If you haven’t yet seen the list of 10 tips Michael Hastings suggests for young journalists they’re worth reading. Though, perhaps the most profound lesson to be learned inadvertently came during the investigation of Hastings’ death.
According to the L.A. Times, 33 year-old Hastings sent out emails “hours before his death,” informing recipients that his close friends were being interviewed and monitored by the FBI. The FBI has denied this investigation.
Hastings also insinuated in the email that he was on the verge of “a big story” and needed to “go off the rada[r] a bit.”
Hastings, we know was also responsible for the resignation of Gen. McChrystal following his 2010 article in Rolling Stones. As a veteran war-correspondent and presidential campaign reporter his work generally reflected a critical skepticism that that few others dared to communicate.
This kind of work is ripe for FBI probing. And apparently Hastings was worried enough about this potential to contact WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson before his death.
While conspiracy theories unravel all over the Internet about the FBI’s involvement in Hastings death, what is true is the fear Hastings had of being under surveillance.
So what does this teach young journalists? In a climate of WikiLeaks, demonized whistle-blowers and journalists who are profiled as collaborators, if you want to continue muckraking than you will be under surveillance, your work will be jeopardized, you will be taking huge risks.
I recently watched Jeremy Scahill’s documentary Dirty Wars (review of this amazing film to come soon). While investigating the paramilitary-esque tactics of JSOC in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia his computer was hacked and his phone calls were tapped. Not to mention his visible fear throughout the movie as he described the possible consequences of this spying– death threats, incarceration, an end to the research. These are the working conditions of journalists who choose to hold a mirror up to the violence and irrationality of nation-states and individuals in power.
So perhaps the best lesson young journalists will learn from Hastings: if you plan to rake through the Blackwaters of the world, be prepared for a fight.