Monday, February 21, 2005

HUNTER S. THOMPSON, 1937-2005. One of the great chroniclers of the 1960s and beyond has committed suicide at the age of 67. The San Francisco Chronicle has the details.

Like a generation of readers, I revere his 1971 drugs-and-paranoia-fueled Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And if there has ever been a better presidential-campaign book than Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, I am not aware of it. You never knew whether a lot of the stuff Thompson wrote was real or made-up - and unlike lesser lights, Thompson didn't try to fool you one way or the other. But Thompson's work was always true, far truer than the objective journalism of his day.

The last Thompson book I read was Generation of Swine, a collection of his columns in the 1980s for the San Francisco Examiner. It had its moments, but though the fire hadn't quite burned out, it certainly wasn't burning as hot as it had earlier in his career.

A true story: in the mid '70s, I was working as a Northeastern co-op student for the Woonsocket (Rhode Island) Call. George McGovern was speaking at Suffolk University, and I had a chance to shout a question at him afterwards. I remembered that Thompson, in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail, had portrayed McGovern's first running mate, Senator Tom Eagleton, as being far more mentally ill than had ever been publicly acknowledged. In that light, Thompson saw McGovern's decision to replace Eagleton with Sargent Shriver as patriotic rather than politically craven, since McGovern had privately concluded that he could not allow Eagleton to get into a position where he might actually become president.

I asked McGovern whether Thompson's account was correct. McGovern thought for a moment before calmly replying: yes. I felt like I had a scoop of sorts.

(Note: For all I know, this is brutally unfair to Eagleton. We know far more about mental illness today than we did in the '70s. I am simply reporting what Thompson wrote, and McGovern's reaction to it.)

Perhaps Thompson's last great piece of political writing was his 1994 obituary of Richard Nixon, published in Rolling Stone under the headline "He Was a Crook." Unfortunately, it's been disappeared behind the Atlantic Monthly's subscription-only website. But here is Thompson on the campaign trail '04:

Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush. Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him?

If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a "liberal" candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell? Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today - and who will be running it this time next year, if we (the once-proud, once-loved and widely respected "American people") don't rise up like wounded warriors and whack those lying petroleum pimps out of the White House on November 2nd.

Nixon hated running for president during football season, but he did it anyway. Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for - but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush-Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.

You bet. Richard Nixon would be my Man. He was a crook and a creep and a gin-sot, but on some nights, when he would get hammered and wander around in the streets, he was fun to hang out with. He would wear a silk sweat suit and pull a stocking down over his face so nobody could recognize him. Then we would get in a cab and cruise down to the Watergate Hotel, just for laughs.

Read the whole thing. And mourn.

CHINLUND KICKS BUTT. Mild-mannered Boston Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund today (1) calls for the Globe to dump unfunny right-wing comic strip Mallard Fillmore and (2) calls columnist Cathy Young's recent characterization of Eric Alterman's views as those of a "self-hating" Jew as being "not up to op-ed page standards," as well as "ad hominem and inappropriate." (Click here and here for background.)

Young herself writes about other matters.

IT DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU SIT. Here is New York Times sports columnist Murray Chass today on the matter of the Red Sox v. A-Rod:

In this new version of "Get the good guy," the Red Sox are blameless. One player, Trot Nixon, ignited the game with negative comments about Rodriguez last week and a torrent of teammates have followed. But the teammates' comments have not been unsolicited. They were at the urging of reporters eager to inflame the game to incendiary levels. They were all but handed a script.

Athletes have long accused reporters of creating stories, and, sadly, this is one of those instances. It has become one of the most distasteful instances I have witnessed in 45 years of covering baseball.

And here is Boston Herald columnist Howard Bryant (sub. req.):

The Sox spent the first week of spring training assaulting Alex Rodriguez, who arrived at Yankees camp yesterday battling a half-dozen Red Sox who haven't forgotten The Fight or forgiven The Slap.

Trot Nixon called him a clown. Curt Schilling doesn't like the guy. In a particularly rich moment, Kevin Millar said he doesn't like Rodriguez drawing attention to himself. Jason Varitek has already punched him. Bronson Arroyo feels condescended to by him. David Wells hated hearing Rodriguez talk like he was part of the dynasty.

The vitriol toward Rodriguez is real. The Sox have turned the relationship into a street fight, one that Rodriguez, who brought much of this on himself, made clear yesterday he's not interested in joining.

Well, I imagine that one of them is right.


Anonymous said...

Black crepe is the order of the day.
As much as HST despised the phonies amok in the WH, what really frosted his balls is the indolence and marginality of so much of the media/press. It always did. RIP.

Stealth said...

Hunter leaves us, and the world sucks a little more. But good for Chinlund.

I'm surprised Kevin Millar didn't put two and two together, and least vocally. He pointed out that what happened to Doug Mientkiewicz was just like Millar and the Jack. Common denominator? The writers.

Anonymous said...

I don't really care much about what ARod does or says.
But Murray Chass has been making me ill since I started reading the NYT regularly. I have this image of him,and it's not a pretty picture. Lazy,stupid,cliche-ridden hack.