OKLAHOMA CITY – Talk to any journalist, particularly after they’ve had a few drinks at the bar, and ask them if they are ever nervous or concerned when going up against great power. At first they will probably say “nah, I’m a reporter. I’m just doing my job and they know that.” But if you really press them on the topic – particularly after that third or fourth drink – and they will begin to admit that, yeah, taking on the powerful is a bit stressful and, perhaps, dangerous.
But most of news people know that, inevitably and given the appropriate beat, that we will end up writing stories that call for us to expose the powerful. That’s particularly true, of course, for investigative reporters.
And then think of the investigative reporters that you know who did cross the rich and powerful and ended up dead. Disappeared. Suicided. Murdered. Medical examiners get paid off or told to keep quiet. It happens all the time.
And of course the story is that they were depressed because their work wasn’t being taken seriously or they had some medical issue that was preventing them from doing their best work. Cover stories like that are thrown out there repeatedly.
Best known for dying under suspicious circumstances is former San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, he of the explosive “Dark Alliance” series (and book) and a guy of such superhuman strength that he was able to shoot himself TWICE in the head in December 2004. Now that’s something.
Webb showed how CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras smuggled cocaine into the U.S., funneling it into the inner city of Los Angeles as crack cocaine. Webb said the Reagan administration allowed this to happen so as to fund the Contras in their battle against the leftist Sandinistas.
Webb, we now know, will be the subject of an upcoming Focus Features film titled Killing the Messenger starring Jeremy Renner as Webb. We just hope they get it right.
And back in ’91 – again in a motel room – this time in Martinsburg, West Virginia, investigative reporter Danny Casolaro was found dead – of self-inflicted wounds, of course. Suicided. Casolaro was looking into a vast, criminal conspiracy he called “The Octopus.” Seems as though Casolaro may have gone too far.
We hear there will be a film made next year based on the play Danny Casolaro Died For You. Again, we hope they get it right.
Remember J.H. Hatfield dying alone in that motel room in Springdale, Arkansas in 2001? Hatfield, as troubled as he was, exposed George W. Bush’s drug-addled past in Fortunate Son. As Hatfield says in the Horns and Halos documentary, “If anything happens to me, get it out to the press.”
And what of Hunter S. Thompson? The iconic Rolling Stone gonzo journalist who hated Nixon? He reportedly committed suicide back in 2005. But two years earlier, on the verge of the Iraq War, Thompson – a virulent critic of George W. Bush – made cryptic statements about his head getting cut off for refusing to shut up about various topics, particularly those related to his criticism of Bush.
Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart also was murdered, we are convinced. As we wrote in March 2012, as soon as we learned of his passing, Breitbart was on the verge of releasing “explosive tapes featuring Obama.”
And while Breitbart’s current team at Breitbart.com doesn’t talk about it, at a recent blog convention in Dallas RDR attended, there was mention of Breitbart’s murder several times during the weekend. People know.
And now we have Michael Hastings, dead at 33. A “fiery car crash” we are told. The car “jackknifed.” Not sure how that happens. (Oh and it just so happens that Hastings’ car crash occurred the same day a story is released saying that “cyber-terrorists and hackers” can break into your vehicles’ electronics and take over, even while you are driving).
Yeah, it was Hastings’ terrific article on the real Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone in 2010 called “The Runaway General” that got a lot of people’s attention. The Operators went even further, giving readers an intimate look into how the military’s upper echelon really think. Ultimately, a disgraced McChrystal opted for “early retirement” due to Hastings’ work reporting on McChrystal’s activities in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Now, while we are awaiting the official “accident report,” I should note that in my March 2012 review of The Operators last year, I noted a particularly sinister exchange between Hastings and staffers of Gen. McChrystal.
From The Operators, Hastings writes that as they drank and sang, several McChrystal staff members make subtle threats, saying:
“You’re not going to f*ck us, are you?” asks one staff member.
Hastings responds: “I’m going to write a story; some of the stuff you’ll like, some of the stuff you probably won’t like.”
Another staffer then says: “We’ll hunt you down and kill you if we don’t like what you write.”
Not exactly subtle, in retrospect. Perhaps they followed through with their threat?
One has to imagine that Hastings was looking over his shoulder in the wake of “The Runaway General” piece and The Operators. I saw him on a cable-news program not too many months ago and he comes across as serious and professional.
And now we hear that Hastings’ car “crossed the median, slammed into a tree and bust into flames.” Hastings was found dead at the scene, a’la whistleblower Karen Silkwood in 1974, here in Oklahoma. Will we get the truth of how Hastings’ car went out of control? Granted, a lot of investigative journalists are known to love “living on the edge.”
And while journalism is viewed as one of the worst professions in America, journalists are desperately needed to keep the powerful honest. They need to be the watchdogs. We are so sorry to hear about the death of Michael Hastings. He was a brave and honest reporter.