Frank Rich has a wonderful article in the New York Times lamenting the death of Hunter S. Thompson. Gonzo Gone, Rather Going, Watergate Still Here. It captures perfectly why I liked Hunter Thompson (but not Dan Rather) so much as a journalist that I named this blog after him.
Hunter Thompson did not do investigative reporting, but he would have had a savage take on our news-free world — not least because it resembles his own during the Nixon era, before he had calcified into the self-parodistic pop culture cartoon immortalized by Garry Trudeau, Bill Murray, Johnny Depp and most of his eulogists. Read “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72” — the chronicle of his Rolling Stone election coverage — and you find that his diagnosis of journalistic dysfunction hasn’t aged a day: “The most consistent and ultimately damaging failure of political journalism in America has its roots in the clubby/cocktail personal relationships that inevitably develop between politicians and journalists.” He cites as a classic example the breathless but belated revelations of the mental history of George McGovern’s putative running mate, the Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton — a story that had long been known by “half of the political journalists in St. Louis and at least a dozen in the Washington press corps.” This same clubby pack would be even tardier on Watergate, a distasteful assignment left to a pair of lowly police-beat hacks at The Washington Post.
Thompson was out to break the mainstream media’s rules. His unruly mix of fact, opinion and masturbatory self-regard may have made him a blogger before there was an Internet, but he was a blogger who had the zeal to leave home and report firsthand and who could write great sentences that made you want to savor what he found out rather than just scroll quickly through screen after screen of minutiae and rant.
Even better is Rich’s lead, namely that “memories of that best work … only accentuate the vacuum in that cultural category we stubbornly insist on calling News. What’s missing from News [today] is the news.” Hunter would be proud.