Column: Goodbye Gonzo

By Eric Naing

On Sunday, my favorite modern writer took his own life. I owe a lot to Hunter Stockton Thompson. He has changed my life and more importantly changed the face of modern journalism.

Thompson started his career as a journalist working for various newspapers and magazines. He soon grew to hate the structure and hypocrisy of the system and started writing on his own terms. He was something that was never seen before – chaotic, wildly hilarious and brutally honest. Every single person that works in journalism today owes something to him.

If you read a newspaper or watch a news show this week, you’ll be sure to see any number of flowery tributes to Thompson from the usual talking heads in the media. The irony is that these are the very same people that he hated. Thompson called television news a “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.” Suffice to say, he had no love for the established media.

Hunter S. Thompson made a career of attacking the media from the outside. That was his beauty; he challenged the established system without ever succumbing to it. When he said “objective journalism is one of the main reasons that American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long,” he was absolutely right.

Thompson asked how someone could be objective when reporting about President Nixon. The exact same question applies to the current President Bush. Why, in the face of all the lies, the cover-ups, the corruption and the mistakes, would someone even try to be objective when reporting on our president? Nixon was a liar and a crook and so is Bush – we just need reporters that aren’t afraid to say so. Bush does us no such favor as pretending to be objective, so why should we extend him the courtesy?

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    What happened to Seymour Hersh, quite possibly the best investigative journalist of our time, is a prime example of the decay our media is in. He was the one who exposed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and was an early critic of Richard Nixon. More recently, he was the first American journalist to state that no WMD’s would be found in Iraq, and he also broke the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. So how does a man like this get treated? Well, Pentagon adviser Richard Pearle called him “the closest thing we have to a terrorist.”

    Everyone in the media is afraid to have an opinion. And anyone who dares even look for the truth is ostracized and called a traitor. If you want to see the logical conclusion of this rotten system, look no further than Fox News. It is an entire network dedicated to towing a party line and pleasing the corporate bosses who, surprise surprise, have long standing ties to the Republican Party. And they do this all under the auspices of objective journalism, or “fair and balanced” as they call it.

    It seems almost fitting that we have a White House reporter who is also a prostitute. Most in the media are no different. Journalism is almost a pornographic experience now, meant only to entertain and placate instead of provoke. Most reporters today are just tools to be used by those in power. Everyone in journalism, from the mighty network news anchor to the lowly college paper columnist, seems to only regurgitate tired party lines and service the system. Real journalism is more than just provoking a response, it’s about challenging the status quo.

    After Dr. Albert Hoffman committed suicide in 1989, Hunter Thompson bluntly said “he lived courageously and he died with his boots on.” Thompson was a hero and we should never forget everything he stood for. He lived courageously and he died with his boots on.