Michael Hastings. (AP Photo/Blue Rider Press/Penguin)
The prolific and courageous journalist Michael Hastings, formerly of Newsweek, more recently of Rolling Stone and Buzzfeed, has died at the age of 33 in an auto accident in Los Angeles, Buzzfeed reported tonight. Via Twitter and other online outlets, hundreds of fellow journalists expressed shock and sadness. Watch Rachel Maddow’s personal tribute tonight.
Piers Morgan on his CNN show asked guests Glenn Greenwald and Dan Ellsberg to comment—they agreed it was “a tremendous loss to journalism,” and then Morgan offered his own tribute. Jay Rosen tweeted: “A glitch in the operating system of the American press allows realism to output as deference. Michael Hastings didn’t have that.” Even novelist Walter Kirn responded: “I am so sad to hear of the death of Michael Hastings, a fine, brave reporter who made a difference and will be missed terribly by all.”
Rolling Stone has just added its own obit. The LA Times speculates on the accident—and carries details and photo of the site—but they’re not sure that’s really it. Local TV covered the same crash and seems more certain.
Much will be written about Hastings in the hours and days to come, and I’ll have more below. But for now, I don’t have much to add, except recalling that we exchanged several e-mails back in the days before he made such a fuss with his Stanley McChrystal scoop.
It was maybe six or seven years ago, and he was just back from Baghdad; I was editing Editor & Publisher and writing almost daily stories on Iraq and the media and my book So Wrong for So Long, and he needed some advice about a projected book. Relatively few know about his first book, about his courtship and life with a woman (who worked for Air America). They both ended up in Iraq, where she lost her life. The book was I Lost My Love in Baghdad, and it was pretty much ignored until his later fame. So that’s a reminder.
Hastings’s final piece for Buzzfeed, I believe, hit Democrats for defending the scope of NSA surveillance. From the obit by Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson:
A contributing editor to Rolling Stone, Hastings leaves behind a remarkable legacy of reporting, including an exposé of America’s drone war, an exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at his hideout in the English countryside, an investigation into the Army’s illicit use of “psychological operations” to influence sitting senators and a profile of Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl, “America’s Last Prisoner of War."
"Great reporters exude a certain kind of electricity,” says Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana, “the sense that there are stories burning inside them, and that there’s no higher calling or greater way to live life than to be always relentlessly trying to find and tell those stories. I’m sad that I’ll never get to publish all the great stories that he was going to write, and sad that he won’t be stopping by my office for any more short visits which would stretch for two or three completely engrossing hours. He will be missed.”
Hard-charging, unabashedly opinionated, Hastings was original and at times abrasive. He had little patience for flacks and spinmeisters and will be remembered for his enthusiastic breaches of the conventions of access journalism. In a memorable exchange with Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, Hastings’ aggressive line of questioning angered Reines. “Why do you bother to ask questions you’ve already decided you know the answers to?” Reines asked. “Why don’t you give answers that aren’t bullshit for a change?” Hastings replied.
Marc Ambinder at The Week put it this way: “Michael Hastings was the type of national security reporter I didn’t have the guts to be. A dick? I guess—well, yes. A dick. A dick to those in power. Fearless. Someone who didn’t care what others thought of him.” Democracy Now! linked to its many interviews with Hastings. Dave Weigel offered his own memories at Slate.
Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed posted a photo of Hastings from his high school yearbook, labeled “Most Outspoken,” and recalled that Hastings lost his class president position when he said “shagadelic” over the school’s PA.
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