Where Are Our Courageous Reporters?

Norman Mailer (1923-2007)

The late 1960s were a bad time for the United States. We were in a fiercely unpopular war in Viet Nam. I had gotten radicalized and joined the Resistance, which not only protested the war but attempted to interfere with the draft induction process. I returned by draft card to the Selective Service System in Cleveland and told them politely what they could do with it. Running for president that year was Richard Nixon for the Republicans, with Democratic candidates to be chosen later in Chicago.

Reporting on that convention was Norman Mailer, who within a short time became like a god to me. (So he went off the rails a bit later: He was human after all.) Mailer had come out with a number of nonfiction books that I read and re-read religiously. They included:

  • Advertisements for Myself (1959)
  • The Presidential Papers (1963)
  • Cannibals and Christians (1966)
  • Armies of the Night (1968)
  • Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968)

I just finished re-reading Miami and the Siege of Chicago, which made me shake my head sadly that there was no such quality reportage during the ongoing train wreck that is Trumpf. Mailer died ten years ago, and the only other candidate—Hunter S. Thompson—blew out his brains two years earlier. There are thousands of voices raised against Trumpf, but they seem tinny in comparison to what Mailer and Thompson were capable of.

Take this prophetic quote from Mailer’s description of Nixon’s convention win in Miami:

Of course, Republicans might yet prove frightening, and were much, if not three-quarters, to blame for every ill in sight, they did not deserve the Presidency, never, and yet if democracy was the free and fair play of human forces then perhaps the Wasp must now hold the game in his direction for a time. The Left was not ready, the Left was years away from a vision sufficiently complex to give life to the land, the Left had not yet learned to talk across the rugged individualism of the more Rugged in America, the Left was still too full of kicks and pot and the freakings of sodium amytol and orgy, the howl of electronics and LSD. The Left could also find room to grow up. If the Left had to live through a species of political exile for four or eight or twelve good years [try 50!], it might even be right. They might be forced to study what was alive in the conservative dream. For certain the world could not be saved by technology or government or genetics, and much of the Left had that still to learn.

Perhaps the biggest lesson they had to learn was unity. The Left is known today as a circular firing squad, wounding itself repeatedly over minor issues and leaving the major ones to the Right.

Chicago Riot Police 1968

The conservatives of 1968 were nothing compared to the Alt-Right, the Ku Klux Lan, and the other fascist forces brought into prominence by Trumpf’s 2016 victory. I will write what I can, when I can, but I am far from being either a Mailer or a Thompson.

And in this, our time of maximum danger, the media have failed America by bowing instead to the wishes of their corporate overlords.


Res Ipsa Loquitur

Writer Hunter S. Thompson

Johnny Depp Portraying Writer Hunter S. Thompson

It’s a damn shame that he’s no longer around. I think the Trumpf Presidency needs a Hunter S. Thompson to penetrate through to the squirrely nature of it all. I have just finished reading his Generation of Swine: Tale of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s, also known as Gonzo Papers Vol. 2.  And he was talking about the last years of the Reagan Presidency, what with Iran-Contra, Oliver North, Ed Meese, and that whole ball of wax. That was nothing compared to what is happening now! Yet Thompson kept rising to the occasion:

Huge brains, small necks, weak muscles and fat wallets—these are the dominant physical characteristics of the ’80s … The Generation of Swine.

Things are a bit different now: The brains are tiny, what with Kellyanne Cowgirl and Sean Sphincter.

I could see the CBS man  through the warped convex glass of the peephole, and I yelled at him:

“Get away from here, you giddy little creep! Never bother the working press. Spiro Agnew was right! You people should all be put in a cage and poked with sharp bamboo sticks.”

I called hotel security and complained that a drug dealer was hanging around in the hallway outside my door. They took him away within minutes, still jabbering about freedom of the press. I went back to bed and smoked Indonesian cigarettes until the evening news came on.

Now there you have an example of the man’s trademark gonzo journalism, in which the journalist himself is a character. And is the story 100% accurate? No, of course not, but there is enough truth there to be (1) wildly entertaining and (2) basically true. About the Presidency (and remember: he was talking about Ronald Reagan):

There is no need for the president of the United States to be smart.

He can be hovering on the grim cusp of brain death and still be the most powerful man in the world. He can arrest the chief of the mafia and sell the Washington Monument to Arabs and nobody will question his judgment.

Yeah, well, he should be around to see Trumpf and his Billionaire Boys Club. One final clip:

October in the politics business is like drowning in scum or trying to hang on through the final hour of a bastinado punishment…. The flesh is dying and the heart is full of hate: The winners are subpoenaed by divorce lawyers and the losers hole up in cheap motel rooms on the outskirts of town with a briefcase full of hypodermic needles and the certain knowledge that the next time their name gets in the newspapers will be when they are found dead and naked in a puddle of blood in the trunk of some filthy stolen car in an abandoned parking lot.

Are you listening, Hillary?

Unfortunately, it was just too difficult for Hunter to remain in character at age 67. One February day in 2005, while on the phone with his wife, he blew his brains out with a shotgun.

Oh, by the way, he frequently ended his stories in this collection with the legal phrase res ipsa loquitur, “the thing speaks for itself.” Too bad he’s not around to bring it to our attention.

TV An Ugly Business

The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.—Hunter S. Thompson