Who was Michael Hastings and why would anyone want to assassinate him?
Author-Journalist Michael Hastings was a reporter for the Internet based website, BuzzFeed and contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine. Hastings profile rose after an interview he conducted with General Stanley McChrystal in which the four-star general was both candid and critical of individuals in the Obama administration.
Hastings himself spoke critically of the investigation of reporters by the Justice department and characterized the Obama administration as prosecuting a “war” on journalism. On June 18 of this year, Hastings died in a high-speed automobile crash in Los Angeles.
Several weeks later, a reader wrote asking me to look into some of the allegations. Let’s take it a piece at a time.
“June 16-17 2013, Michael Hastings e-mails friends that ‘the FBI are talking to my staff’ and ‘I am working on a big story on the CIA’ and intimated that he was frightened and warned them of the FBI. He had received death threats several times from unknown sources since 2010.”
This is taken verbatim from a web site called dancingczars.wordpress.com (I found no other direct source with this exact wording).
Dancing Czars is an amalgamation of diatribe, conspiracy theories and anti-government propaganda. Among the page links: “Impeachable Offenses,” “The Criminal [Elena] Kagan,” “Top 20 Obama Scandals”… you get the idea.
Czars appears to be run by Jim Campbell, a self-described “Citizen Journalist, Oath Keeper and Patriot.” I say “appears,” because after spending more than 20 minutes searching the site, I could not clearly determine who is chiefly responsible. There are several contributors.
After a number of additional searches to determine the credibility of Czars, I quickly came to the conclusion that the free speech tenet of the First Amendment may, indeed allow for any and all opinion, but that does not mean that what they offer is true. (Having said that, it’s important to mention that this site, It’sEthicsStupid.com, is also opinion. However, I strive to ground that opinion in fact, not speculation, rumor or innuendo. If my facts are wrong, I want to know and correct them as soon as possible.)
Okay, so Dancing Czars may not be a credible source, but what about the key question raised in the reader’s e-mail: Did the FBI speak with Hastings staff and was he working on a story on the CIA?
According to an initial report by Los Angeles television station KTLA, and followed up by The Los Angeles Times (June 21), “Hastings wrote he was working on a ‘big story’ and was going to disappear. He told his colleagues that if the FBI came to interview them, they should have legal counsel present.
“The subject of the e-mail,” The Times continues, “was ‘FBI Investigation re: NSA.’ Hastings sent the email to his colleagues just before 1 p.m. Monday and blind-copied his friend, Staff Sgt. Joseph Biggs. Biggs supplied the email to KTLA and said he and Hastings met when the journalist was embedded with Biggs’ unit in Afghanistan in 2008, KTLA reported.”
However, that June 21 Times story offered some additional information.
“Hastings was researching a story about a privacy lawsuit brought by Florida socialite Jill Kelley against the Department of Defense and the FBI. He was scheduled to meet with a Kelley representative next week in L.A. to discuss the case, according to a person close to Kelley. …
“On Wednesday night, the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks published a message on Twitter that Hastings had contacted a lawyer for the organization hours before his car smashed into a tree… The message read: ‘Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.’
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Hastings was never under investigation by the agency. The bureau responded in a statement: ‘At no time was journalist Michael Hastings ever under investigation by the FBI.’ ”
While Hastings appears to have communicated that he was working on a “big story,” at first glance, that story appears not to have been about the CIA, but rather Jill Kelley who was under investigation by the FBI in connection with e-mails between former General David Petraeus and Petraeus’ biographer Paula Broadwell who had been involved in affair with the general.
Further research, however, turned up an interview (Aug. 5) by CNN’s Piers Morgan of Hastings widow, Elise Jordan, who confirmed that Hastings was, in fact, working on a profile of CIA Director John Brennan. According to a number of websites, the Brennan story is due for release by Rolling Stone. (As of this writing, Rolling Stone has not made any official announcement.)
Returning to the e-mail I received from my reader:
” ‘Hastings became a vocal critic of the surveillance state during the investigation of reporters by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013, referring to the restrictions on the freedom of the press by the government as a “war” on journalism. His last story, “Why Democrats Love to Spy on Americans,” was published by BuzzFeed on June 7.”
This was taken verbatim from the third graph of an entry in Wikipedia with accurate links to its credibility.
“[Hastings] dies in the crash, incinerated, and a witness stated [at a] high rate of speed and ran at least one red light.”
According to Yahoo News (June 21), a witness, Michael Carter, states: “I was stopped at the light at Santa Monica [Boulevard], headed south on Highland [Avenue]. I looked down to turn my radio down, and this car just blasted past me through the red light—it shook my car.”
According to a report by FOX News [Insider] (June 26), the blog site for FOX, “Close friends and associates, including Sgt. Joe Biggs, said [Hastings] friends and family who know him, everyone says he drives like a grandma.’ ”
“Of note: there was some kind of ‘reporter’ on the scene who videotaped the crash… that was able to be shown on national TV. (On the scene 4 a.m.)”
LA Weekly appears to be the first source for this. Their story, picked up by other news organizations, reported that “The video, by freelance TV news crew Loud Labs, shows a vehicle blazing through a red light on Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, only four blocks from the crash. …
“Freelance videographers work the night shift in L.A. because local TV stations don’t budget enough for expensive, three-person news vans to work overnight. The freelance crews listen to police scanners and sell their footage to the stations.”
There is nothing surprising about this. My own experience working at KMIR-TV in Palm Springs years ago demonstrated that large market stations would often ask local stations or freelancers for video of newsworthy events. Today, armed with smart phones, everyone is a potential on-the-scene reporter.
“Michael’s wife… was aide and speechwriter for Condoleezza Rice during her term as Secretary of State, and she [Hastings’ wife] vows ‘to hunt those down who did this.’ “
As noted on several websites, Hastings’ widow, Elise Jordan did, in fact, work as a speechwriter for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Internet talk host Alex Jones, on his site Infowars, reported (June 26) that Jordan vowed “to take down whoever did this.” I could find no other verifiable source for this.
However, on August 6 of this year, Jordan appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight and shared a different perspective on her husband’s death.
Next: What Jordan had to say, and the most controversial aspects surrounding Hastings’ death.