this theory, freelancers happily burn their subjects because they're not likely to return to them, whereas beat reporters must rely on maintaining good day-to-day relations with them. I don't buy this. Feature writers and beat reporters are equally capable of taking a dive for their subjects.

"I don't know of any beat reporter who wouldn't have gotten a promotion for catching McChrystal and his staff shooting off their mouths, and I don't know any newspaper that would have hesitated to publish the story.

"Moral of the story: If you're going to talk crazy, no reporter will protect you from your foolishness."

A volcanic eruption and the downfall of General Stanley McChrystal