Tonight comes the terrible, terrible news of the death of Michael Hastings, 33, one of those incredibly rare investigative journalists gifted with anger, honesty, and the courage to genuinely challenge -- and in one great instance, topple -- power. Hastings put himself in both physical danger and at risk of the subtler kind of career-crushing that destroyed Gary Webb, but it was, apparently, a simple car crash that killed him.
I corresponded with him once or twice, but I didn't know him. I'm not writing as a friend but as a colleague -- we both wrote for Rolling Stone -- who looked at his brilliant expose of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with an admiration so great it subsumed envy. I've been in some similar places. I know how hard it is to resist the mindfuck of power, to write down not what power says officially but its actual burps, its trivial hisses, the tiny little snarls that reveal it for what it is.
And I'm writing as just an ordinary citizen -- there's not much hope in the news, but what Hastings did was inspiring. What he did was actually pretty ordinary, too -- he reported what the general said. What he actually said. And that was enough to damn the general. It didn't end the war, it was barely a bump in the path of empire, but Jesus, even that -- it was beautiful. As was the outcry of a thousand hacks crying foul because Hastings did what they couldn't do: he reported the facts. Hastings drew them out into the open. So, really, it was a double expose -- of the general and the press corps that made him.
That was Hastings' biggest scoop, but there was much, much more to his career. Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone offers a good summary, including links to many important stories -- McChrystal, Hastings' drone expose, and this stunning profile of "America's Last Prisoner of War" -- and a send off to a brave reporter. There were "stories burning inside him," says his editor there, Will Dana. That's something.
As it happens, I had this issue of Vermont Life, with Hastings as cover boy -- that must have made the parents who raise him in Burlington immensely proud -- on my nightstand to read. I'd been surprised to see such a tough cover on the magazine. It immediately made me think that I wanted to invite Hastings to come speak at Dartmouth, where I teach, just across the river. Get him some Ivy League cash, blow some student minds -- and I'd get to talk to him, too. I missed my chance.
What a sorry day for all of us.