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Michael Hastings Trutherism

June 20, 2013, at 7:41 PM

This is a distasteful subject to write about. But Los Angeles talk radio is obsessed with the death of Michael Hastings and the insinuations that somehow he was killed by unknown forces attempting to silence him.

Yesterday afternoon, I drove to the scene of the car crash. Several bouquets of flowers ringed a tree. I saw candles and notes. It's very sad.

Trutherism (the catch-all term for instant conspiracies based on extreme mistrust and/or unfounded supposition) makes me angry.

I would much rather have Hastings' life work be the subject of discussion and criticism than to hear L.A. radio jocks gawk at Hastings' personal history and demons.

Maybe it's a little too personal for me.

1. Cars don't often crash and burst into flames. Especially not cars that are new and well-made, not Mercedes, and especially not cars that are designed to eject their engine blocks when a major compression is detected. So the fact that Hastings' car burst into the flames on impact is unusual. But it is not impossible. It happens.

2. If you were attempting to engineer a death by making a car burst into flames, you would probably not know a heck of a lot about how hard it is to rig a car to explode like this, absent propellants and ordnance. (There were none detected at the scene.) If you wanted to make a homicide look like a suicide, you wouldn't rig a car to explode on impact precisely because it is out of the norm and doesn't often happen. It draws attention. To put it simply, it is not how anyone with the capability to kill someone would go about doing it. It happens in Murder She Wrote, it happens in the movies — but not in real life. There are, sadly, many easy ways to kill someone and make it look like a suicide. A car crash would be the MOST suspicious.

3. Explosives: Are there explosives that are hard to detect after an explosion? Yes. Can a bomb-maker be sure that explosives won't be detected? Absolutely not. And there would be many other signs of an explosion unless somehow a car was rigged to explode but then not look like it was rigged to explode.

4. It is of course relevant to note Hastings' fears about the FBI before his death. Maybe the FBI was investigating leaks based on a story he had written. Maybe it was investigating him for something else. We will surely know soon; there are a lot of reporters on the case. In any event, the FBI does not chase after cars driven by people whose identity and eventual destination is known. The bureau uses cell phone geolocation data to track people. For certain operations involving drugs or stolen goods, the FBI will use standard surveillance techniques, the kind you see in a movie. But not for anything that Hastings was involved in. There would be no real reason to.

5. The L.A.P.D. says that there is no indication of "foul play." The coroner says it will take six weeks or so to verify a cause of death.

6. The U.S government has plenty of ways to harass journalists who write stories it doesn't like. At the extreme end of what we know the U.S. has done recently, we know that it requested that Yemen keep in prison a journalist, Abd-Ilah al-Shai, for reasons it will not state. We also know that the U.S. government has an extra-judicial process for deciding whether American citizens linked to terrorist groups overseas can be killed. (cf: Anwar Al-Awlaki.) We know that at least three other U.S. citizens have been killed accidentally by the U.S. overseas. The government, thanks to aggressive efforts by everyone from Jeremy Scahill to Ron Paul to the ACLU, has admitted to all of this. Well, except for the Yemeni journalist. But — and it only matters for the sake of this argument — he is not an American citizen. The U.S. government does not kill American journalists.

So here we are. Honor Michael Hastings' memory by separating truth from fiction. Don't make it up.

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