before the current obsession with "Citizen Journalism" one man stood
tall and rejected
the ludicrous and self-serving myth of "journalistic objectivity". His
name was Hunter Thompson and he called his approach to writing about
the world "Gonzo Journalism."
Yesterday Thompson, one of the Dowbrigade’s literary and lifestyle heroes,
put a gun to his head and ended a stream of ingenious insight and invective
that, for us at least, transformed the landscape of what was possible
and permissible in reporting and commentary.
We first got hold of Thompson’s watershed work "Fear and Loathing in
Las Vegas" shortly after it was published in 1971. We were
a freshman at college and an aspiring journalist, having worked for a
year between high school and college at the Rochester
Democrat and Chronicle, at that time the flagship of the Gannett newspaper
Thompson’s prose and attitude simply blew us away. It crystallized for
us a series of sneaking suspicions that had been growing since we started
hanging with news makers and reporters, rather than just consuming the
news as presented by Walter Cronkite and the New York Times.
Reporters are people, too. Objectivity is an illusion, and impossible
ideal. Bias is everpresent. It is impossible to remove the observer from
observation changes both.
This revelation of experiential relativity resonated with theories we
were absorbing from all of our other classes; physics, psychology and
cultural anthropology. If both the observer and the observed phenomena
are changed by the act of observation, then pretending to be objective
and unbiased, presenting "just the facts," is both dishonest and misleading.
Thompson blew these myths out of the water by leaping, kicking and
thrashing, into whatever media stream or current of culture he was covering. Abandoning
all pretense of objectivity, he was overwhelmingly, enthusiastically,
visciously.part of the story. He let it all hang out, and exposed
himself mercilessly to the slings and arrows of conventional society,
the mainstream media and law enforcement worldwide. Somehow he
survived. His admirers became legion.
From this unmitigated chaos he extracted an essence of America so pure,
so soulfully true, that even his harshest critics (President Nixon once
said Thompson represented"that dark, venal, and incurably violent
side of the American character" to which Thompson replied "It
is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent
side of the American character … At the stroke of midnight in Washington,
a drooling red-eyed beast with the legs of a man and head of a giant
hyena crawls out of its bedroom in the South Wing of the White House
and leaps 50 feet down to the lawn.")
were forced to acknowledge the power and validity of his voice.
No one will ever recapture the singular savage sound of Hunter Thompson
in full roar and blinding brilliance. His prose could cut the clouds
and cobwebs away from startling secrets hidden in plain sight. He served
as a model and an inspiration to a generation of inquiring minds who
refused to accept the world as served up by Walter Kronkite nightly on the network news, We
anxiously await his first inimitable take on the afterlife.
Hunter S. Thompson, the counterculture writer credited with creating
a new form of journalism in books like "Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas," was found dead Sunday from an apparent self-inflicted
gunshot wound in his Aspen- area home, authorities said.
from the San Francisco Chronicle