Taking a page from the late Hunter S. Thompson

“Members of the press – what the fuck? It’s these questions that you know the answers to.”

– Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke

Que carajo? Beto. Why’d you waste the best line of the campaign, the most bang-on riposte in the annals of the press-pol circle jerk, on a couple of reporters in El Paso? I know you were pissed after the Trumpiac went on a murder spree at a Walmart in your hometown.

But you could have saved it for one of the Democratic debates, live in primetime.

Q: Has the president inspired racist mass murderers?

A: What the fuck?

Q: Does Trump deserve to be impeached?

A: What the fuck?

Q: Is it okay for an American president to shake down a foreign leader to smear a political opponent?

A: What the fuck?

Q: Who was better on Dancing with the Stars? Rick Perry or Sean Spicer? 

A: Who gives a shit. 

Would be a nice break from Elizabeth Warren lecturing, Biden phumphering, and Bernie trying to hail a cab.

What does this have to do with Hunter S. Thompson?

What the fuck? We’re only 150 words into it. HST’s Rolling Stone wrap-up of the 1972 election didn’t mention George McGovern in the first 1,166 words and Nixon’s name didn’t come up for 8,849 words. 

This year, I’ve watched all sixteen of the Dem debates, where a panel of TV stars nitpick wannabe successors to a nitwit who has turned the White House into a criminal enterprise.   

Yesterday, I finally got around to the latest show and right off the bat had to hit pause and freeze it. Who the hell is the guy from the New York Times sitting with Anderson Cooper and whatshername from CNN?

Went to Google. Sent me to the Times site, something called the Reader Center. 

Over his 20 years at The New York Times, Marc Lacey has worn many hats: a White House correspondent, a foreign correspondent who has reported from dozens of countries, the editor of the weekend news report and, now, the national editor.

Then, the Times got to the Q&A, which included celebrity-magazine-style questions that would have sent Abe Rosenthal screaming down 43rd Street.

What’s something that readers would be surprised to learn about you?

“I ride a motorcycle – not a particularly mean one, but a motorcycle nonetheless. This is very much counter to my image, which is why I don’t sell it.”

How do you spend your time when you’re off duty?

“I have a dog named Sandy who greets me at the end of each workday with so much enthusiasm that I forget all the hostile tweets I might have received that day. The debate’s going to be great, I have no doubt, especially to my labradoodle. To her, no matter what happens onstage, I will have won.”

Lacey’s star turn came about 20 minutes into the proceedings, asking Warren the same question she has ducked in the previous seventeen debates and in 256 interviews: “Will you raise taxes on the middle-class to pay for (Medicare for all) – yes or no?”

Whoa – yes or no? Snap to it, Lizzie. The gentleman from the New York Times demands an answer.  

Warren did her usual dipsy-doodle around the question, leaving Sandy the labradoodle frowning.  

The three-hour extravaganza was as predictable and revelatory as a Sarah Sanders press briefing.  It concluded with a Barbara-Walters’-type-if-you-were-a-tree question for the dozen Dems – a debate, or whatever this was, at this juncture of the campaign should not include more participants than defendants at the Chicago Seven trial – something about Ellen DeGeneres, George W. Bush and the Dallas Cowboys. 

CNN should have had Chris Cuomo instead of Cooper asking questions. “Let’s get after it.”

  • Vice President Biden, if you’re really an average Joe from Scranton, Pa., why did you give your son an elitist name like Hunter? Why not Gus? Or Daryl?
  • Senator Warren, what are you going to do if you are the nominee and the president comes out on the debate stage wearing a Comanche headdress and war paint?
  • Senator Sanders, is it true that Jackie Mason was once your voice coach?
  • Mr. Yang, how much cash money will you give every member of the audience right now to vote for you? 
  • Mr. Castro, how do we know you are not your twin brother Joaquin?
  • Senator Booker, can you name every person who lives in your Newark neighborhood?
  • Senator Klobuchar, can you name every state in the Midwest, its capital, its state bird, and sing all their state songs?
  • Senator Harris, how much pot did you have to smoke before you finally came around to supporting the decriminalization of marijuana?    
  • Congresswoman Gabbard, is there anyone on this stage you could not overpower and kill with your bare hands?
  • Mayor Buttigieg, you are mayor of South Bend but you never talk about Notre Dame. Do you have something against the Irish?
  • Mr. Steyer, is this really you or a hologram from a commercial? 
  • Beto, c’mon, curse me out. Right here. Right now. Dare you.

What does this have to do with Hunter S. Thompson? And the debate was more than a week ago.  Isn’t it old news?

The HST opus I mentioned, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in ’72, was in the July 5, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone, seven months and 28 days after Election Day. 

I remember picking up a copy, as hot off the presses as it took to get to Vancouver, at a newsstand on Granville Street. Walked down the hill to my office, the UPI bureau in the Pacific Press Building, and read from beginning to end.

The opening scene was set in the Seal Rock Inn in San Francisco, on a cliff above the Pacific, with HST missing deadline after deadline, month after month.

One afternoon about three days ago the Editorial Enforcement Detail from the Rolling Stone office showed up at my door, with no warning, and loaded about 40 pounds of supplies into the room: two cases of Mexican beer, four quarts of gin, a dozen grapefruits, and enough speed to alter the outcome of six Super Bowls. There was also a big Selectric typewriter, two reams of paper, a face-cord of oak firewood and three tape recorders – in case the situation got so desperate that I might finally have to resort to verbal composition.

There is a comfortable kind of consistency in this kind of finish, because that’s the way all the rest of my presidential campaign coverage was written. From December ’71 to January ’73 – in airport bars, all-nite coffee shops and dreary hotel rooms all over the country – there is hardly a paragraph in this jangled saga that wasn’t produced in a last-minute, teeth-grinding frenzy. There was never enough time. Every deadline was a crisis. All around me were experienced professional journalists meeting deadlines far more frequent than mine, but I was never able to learn from their example … From time to time they would try to console me about the terrible pressure I always seemed to be laboring under.

 Any $100-an-hour psychiatrist could probably explain this problem to me, in 13 or 14 sessions, but I don’t have time for that. No doubt it has something to do with a deep-seated personality defect, or maybe a kink in whatever blood vessel leads into the pineal gland . . . On the other hand, it might easily be something as simple & basically perverse as whatever instinct it is that causes a jackrabbit to wait until the last possible second to dart across the road in front of a speeding car.

I went on for another 15,326 words. I savored every one of them.

I read the hardcover book too, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail  ’72. Bought it as soon as it came out later that year, the Rolling Stone piece reprised in the 505 pages. 

It didn’t matter that it was ancient history, that Watergate had already swamped the White House and Nixon was up to his neck in the crooked shitstorm he had unleashed to get re-elected.   

Thompson was writing as fast as he could to keep up with the onslaught of developments in the downfall of the president and his gang of thieves and thugs.

But every burst of Gonzo was worth waiting for.

Now … 

Editor’s Note: It was at this point the writer began raving, spitting out words: “nothing worth waiting for … nothing worth waiting for … click … Times … nothing worth reading … click … Post … nothing … click … click … nothing … nothing … Rick Bragg … banished … Rolling Stone … Esquire … Village Voice …  zip … zilch … zero … Tom Wolfe … New Journalism … Joe Eszterhas … Charlie Simpson’s Apocalypse … Mailer … dead … Breslin … dead … HST … Woody Creek … .45 … BAM! … ashes … gone …”

Eventually, the writer had to be physically restrained by hired muscle from the Walden Circle Retirement Home, and sedated with tranquilizers prescribed for a  neurotic standard poodle.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

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