September 30, 2022

Michael Hastings, 33, Winner of Polk Award, Dies

His death, in a car crash in Los Angeles at about 4:30 a.m., was confirmed by his wife, Elise Jordan. Mr. Hastings was believed to have been alone in the car, which struck a tree at high speed, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. He lived in New York City.

In 2010, Mr. Hastings won a George Polk Award, presented by Long Island University for reporting in the public interest.

The award honored his Rolling Stone magazine cover story, “The Runaway General,” published that June. In it, Mr. Hastings profiled Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top commander of United States forces in Afghanistan.

The article quoted the general and members of his staff making disparaging comments about members of the Obama administration, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden, with respect to their handling of the Afghan campaign. Within days of its publication, President Obama met with General McChrystal in the Oval Office before firing him, ending his 34-year military career.

An inquiry into the article by the Defense Department inspector general the next year found “insufficient” evidence of wrongdoing by the general, his military aides and civilian advisers.

The inspector general’s report also questioned the accuracy of some aspects of the article, which was repeatedly defended by Mr. Hastings and Rolling Stone.

Mr. Hastings was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone at his death and had also written for GQ and Newsweek magazines.

Michael Mahon Hastings was born on Jan. 28, 1980, in Malone, N.Y. After attending Connecticut College, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from New York University.

As a young correspondent for Newsweek, Mr. Hastings covered the Iraq war. His fiancée, Andrea Parhamovich, followed him there, taking a job with a nongovernmental organization. She was killed in 2007 when her car was ambushed by Sunni insurgents.

Mr. Hastings’s memoir of the experience, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story,” was published in 2008.

Besides his wife, Mr. Hastings is survived by his parents, Brent and Molly Hastings; two brothers, Jeff and Jon; and his grandmother, Ruth Mahon.

His other books are “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan” published last year, and “Panic 2012: The Sublime and Terrifying Inside Story of Obama’s Final Campaign,” published in January.

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 19, 2013

An earlier version of this obituary, using information from the family, misstated the name of Mr. Hastings’s surviving grandmother. She is Ruth Mahon, not Ruth Mahon Hastings.

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Contest to Name Brooklyn Park Lawn Is Halted as It Gets Personal

“Become a part of history and name the lawn at Pier 6!” the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy exhorted on its Web site. “Maybe you have a favorite flower or bird that lives in Brooklyn Bridge Park? Something particularly cool about the view? A little-known fact about local history that deserves some recognition?”

The deadline for submissions was March 20, and the winner would be announced on April 1.

But when a campaign to name the lawn for Chris Hondros, a war photographer from Brooklyn who died two years ago, gathered steam, the conservancy backpedaled. Then on Tuesday, it decided just to call the whole thing off.

“While the idea of naming a lawn in memory of someone is certainly a lovely idea, we’re keenly aware that there are so many deserving and special Brooklyn residents to memorialize, and it felt like naming the lawn for one person isn’t fully representative of that,” said Nancy Webster, executive director of the conservancy, a nonprofit group that supports the 1.3-mile waterfront park.

Mr. Hondros, 41, a senior staff photographer for Getty Images, lived three blocks from the park with his fiancée, Christina Piaia, and was killed in Libya in a mortar attack in April 2011, along with the photographer Tim Hetherington. Mr. Hondros and Ms. Piaia were to be married in Brooklyn in August of that year.

The groundswell of support for the Chris Hondros Lawn started with Patrick J. Whalen, a photo editor at The Wall Street Journal who had worked closely with Mr. Hondros at Getty. Mr. Whalen encouraged supporters to enter the contest. More than 200 did, each suggesting Mr. Hondros as the honoree.

At first the conservancy replied to those suggestions with an e-mail, explaining that the names were meant to be inspired by the topography, or some special feature of the park. Then it canceled the contest.

“We were disappointed that the rules hadn’t been clarified before,” said Ms. Piaia, the executive director of the Chris Hondros Fund, a nonprofit group that supports photojournalism and honors the photographer’s memory, in a phone interview.

But others are not giving up the quest to name a park or special place in New York City in his memory. “I respect their policy,” Mr. Whalen said of the conservancy. “But there are many parks in Brooklyn and all around the city named after people. So I think it’s worth continuing to pursue.”

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Wealth Matters: Rushing Into a Mortgage Can Be Costly

But there are still many ways that buyers or investors can end up paying more than they should. And many of them are so embedded in the mortgage documents — and the mortgage rate itself — that consumers have to be vigilant to find them. That is especially true when buyers rush into a deal and do not take the time to make sure they are not paying thousands of dollars extra in closing costs and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars more over the life of a loan.

“People today are less concerned with pricing,” said Joe Parsons, a loan officer at PFS Funding in Dublin, Calif. “They’re more concerned about, ‘Can you get my deal done?’ There are so many more moving parts.”

Joseph Wilbur, for instance, signed a contract to buy a co-op apartment in Astoria, Queens, in March 2012 and made it clear that he wanted to close quickly because he and his fiancée were getting married in August. Mr. Wilbur said the mortgage broker told him that would not be a problem.

The couple finally had their closing on Dec. 13, after spending the first few months of their marriage living with his parents. A few days before closing, Mr. Wilbur said the broker gave him a good-faith estimate — the basic information about the terms of the mortgage and the estimated costs of the loan — that he should have had at the start. Shortly after that, he got the HUD-1 statement, which formalizes the closing costs.

“It became clear early on that the guy wasn’t all that knowledgeable about mortgages for co-ops,” he said. “He made a whole bunch of mistakes.”

But Mr. Wilbur pressed on because he wanted to close and did not want to lose the apartment. “As much as I was concerned that I hadn’t seen something that was telling me I was paying thousands more than I had expected, I just wanted to get through with this,” he said. “The fact that my wife and I were getting married shortly was more of an issue. I didn’t have time to start with a new bank and the whole application process.”

Mr. Wilbur’s story may be a worst-case situation. But what should buyers be aware of and how can they avoid feeling cheated?

Many buyers think the good-faith estimate is the cornerstone the mortgage process. It estimates the costs, like inspections and title insurance, buyers pay to close on a mortgage. But Mr. Parsons said the document did more to hide fees than illuminate them.

“It’s essentially a useless document for the consumer,” he said. “It lumps a lot of costs into the figures that are carried onto the good-faith estimate rather than itemizing them.”

Rick Allen, chief operating officer of, a Web site that allows consumers to search for different mortgages, ran three sets of closing costs in the first week of January for the same mortgage in the New York area and got three different good-faith estimates.

The estimates for closing costs on a $300,000 house with a 30-year mortgage at a rate of 3.5 percent were between $6,911.78 and $9,742.97. The biggest differences were the origination fee the bank charged, the discount the bank gave — or did not give — for the particular interest rate and the cost of title insurance from a third party. The origination fee and the mortgage credit vary because they are one of the ways the lender makes money from the loan.

“The reality is the consumer needs to do lots of homework,” Mr. Allen said. “The government would say that you need to apply with multiple lenders and get multiple good-faith estimates. But providing an application is not always a painless process.”

He said offers a guarantee on the closing costs within $50. But borrowers would still have to compare various lenders to know that they were getting the best estimate.

Of course, most people don’t do that. Elizabeth Safran, who owns her own public relations company in New York, said she asked a friend in her apartment building whom he had used.

“My main criteria for refinancing was to bake the closing costs into the loan so there would be no cash out of pocket,” she said.

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The Gossip Machine, Churning Out Cash

Mr. Lohan was hardly morose about his own legal troubles. His hotel room and the hallway outside it buzzed with giddy deal-making as he and his entourage, which included two beefy, bejeweled bodyguards, conducted business with the door open. It could all be overheard by passers-by — or, by coincidence, a New York Times reporter staying in a room across the way.

An associate of Mr. Lohan’s ran through the plan: ignite a bidding war between TMZ and its rival Web site Radar for Mr. Lohan’s side of the story and for embarrassing recordings he claimed to have of his fiancée, Kate Major. “What you have to do is monetize this,” the associate said, adding, “What you want is to make them pay for that exclusivity.”

Sure enough, Radar went on to post four “exclusives” quoting Mr. Lohan denying the charges and threatening to release tapes of Ms. Major.

This is how it works in the new world of round-the-clock gossip, where even a B-list celebrity’s tangle with the law can be spun into easy money, feeding the public’s seemingly bottomless appetite for dirt about the famous.

A growing constellation of Web sites, magazines and television programs serve it up minute by minute, creating a river of cash for secrets of the stars, or near-stars. An analysis of advertising estimates from those outlets shows that the revenue stream now tops more than $3 billion annually, driving the gossip industry to ferret out salacious tidbits on a scale not seen since the California courts effectively shut down the scandal sheets of the 1950s.

It all kicked in with a vengeance last week when news broke that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California had fathered a child with his family’s housekeeper.

Radar was the first to reveal the mother’s identity, in a joint report with Star magazine. TMZ quickly flooded its site with her pictures. Several gossip outlets were prepared to bid big dollars for any new video or photographs of the mistress.

On Friday, TMZ posted the most confidential document of the entire affair: the bank form that Mr. Schwarzenegger signed last year giving her a down payment for her house.

“I don’t know who got ahold of it and how they got ahold of it,” said the mortgage broker involved in the sale, David Rodriguez.

This new secrets exchange has its own set of bankable stars and one-hit wonders, high-rolling power brokers and low-level scammers, many of whom follow a fluid set of rules that do not always comport with those of state and federal law, let alone those of family or friendship.

Now there is a growing effort to stop the flow of private information. In the past few years, a federal Department of Justice team in Los Angeles has conducted a wide-ranging investigation into illegal leaks of celebrity health records and other confidential files, according to officials involved. Working in secret, they have plumbed cases involving Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and Farrah Fawcett, among others.

That inquiry is just one of at least six here into whether workers at hospitals, the coroner’s office or the Police Department have accepted money for private information, according to officials, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But payment often comes in cash, making it hard to track, officials say, and new laws meant to plug the geyser, many of them promoted by Mr. Schwarzenegger, have hardly worked. “Sometimes I think we’re losing,” one investigator said.

Increasingly, celebrities are not just victims. With only so many big-time personalities in rehab, facing indictment or — á la Charlie Sheen — in public crack-up mode, a raft of reality stars, former reality stars and would-be reality stars have filled the breach with attention-grabbing antics of their own.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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