Mother Jones Upset Reporter Covering Michael Hastings' Death Not Just Taking LAPD's Word For It

May be confused about definition of journalism


why couldn't you just trust government spokespersons?
John Santore/Wikipedia

Kimberly Dvorak is an investigative journalist with the CW affiliate in San Diego and a correspondent for the Examiner websites. She's been covering Michael Hastings' death skeptically, and seems to believe foul play was involved. Last week we relayed her reporting on what Hastings was covering before his death—whether John Brennan was involved in a crackdown on journalists—and pointed out how ridiculous it was for government spokespersons to feign being offended at the suggestion government officials might have something less than total respect for the free press. This, in the eyes of Mother Jones, is akin to conspiracy theory-coddling.

The liberal magazine's take down of Dvorak begins thusly:

The Los Angeles Police Department has ruled out foul play in journalist Michael Hastings' fatal car crash two months ago in Hollywood, but several media outlets are continuing to promote conspiracy theories about the circumstances surrounding his death.

The lede is packed with a major assumption, that the LAPD ought to just be taken for its word on the matter. Simply turning around official statements is not, of course, journalism; it's stenography. A healthy skepticism, on the other hand, is not the same as "promoting" conspiracy theories. Mother Jones goes on to call the Examiner a "blog network owned by Republican billionaire Philip Anschutz that has minimal editorial oversight," its founder's political leanings apparently being enough for Mother Jones to dismiss the outfit wholesale. As turned off by conspiracy theories as Mother Jones claims it is, it is attracted to the simplistic idea that corporations (and conservatives!) are bad and therefore everything they do is bad. It's put the traditionally progressive magazine in the awkward position of defending the drug war and the massive federal spending on it because fuck corporations and conservatives. In the same way, it appears Mother Jones is uncomfortable with Kim Dvorak's exercise of her free speech rights and contribution to a free press not because of what she contributes, but because of who she is (a conservative) and who may tend not to believe the Hastings story (people suspicious of government).

The kicker comes from a quote Mother Jones uses from a writer friend of Hastings':

Dvorak is a "fucking disgrace," Matt Farwell, a writer and friend of Hastings who is finishing his Brennan profile for an upcoming issue of Rolling Stone, told WhoWhatWhy. Farwell wants Hastings' death to be investigated, but "unless it's good solid shoe leather journalism…it's not helping anyone," he said. "It makes the LAPD and the feds go into closed-off mode and makes people not want to say anything." (Asked to comment on the Hastings investigation and Dvorak's theories, the LAPD replied with an email saying, "We have no further comment on this matter.")

The idea that the LAPD would be a fountain of transparency on Hastings' death were it not from aggressive questioning by reporters like Dvorak is nearly as ridiculous as any of the conspiracy theories du jour

Read the entire Mother Jones piece here and Reason on Michael Hastings' various reporting and death here.

Our own Jesse Walker also has an excellent book on the role of conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories on American political life throughout history, which is out today and you can buy here