If you want to know how to make it big in the mass media, a good place to get some crucial starters is waiting for you at Blue Rider Press: “The Last Magazine.” Unfortunately, Michael Hastings’ fearless career was cut short at 33 years of age—by a tree—so he is not around to give you the updates. Michael figured that journalism wasn’t about rewriting press releases carefully edited in posh corporation or government offices, or being “embedded” with the troops. He thought you had to say things the way they were. That’s what “The Last Magazine” is about. His wife found it on his computer following his death and rightly thought it was a journalistic bomb.
Perhaps the reader remembers having read an article back in 2010 published by “Rolling Stone” magazine which, to say the least, caught the then supreme commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan openly mocking his civilian commanders in the White House. That’s not politically correct and Michael’s caustic article led to the demise of the general. That led to the publication of a previous book, “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan.”
Hastings got his first taste for how today’s news factories turn out products that seem to come off the assembly line, or from the publicity offices of corporate moguls and political big shots when he got broken in at News Week. Sure. You learn by doing. But also by watching. Talking. Listening. News Week sent him off to cover the Iraq war in 2007, where his fiancée and aide worker was killed in a Baghdad car bombing. That led to Hastings’ first book, “I lost my love in Baghdad: a modern war story.” The no-holds-barred journalist didn’t let that vamp his energy. He wrote for Rolling Stone on the drones, did an exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at his hideout in the English countryside, carried out 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," said adroitly 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."
Opinionated and hard-charging, Hastings was always pushing on for more and refused to cozy up to power. It is therefore legitimate that clear minded journalists follow in his steps and—for example—investigate the causes of his death. True. He was under great stress and was taking medical marijuana, going back and forth between New York and Hollywood (where he sold rights to “The Operators” to Brad Pitt’s production company. He also mentioned, perhaps not very diplomatically to friends, that he was working on an article about the National Security Agency. According to BuzzFeed, his employer at the time, he complained that his friends were being interviewed by the F.B.I. and explained to the magazine that he needed to “go off the radar for a bit.”
Then at 4:20 a.m. June 18th he was killed when his Mercedes crashed into a tree while allegedly traveling at a very high speed in Los Angeles. But……..why did police cover the front part of the car with a sheet? Cars explode with amazing ease in Hollywood movies, but reality would seem to be a bit different. You might go 100 miles an hour on a super highway, although it is advisable neither for your health nor for your pocket book. If were Michael and you suspected someone was following you, wouldn’t you become a bit nervous? Maybe times have changed, but didn’t it used to be that the F.B.I. was in charge of investigating federal crimes in the country while the CIA was supposed to take care of the country’s secret interests abroad? Oh well, the times they are a-changin’. Maybe the speculations about some funny business associated with the death of Michael Hastings are all false hearsay. Maybe. But doesn’t this whole situation make you think of George Orwell, the brave new world, 1984…And then you think of Wilkileaks, Snowden, so many other cases and you conclude sadly that Hastings’ death was a loss as well as a gain, a loss of a valuable life and a gain for the heritance he left for investigative journalism.
Ben Smith, editor of Buzzflash, knew Hastings well: “he was only interested in writing stories someone didn’t want to write,” yet “he knew that there are certain truths that nobody has an interest in speaking, ones that will make you both your subjects and their enemies uncomfortable. They are stories that don’t get told because nobody in power has much of an interest in telling them.” Was it not Christ who said seek the truth and the truth will make you free? Unfortunately, often at a price.