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Gaslight: Michael Hastings and the Age of Nervous Media

The Los Angeles Times reports that journalist Michael Hastings was working on a story related to Jill Kelley the night he died in a fiery car crash, in which his car burst into flames and the engine block was hurled a distance from the wreck. Readers may remember Kelley as one of the apexes of the Broadwell-Petraeus-Kelley triangle:

Kelley alleges that military officials and the FBI leaked her name to the media to discredit her after she reported receiving a stream of emails that were traced to Paula Broadwell, a biographer of former CIA director David H. Petraeus, according to a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., on June 3.


Since Hasting’s death early Tuesday, wild conspiracy theories have bloomed on the Internet implying that he was murdered by powerful forces wanting to silence him.

On Wednesday night, the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks inserted itself into the story, publishing a message on Twitter that Hasting had contacted a lawyer for the organization hours before his car smashed into a tree on North Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.

The spectacular nature of his demise has led to speculation that Hastings was "Breitbarted." But was he? To set against the other side of the ledger is a story from the Hollywood Reporter saying that accidents similar to that which killed the journalist are common. There are 300,000 vehicle fires every year and it simply a fact of life that fuel in high speed crashes can lead to conflagration:

Frank Markus, technical director of Motor Trend, points out that “any impact at speeds high enough to rip the drive train out of a car is highly likely to force some object to rupture the fuel tank. There is a lot of potential chemical energy in a gas tank that's even a quarter full. Getting up to such speeds -- providing he didn't start a cold engine and floor the car into that tree -- results in a lot of red hot parts, particularly the catalytic converter and other exhaust system parts.”

The FBI insisted that Michael Hastings was not under investigation. So was he running from shadows? There is little doubt that Hastings himself was convinced someone was looking over his shoulder:

"He was incredibly tense and very worried and was concerned that the government was looking in on his material," said Hastings's friend and Current TV host Cenk Uygur. "I don't know what his state of mind was at 4:30 in the morning, but I do know what his state of mind was in general, and it was a nervous wreck."

Maybe Hastings was going nuts. But Sharyl Attkisson -- her computers began behaving strangely around the time she was investigating Benghazi:

“I was sleeping, so they would come on in the middle of the night, sometimes one right after the other,” Attkisson told O’Reilly Monday night. “By the time last fall came around, they would sometimes both be starting up kind of a cacophony of computer music at night in the middle of the night.”

And then she discovered she wasn't crazy after her employer, CBS News, hired a computer security expert to go over machines. "CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair said that a cybersecurity firm hired by CBS News 'has determined through forensic analysis' that 'Attkisson's computer was accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions in late 2012.'"

Whether or not the fears of omnipresent persecution are well-founded, the fear of it is very real. "Associated Press president Gary Pruitt on Wednesday slammed the Department of Justice for acting as 'judge, jury and executioner' in the seizure of the news organization’s phone records and he said some of the wire service’s longtime sources have clammed up in fear." Their fears will only be heightened by former intelligence officers' claims that anyone who is anyone is being wiretapped:

Russ Tice, a former intelligence analyst and Bush-era NSA whistleblower, claimed Wednesday that the intelligence community has ordered surveillance on a wide range of groups and individuals, including high-ranking military officials, lawmakers and diplomats.

He also made another stunning allegation. He says the NSA had ordered wiretaps on phones connected to then-Senate candidate Barack Obama back in 2004.