Monday, February 21, 2005

Gonzo Ends With a Bang

Last year, the Watergate reporting duo of Woodward and Bernstein raised eyebrows by selling their reporting notes and other background files from their famous Watergate investigations. The University of Texas library shelled out a cool $5 million for the right to own and display this unique stash, and the Washington Post proved to be surprisingly writer-friendly by letting the pair personally profit from the detritus they accumulated while operating as fulltime employees of the paper. Anyway, if this bit of buckraking doesn't bother you too much, you can now check out much of the collection online here.

Supporting the Next Generation of Woodsteins. American University in Washington D.C. and the Center for Public Integrity have newly teamed up to offer the first fellowship in investigative journalism. Fellows can pursue a master's in journalism at AU while pursuing investigative project with the singularly effective Center, founded by former ABC News producer Charles Lewis, who's become an icon of journalism for his aggressive exploration of the connection between money and politics. It's not a bad deal: fellows have their tuition paid in full, plus get a $24,000 stipend. If you have at least four years in the business, get those applications in by March 15th. Information is available here.

Insulting Right-Wingers Watch. In an interesting piece on Fox News in the January/February Atlantic Monthly (which is unfortunately now locked behind walls for non-subscribers), novelist Tom Carson gets off a nice line about right-wing bully boy Sean Hannity, referring to his "red-white-and-Colgate smirk." David Letterman also delivered some well-deserved body blows to George W. in his January 14th Top Ten list, reminding students of late-night comedy that the D's tend to watch Letterman while the R's generally prefer Leno. It went like this: Top Ten Perks of Being the New White House Dog: #10--you're one of the few dogs that is smarter than his master; #3--get the same high-quality leashes that are used on Abu Ghraib prisoners; #1--An owner who sleeps as much as you do!

Hunter S. Signs Off. The king of so-called Gonzo journalism has written his last sentence, his life ended by suicide. Every death is sad, of course, but no one should really be surprised by this ending. For years, I must admit, I tended to interpret a new acquaintance's interest in Thompson's life and his writing as a sign of likely shallowness, an emblem of a perhaps understandable romantic yearning for a life of nihilism by the pen. That was possibly unfair. To many, he embodied a rebellion against the cowardice of modern corporate journalism. This sense was fed by legends of his outlandish reporting expense accounts while on assignment for Rolling Stone (rented helicopters and even elephants). Okay, so far, so good. And his legacy does have its positive sides. Last year, I wrote this profile of a Cleveland native named Evan Wright who had inherited Thompson's slot as a roving international correspondent for Rolling Stone. And when I reached him by phone in Los Angeles, I made a point of asking him about what that meant to him. He quickly changed the subject, which I interpreted as his way of trying to break free of the gravitational pull of the Gonzo legend (perhaps he also wanted to forestall me from asking about his own recovery from an earlier drinking problem). Indeed, in the last quarter century, Hunter S. and his bizarre shenanigans came to stand for (to me, at least), a sad obsession with violence, booze and recreational drugs. And where does all that typically lead in human affairs? And still, intelligent, serious people indulgently tried their best to write off his admittedly self-destructive habits to the rantings of a poet-mystic. Today, I'm prepared to admit he may have been just that. I'll say a quiet prayer that he can somehow have a quieter, less-conflicted existence in the afterlife.


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