Second Thought: Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Backside of Life

Hunter Thompson’s unobjective truth-telling will be missed.


It was funny reading all the obits about journalist Hunter S. Thompson last week, when he put the lead in his head. It was the media practicing their objectivity, telling how important Thompson was, even though most in the news business hated what he stood for. See, Thompson wrote in ways that were not objective at all. He was messy, tumultuous, becoming part of the story at times — very much the opposite of the weak-minded control freaks who call themselves “objective journalists.”
The press conglomerates couldn’t admit they didn’t like what Thompson stood for, at least not in their little playpen of objectivity. Thompson, however, could and often did admit to his views. “Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer?” Thompson once wrote. “Agnew was right. The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo cage.”
I didn’t get into this filthy piss-ridden little hole because of Thompson, but I enjoyed how different he was. In 1972, when I was an eighth-grader, my dad gave me Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to read. I didn’t think it was very good, maybe because I couldn’t relate to having saltshakers of cocaine, sheets of blotter LSD, and bottles of tequila in the car trunk. Since then, I’ve had the experience of having saltshakers of cocaine, sheets of blotter LSD, and bottles of tequila in the car trunk, but the book still isn’t that good.
What was great about Thompson was how he covered politics. When I read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: 1972, he put me there, in the middle of a presidential campaign, and explained it all in an outrageous, but very clear way. He put you in the union halls, on the campaign buses, drinking in the hotel bars. He was the expert, he was there, he had an opinion. Who wouldn’t?
Here’s what he wrote about the racial nut George Wallace: “The air was electric even before he started talking, and by the time he was on for six minutes into his spiel, I had a sense that the bastard had somehow levitated himself and was hovering over us. It reminded me of a Janis Joplin concert.”
I could go on and on about Thompson and his writing. But what I always took from his work — some of it brilliant, some of it very stupid — was that he often threw the objectivity factor out the window. And the longer I work in this piss-ridden little hole, the more I realize that the mainstream media’s claim of objectivity has nothing to do with fairness or facts. It is a marketing ploy, a way to keep employees nothing more than clerks and voyeurs who do nothing more than take their product down the middle of the road and sell to as many people as possible.
What has always happened in journalism is that reporters who work hard on a story become experts. When I did the cover story for this newspaper on the Dallas Cowboys stadium deal in Arlington, it came from 10 years of studying the issue. I have interviewed hundreds of experts on this subject; I have read a dozen books on it, studied a lot of sports facility developments all over the country. Did I need to present both sides of the story? Sure. Did I need to present them with equal weight? No. After you do all the research on something, you kind of figure out which end makes sense. That’s why I wrote that the stadium deal in Arlington could never be a good deal for economic development. The pro-stadium people got mad at me, saying I was subjective. Well, duh, that’s what I was.
The problem Thompson dealt with four decades ago is still here. The mainstream media continues to demand that every story have the “he said/she said” comments from both sides. Editors have been known to measure each side of the story, to make sure they’re equal, disregarding the fact of how this produces false objectivity and usually gets no closer to the truth than a masturbating chimp would.
The media coverage of the war in Iraq shows how this all plays out. If the White House makes statements based upon no real facts, the mainstream media feel they need to report those statements as if they are true. If some guy at a bar told you the sky is green, you’d think he was crazy. If the White House says the sky is green, the media will get comments from all sort of experts to say why the sky might be green. What the press needs to tell people in power is that they are full of shit sometimes. And do it in a funny way, if that is your style. That’s our job.
Given that I have no more sheets of blotter acid in my trunk these days, I have to take Thompson’s suicide without visuals. I am not sad about his death; he did what he wanted. But what I really will miss is his madman-artist influence on news. He was a wonderful writer, and a lot of people tried to copy him. But they never could, partly because they didn’t have the talent, but mainly because the news media doesn’t want reporters who have opinions like his. They don’t want anybody talking about the emperor showing his ass. That’s where he will be missed.
Dan McGraw is a Fort Worth author and freelance journalist.

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