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Michael Hastings' Dangerous Mind: Journalistic Star Was Loved, Feared and Haunted 

Thursday, Aug 22 2013
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In mid-May, the Justice Department disclosed that it had obtained records of 20 phone lines belonging to Associated Press reporters as part of a leak investigation. The next week, the Washington Post obtained an affidavit from another investigation, in which a Fox News reporter was described as a "co-conspirator" with an alleged leaker.

And on June 5, Edward Snowden's leaks unmasked the NSA's electronic dragnet. As these revelations tumbled out, one after the other, Hastings grew increasingly consumed by them.

Hastings ended Panic 2012 on a hopeful note about President Obama. But when the AP story broke, he quickly changed course, arguing that the government's behavior would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.

click to flip through (4) Michael Hastings' publicity photo shows him as a battle-hardened war correspondent.
  • Michael Hastings' publicity photo shows him as a battle-hardened war correspondent.
     
 

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"Any leeway or sympathy I ever give to the Obama White House, I take back forever," he said on Huffpost Live, on May 14.

The next week on The Young Turks, Hastings wore a green "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" T-shirt. Gesticulating for emphasis, he shouted, "I'm sick of this partisan, defend-Obama-on-everything. He's tapping your phones! The man is tapping your phones!"

In public appearances, Hastings said he had no information to suggest that he was being targeted. In private, he was convinced that he was.

"He felt that everything he was doing was being watched," Uygur says.

Gail Sistrunk McTiernan spoke with Hastings several times in May and June for a BuzzFeed story about her husband, imprisoned Die Hard director John Mc­Tiernan. "I know it was [Hastings'] belief that it was absolutely no problem for the FBI or anyone else" to listen to his calls, she says. "He assumed they were."

In May, Hastings traveled to Washington and New York and visited his editors. As usual, he was full of ideas — maybe something on the underbelly of Hollywood. He also was interested in doing something on surveillance, maybe a book.

"The NSA stuff ... really rocked him a bit," says Rosenthal, his editor. "I'm not a doctor, but he certainly was agitated in the last day or two of his life."

Mike McTernan, a staffer at Brave New Films, helped arrange a Skype interview for Hastings with some victims injured in a drone strike in Pakistan in early June. Hastings was thinking about including the material in a story he was doing for Rolling Stone on CIA director John Brennan.

"He just seemed very freaked out," McTernan says. "The conversation, in general, was pretty out there. He seemed like he was on edge."

The day before Hastings died, he sent an email to his BuzzFeed bosses with the subject line "FBI investigation, re: NSA." The email informed them that "the Feds are interviewing 'my close friends and associates,' " and advised them to get a lawyer if they were contacted. (No friends or associates have stepped forward to say that they were interviewed, and the FBI has denied it was investigating Hastings.)

"Also," Hastings wrote, "I'm onto a big story and need to go off the rada[r] for a bit."

By then, his behavior had frightened his out-of-town family members. Hastings' brother had come to visit that day from New York, hoping to persuade him to enter drug treatment. Hastings' brother later would speculate to authorities that, in addition to marijuana, Hastings was taking the hallucinogen DMT — which Thigpen calls "ridiculous." Hastings' brother also told investigators that he would not be surprised to find cocaine or another stimulant in the apartment.

Thigpen argues that Hastings was not doing anything harder than pot. She strongly disputes the coroner's suggestion that Hastings was taking methamphetamine, saying it was much more likely the amphetamine found in his system came from Adderall. (A coroner's spokesman acknowledged that the amphetamine could have come from either Adderall or meth.)

In addition to his drug use, Hastings was saying some disturbing things. Hastings' brother told investigators that, although Hastings had never talked of suicide, he did think of himself as "invincible," believing he could jump off his balcony and be all right.

That afternoon, about two hours after Hastings announced he was going off the radar, he and his brother stopped into Peas & Carrots International, a clothing shop in West Hollywood. He stayed in the store about 15 minutes, buying two T-shirts, and seemed in high spirits, co-owner Joshton Peas says.

"He was really chatty," Peas says. "He seemed like a normal guy — he was a little more amped up, passionate."

That night, his brother later told investigators, Hastings smoked marijuana and passed out around 12:30 or 1 a.m. His brother retired to the empty apartment underneath Thigpen's — the one Hastings used to write.

That timeline may be slightly off, however, because Jordanna Thigpen says that at 12:30 a.m., Hastings came to her apartment and asked to borrow her car. He was scared, she says, and trying to get out of town.

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