Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, December 13, 2007

All That Ugly Stuff

by Hunter S Thompson

Harper's Magazine (November 2007)

From "Fear & Loathing: Corrections, Retractions, Apologies, Cop-Outs, Etc", a 1972 memo to Rolling Stone editor Jann S Wermer. Thompson's reportage during that year is collected in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 (Straight Arrow Books, 1973). The memo appears in Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S Thompson, an oral biography compiled by Wermer and Corey Seymour, published this fall by Little, Brown. El Ropo is Charles Perry, then copy chief of Rolling Stone.

For various reasons that probably don't mean shit to anybody but me, I want to get straight - for the record, as it were - with regard to some of the most serious of the typographical errors that have marred the general style, tone & wisdom of "Fear & Loathing".

I have tried to blame various individuals in the San Francisco office for these things, but each time we trace one of the goddamn things back to its root, it turns out to have been my fault. This is mainly because I never seem to get my gibberish in to El Ropo, who has to cope with it, until the crack of dawn on deadline day - at which time I have to get him out of bed and keep him awake by means of ruses, shocks, and warnings while I feed my freshly typed pages into the Mojo Wire, which zaps them across the nation to El Ropo at the rate of one page every four minutes.

This is a fantastic machine, and I carry it with me at all times. All I need is the Mojo Wire and a working telephone to send perfect Xerox copies of anything I've written to anybody else with a Mojo Wire receiver - and anybody with $50 a month can lease one of these things. Incredible. What will they think of next?

The only real problem with the Mojo Wire is that it tends to miss or skip a line every once in a while, especially when we get one of those spotty phone connections. If you're playing "New Speedway Boogie" in the same room, for instance, the Mojo machine will pickup the noise and garble a name like "Jackson" so badly that El Ropo will get it as "Johnson" - or "Jackalong" - or maybe just a fuzzy gray blank.

Which would not be a problem if we had time to check back & forth on a different phone line - but by the time El Ropo can assemble my gibberish & read it I am usually checked out and driving like a bastard for the nearest airport.

So he has to read the whole thing several times, try to get a grip on the context, and then decide what I really meant to say in that line that came across garbled.

This is not always easy. My screeds tend to wander, without benefit of such traditional journalistic landmarks as "prior references" and "pyramid reverse-build foundations".

I still insist "objective journalism" is a contradiction in terms. But I want to draw a very hard line between the inevitable reality of "subjective journalism" and the idea that any honestly subjective journalist might feel free to estimate a crowd at a rally for some candidate the journalist happens to like personally at 2,000 instead of 612 - or to imply that a candidate the journalist views with gross contempt, personally, is a less effective campaigner than he actually is.

Hubert Humphrey, for instance: I don't mind admitting that I think sheep dip is the only cure for everything Humphrey stands for. I consider him not only a living, babbling insult to the presumed intelligence of the electorate, but also a personally painful mockery of the idea that Americans can learn from history.

But if Hubert meets a crowd in Tampa and seventy-seven ranking business leaders each offer him $1,000 for his campaign, I will write that scene exactly as it happened - regardless of the immense depression it would plunge me into.

No doubt I would look around for any valid word or odd touches that might match the scene to my bias. If any of those seventy-seven contributors was wearing spats or monocles I would take care to mention it. I would probably follow some of them outside to see if they had AMERICA - LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT bumper stickers on their cars. If one of them grabbed a hummingbird out of the air and bit its head off, I think it's safe to say I would probably use that --

-- but even if I did all that ugly stuff, and if the compilation of my selected evidence might persuade a reader here and there to think that Humphrey was drawing his Florida support from a cabal of senile fascists, well, I probably wouldn't get much argument from any of the "objective" journalists on the tour, because even the ones who would flatly disagree with my interpretation of what happened would be extremely reluctant to argue that theirs or anyone else's was the flat objective truth.

On the other hand, it's also true that I will blow a fact here and there. A month ago I wrote that a registered independent in Colorado could vote in either the GOP or Democratic primary - which was true last year, but the law was recently changed. Somebody wrote to curse me for that one, and all I can do is apologize. In 1970 I knew every clause, twist, subsection & constitutional precedent that had anything to do with voter-eligibility laws in Colorado. (When you run for office on the Freak Power ticket, the first thing you do is learn all the laws.) But when I moved to Washington and got into the Presidential Campaign I stopped keeping track of things like that.

The only other serious error that I feel any need to explain or deal with at this time has to do with a statement about Nixon. What I wrote was: "There is still no doubt in my mind that he could never pass for human ..."

But somebody cut the word "never". El Ropo denies it, but our relationship has never been the same. He says the printer did it. Which is understandable, I guess; it's a fairly heavy statement either way.

Is Nixon "human"? Probably so, in the technical sense. He is not a fish or a fowl. There is no real argument about that. Most juries would accept, prima facie, the idea that the President of the United States is a mammal.

He is surely not an Insect; and not of the Lizard family. But "human" is something else. A mammal is not necessarily human. Rodents are mammals. An extremely intelligent Bayou Rat called "Honeyrunner" was once elected to the city council in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. Nobody called him "human", but they say he did okay on the job.

It would take a really sick and traitorous mind to compare the President of the United States to a Bayou Rat, regardless of intelligence. So maybe El Ropo was right. By almost any standard of responsible journalism the President must be referred to as "human". It is one of those ugly realities - like the Amnesty Question - that we will all have to face & accept.

Bill Totten


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