Michael Hastings on What Worried Him
The world just lost a brilliant and fearless journalist. Michael Hastings did more in his short life than most people do in an entire lifetime. As information continues to come out about his death early Tuesday morning in a car accident, the blogosphere is already shifting through the mysterious pieces. Hours before he died, Hastings called the lawyer for Wikileaks, to inform her that he was being investigated by the FBI—those famous tormenters of truth crusaders from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Ernest Hemingway. LA Weekly has more chilling insight on the matter.
The big idea presented here is that Michael Hastings saw the NSA as it truly was three years before Edward Snowden’s explosive whistle-blowing. In 2010, he wrote for True/Slant, a short-lived blogging community that featured respected journalists and pundits. On his profile page on the site, Hastings answered a series of standard “get to know our writers” questions. Here is his answer to "This is Making Me Worry…”
The NSA. If they're taking the time to tap my phones, I want a refund of my tax dollars. On the other hand, if they're not tapping my phone--it's a mobile with a 212 area code that has been used from Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Kurdistan, etc--then I want my money back, too.
Hastings’ famous sense of humor is on display here. And obviously every thinking person already knew that the government reads our emails—a post-9/11 reality I first woke up to during a depressing lunch with a few chatty tech genius friends back in 2004. We just needed an Edward Snowden to confirm what we knew, and to shame the spying, hypocritical, and dangerous elephant in the room. (Et tu, Obama?)
Back to Hastings. His last story for BuzzFeed was on the Democrats' dark defense of the NSA’s classified Big Brother tactics. As Hastings points out, those who threatened this new world order were persecuted, high-profile reporters included. It’s chilling to read his words, and imagine the panic he must have felt in his final moments as he called the Wikileaks lawyer to confront the possibility that it was his turn now.
That’s not to mention former NSA official Thomas Drake (the Feds tried to destroys his life because he blew the whistle ); Fox News reporter James Rosen (named a “co-conspirator” by Holder’s DOJ); John Kirakou, formerly in the CIA, who raised concerns about the agency’s torture program, is also in prison for leaking “harmful” (read: embarrassing) classified info; and of course Wikileaks (under U.S. financial embargo); WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (locked up in Ecuador’s London embassy) and, of course, Bradley Manning, the young, idealistic, soldier who provided the public with perhaps the most critical trove of government documents ever released.
The attitude the Obama administration has toward Manning is revealing. What do they think of him? “Fuck Bradely Manning,” as one White House official put it to me last year during the campaign.
Screw Manning? Lol, screw us.
And there’s that famous sense of humor again.
When asked to share his "secret ambition in life," Hastings wrote on his True/Slant profile: “To maintain and cultivate an enemies list.” That’s the job description of a journalist. And in today's increasingly “side-boob” driven news media, Hastings was a rare journalist.
In honor of Hastings, here’s a quote from another truth crusader, Gary Webb. The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist lost his career and eventually committed suicide when his editors at the San Jose Mercury News refused to stand by his 1996 investigation proving that the CIA ran a crack-cocaine business. The Reagan administration essentially sold drugs to raise money for the CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua. The classified program was responsible for an epidemic of addiction and had targeted poor racial communities in America. Webb’s fearless reporting was eventually vindicated by government investigations and other journalists, after his death.
Here’s what that experience of persecution taught Webb—a conviction that Hastings lived by:
If we had met five years ago, you wouldn't have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me ... I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn't work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I'd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn't been, as I'd assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job ... The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn't written anything important enough to suppress...
The best way to honor Hastings is for journalists and the media industry to strengthen and protect investigative journalism like democracy depends on it. It doesn't take an Edward Snowden to point out that it does.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.