When most people my age or younger talk about “heroes” they very often seem to reference some sports athlete or a celebrity that is well known and has universal name recognition. Hell, that goes for people way older than me, too. Maybe it’s a movie star or a musician of some sort, or whatever else qualifies a person for the ever-expanding “celebrity” label nowadays. I’d have to be the first to admit that I love my sports, pretty guilty. To a certain extent I can dig some popular culture as well, semi-guilty. I’m definitely not trying to go all “grumpy old man” on anyone with what I’m about to write, but let’s be honest, those types of things usually don’t align with anything even remotely resembling heroic. At least to me they don’t. You’d think that they would, more often than they actually do. All that fame, money and influence. These people have all the ability in the world, and further, the platform to make a deep and positive impact on society as a whole. Yet very few people with that level of fame ever use it for anything. Image over investment (in humanity). And with that, the vast majority of this country still looks up to them and wishes that they could be this person or that, loses their head if they ever come in contact with them, would do damn near anything if it was ever suggested by them, and I just don’t get it.
Earlier tonight I drove up Highland Avenue to spend some time at the site where Michael Hastings recently lost his life. To me, this individual qualifies as being heroic. He was a chaser of information, an Iraq war correspondent who actually ended up losing his fiancee to that very war. He then had the courage to write about it. He rose through the journalism ranks and actually aimed (imagine that?) to hold politicians accountable. In this world of segregated partisanship he was likely labeled and put into 1 column or the other. Whatever. But when a politician he may have agreed with did something that he didn’t think was moral or legal, he damn sure spoke about it. He was not the type to double-down on some absurdist talking point for the betterment of the political “team.” So many of these hacks playing the role of “journalist” either outright lie for a living, or they simply keep their mouth shut and ignore or discard all dissenting views like a parrot on autopilot. They read teleprompters and they make a mockery out of the issues, they have historical amnesia for a living. Silently going along to get along. No principles, no nothing. But they can always be counted on to be hypocritical! Michael Hastings was the opposite.
What cut at me most while I stood in the median was that this dude was only 33-years-old. He graduated High School literally a year before I did. That’s incredible, to look at his work and to marvel at it and to feel as though he very much mattered. You can’t help but think, well, what have I done in comparison? That’s the wrong thing to think, but you think it anyways. But man, I have so much respect for this person and for his outspokenness on things like war, the 2-party system, drones, civil liberties, the NSA, the list goes on and on. And here I am, standing in front of a tree that his car allegedly swerved into. He died right where I stood with my camera tonight. I say “allegedly” because there is so many things that don’t add up. Putting his last sent email and his attempts to communicate with his circle to the side, how does an engine fly out of a car and land 100 yards behind the vehicle? What’s up with the differences in the crime scene photos? Did his car have an explosive device attached to it? Was he murdered by someone affiliated with the state, or at the state’s behest?
The police and the FBI immediately said “no,” which, to me, means that the answer is probably not no. In my opinion, the answer lies somewhere between “possibly,” “probably” and “yes.” We are sadly at the point where assuming that Hastings was taken out by one of his political enemies makes more sense than this accident, and its presented narrative. And that’s horrendously sad, and you definitely feel sadness standing in front of that tree. Sadness for our country. Sadness for the rule of law, for the idea of transparency, for everything else that truly matters.
What I do know is that I will continue to try to be someone that goes out and looks for the answers, as Hastings was. Someone who doesn’t shy away from critical thinking, no matter who’s the subject of the thought. That’s the best way that we can honor him. Be an inquiring mind. Be someone who has a relationship with their own principles, someone who is willing to cross lines, and at the same time, someone who is clear on the numerous things that they won’t accept. That’s all that I can think of right now. Rest in peace.