The brother of journalist Michael Hastings says he and his family were satisfied with the police investigation into his brother’s fatal car crash and dismissed claims by “truthers” who believe he was killed by the government.
“There were a lot of journalists-in-quotes who didn’t seem to have read (the police report) very carefully or were, irresponsibly I think, taking things out of context,” said Jonathan Hastings. “I guess that’s understandable — I mean, of course the press is going to sensationalize things and play up the juicy stuff. But just because it was understandable didn’t mean I liked it.”
Jonathan Hastings discussed his late younger brother, an author and journalist who’d written for Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Buzzfeed, and his June 18 death at age 33 during an interview published Monday on the Uncouth Reflections blog.
“I think it’s kind of strange that there are now ‘Michael Hastings Truthers’ out there, but that just seems to be a side-effect of how the internet works these days,” Hastings said. “Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that there are so many people who are really invested in the idea that he was murdered by the government, but I still think it’s a weird thing for people who didn’t know him to get hung up on. A lot of them seem not to have been familiar with his work before he died, so it isn’t simply a result of grieving fans, or something.
Hastings said he flew to Los Angeles shortly before his younger brother’s death after speaking to him by phone and worrying that he might be experiencing a drug-induced manic episode, something that had happened about 15 years earlier.
“I immediately booked a flight to L.A. for the next day, with the thought that maybe I could convince him to come back to Vermont to dry out or (less likely) get him to go to detox/rehab there in L.A.,” Hastings said. “When I got to L.A. and saw him, I immediately realized that he was not going to go willingly.”
He said he began making arrangements with their youngest brother to fly to California and help him get Michael checked into a hospital or detox center, and Hastings said he thought he’d at least convinced his brother to stay at his apartment to “chill out” for a few days.
“But he snuck out on me when I was sleeping, (and) he crashed his car before anyone could do anything to help him,” Hastings said.
Hastings said, as one of the last people to see his brother alive, he told Los Angeles police about Michael’s behavior in the days prior to the crash, and while he says some of those contextual details were left out of the police report, he said he understood why the final report focused primarily on the investigation into the crash itself.
“I really rule out foul play entirely,” Hastings said. “I might have been suspicious if I hadn’t been with him the day before he died. After all, he definitely was investigating and writing about a lot of sensitive subjects. But based on being with him and talking to people who were worried about him in the weeks leading up to his death, and being around him when he had had similar problems when he was younger, I was pretty much convinced that he wasn’t in danger from any outside agency.”
He dismissed suspicions about the way his brother’s Mercedes exploded, sending its engine flying a great distance away from the wrecked vehicle.
“I think the explosion and everything else can be accounted for by the fact that his car was going really, really fast,” Hastings said. “That’s a lot of kinetic energy and a lot of fuel involved when you’re going full throttle like that.”
Hastings also brushed off suspicions based on the cremation of his brother’s remains.
“Nothing was done against anyone’s wishes,” Hastings said. “A reporter took a statement from one of Mike’s friends out-of-context and ran with it, a very clear example of irresponsible journalism.”
Hastings said, while he’s examined some of the rumors swirling around his brother’s death, his family has largely tried to ignore them.
“I don’t think anyone is bitter about them,” Hastings said. “The government is out of control in a lot of ways, so I sympathize with people who want to turn Mike’s death into some kind of symbol. I just think that his death happens to be a bad foundation to build that case on.”
However, he’s dismayed that questions about Michael’s death have started to obscure his life and his work.
“I’d much rather see people celebrating the work he actually did,” Hastings said. “I think that would be more effective politically in the long run, too.”
Ironically, those conspiracy theorists are helping to paper over proven examples of government wrongdoing, Hastings said.
“By casting Mike’s death as a kind of Robert Ludlum-style conspiracy, people miss out on how the government actually silences and suppresses reporters: through the threat of legal action, or, as in the case of Mike’s friend Barrett Brown, taking actual legal action,” Hastings said. “I’d like to see a lot of the people upset over a ‘Michael Hastings coverup’ to turn their efforts towards keeping Barrett out of prison.”
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