The writing-about-writing crowd is abuzz with discussion about the rather unusual death of Buzzfeed/RollingStone/Gawker writer Michael Hastings. Mr. Hastings, whose name is never mentioned in the press without the immediate mention that he was “the fearless journalist whose reporting brought down the career of General Stanley McChrystal”, died in a single-car accident in Los Angeles yesterday morning. This in and of itself is not unusual, but the circumstances of the crash and its aftermath won’t do anything to quiet the conspiracy theorists who are already claiming that the military-industrial complex found a way to cap the guy.
The definitive video of the incident can be found here. It features everything you’d want in a crash story, including:
- The ejected motor and transmission (seen above)
- Video of the car burning with the fury of a thousand suns
- A man holding a goat in his arms and stroking it to keep calm as someone else discusses the incident
- The mention of Mercedes-Benz
That last bit is the critical part. Mercedes-Benz USA is no doubt sweating bullets over this one. An eyewitness report says that Mr. Hastings was driving at an excessive rate of speed down a suburban street when his car “suddenly jackknifed” and hit a tree “with the force of a bomb”. The Benzo, which by the wheels and quarter-panel appears to be the relatively prosaic but cheerfully stylish C250 four-cylinder turbo coupe, proceeded to throw its powertrain out of the engine bay, immediately catch fire in a manner typically reserved for episodes of “Miami Vice”, and burn its driver until said driver was charred beyond recognition.
This isn’t good. The official ad copy for the C-Coupe states
Like every Mercedes-Benz coupe, it wraps four sport seats and passion for the road in sleek style. And like every C-Class, it’s a paragon of engineering virtue and extraordinary value. Put it together, and it’s like nothing else.
Nowhere in there does it say anything about “then this sucker is going to jackknife out of control and char you like a steak ordered by a high-school dropout at Ponderosa”. No wonder the guy in the video is stroking his goat to keep it calm. If I owned a C250 I’d be outside staring at the thing wondering if it was safe to drive it at 100mph in a suburb.
Mr. Hastings has been eulogized by his editor at Buzzfeed in an article called Missing Michael Hastings, which unfortunately makes me think of Missing Missy. In the piece, Ben Smith tells us that Michael looked in clothes and that he was handsome and that he worked out. He also lauds Mr. Hastings for writing Valerie Jarett Versus The Haters, which opens with
Valerie Jarrett is one of the most influential women in America. Protective, fearless, dedicated: the controversial White House figure and Chicago titan is now yolo’ing on the homestretch to get her “little brother” re-elected.
Reading that article at one AM with a
bottle glass of Ketel One in hand makes me think that a) I’ve been too hard on automotive journalists and b) half of the TTAC staff could make big money in political writing. That’s because only half of us say stuff like “yolo” and “swag”.
But I’m not here to speak ill of the dead. I’m here to state that I’ve seen dozens of cars hit walls and stuff at high speeds and the number of them that I have observed to eject their powertrains and immediately catch massive fire is, um, ah, zero. Modern cars are very good at not catching fire in accidents. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which is an evolutionary design from a company known for sweating the safety details over and above the Euro NCAP requirements, should be leading the pack in the not-catching-on-fire category.
Nor is the C-Class known for sudden veering out of control into trees and whatnot. My father’s been running a C350 of that generation around Hilton Head for a while and if anybody could make a C-Class veer into a palm tree without warning it would be him. If you happen to see my father on an airplane somewhere, please don’t tell him I said that, and also don’t tell him that I always call the C-Class the “Cheap-Class”. Thanks.
Mr. Hastings’ aggressively Democrat-friendly storytelling has the Internet already considering the idea that his death was engineered somehow. I can’t say it’s totally unlikely. As noted above, the reported (and videotaped) behavior of the C250 was not in line with what we’d expect. On the other hand, surely it’s expected that a respected, mature writer on non-automotive topics won’t be barreling through a suburb so fast that any tree he hits will cause his car to burst into flames, right? We’ll keep an eye on this to see what, if anything, develops.