Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dr. Gonzo

In the 1972 election Rolling Stone was fairly new and there was a (much) younger columnist who emerged who beat all the other journalists at the time. Each edition of Rolling Stone had a new tidbit from this guy who seemed to capture the moments of the election. A lot of what he wrote was made up - but it was often on point. His best was moments before Edmund S. Muskie - the putative front runner - dropped out. Dr. Gonzo - Hunter S. Thompson had a scurrilous attack on Muskie claiming he was the victim of a mysterious Brazilian drug which distored both his face and his vision. There were pictures - which showed to the rest of the world how truly tiring a national campaign really is. The whole thing was made up - but it was published literally right before Muskie dropped and what is more the explanation was plausible when one considered Muskie's statement and behavior two weeks hence.

Thompson published some other stuff but clearly his 15 minutes was really during the 1972 election. He became a characture of himself - at the end of the election Fear and Loathing on the Campaign trail was published as a book - which did pretty well. But the real impact of his work was in the columns in Rolling Stone. At that time alternative media was a new idea. HST never again achieved either the prominence or the recognition that he did for those several months in 1972.

When word lept out about his suicide this week I was struck with a couple of things. First, I am reasonably sure that his work is temporal - it probably will not last through the ages - but at the time it was must reading whether you worked for Nixon as I did that year or McGovern (I was actually just out of the White House and working for a Congressman but was also working for the Committee to Re-elect the President (the initials should have been like a French pankake but in reality all of the media pronounced it in the terms they thought of the President). Second, there were a lot of related books at the time that were amusing or interesting - that again probably will not last. Richard Brautigan was current for a second revival in Trout Fishing in America. And there were others. But HST was the star. Finally, I was struck in reading the news reports that they had to explain who Dr. Gonzo was - that was not necessary in 1972 - even after with the horrible rendition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that hollywood put out. But it showed how fleeting fame can be. HST got caught up in his own schtick.

That is sad - the message in an LA Times Article recently was that some in the Blogosphere have a full head. True. But that is also true for many in the old media. What we always should look for is not objectivity - indeed that is often not possible - but accuracy and at the same time humility about the ultimate purpose of information in society. In that the Blogosphere seems often better equiped than more traditional outlets.

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