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Fear & Loathing On The Campaign Trail

March 8, 2012

I’ve never read Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo classic of campaign reporting, Fear And Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72.  I thought I’d take the occasion of the 40th anniversary of that campaign to fill that lamentable gap in my education.  It took several weeks for the library to fulfill my request for the book but hey, the price is right and I wasn’t in a hurry.  The book arrived yesterday and judging from Thompson’s introduction, I think I’m going to enjoy it:

The most consistent and ultimately damaging failure of political journalism in America has its roots in the clubby/cocktail personal relationships that inevitably develop between politicians and journalists—in Washington or anywhere else where they meet on a day-to-day basis.  When professional antagonists become after-hours drinking buddies they are not likely to turn each other in…especially not for “minor infractions” of rules that neither side takes seriously; and on the rare occasions when Minor infractions suddenly become Major, there is panic on both ends.

A classic example of this syndrome was the disastrous “Eagleton Affair.”  Half of the political journalists in St. Louis and at least a dozen in the Washington press corps knew Eagleton was a serious boozer with a history of mental breakdowns—but none of the had ever written about it, and the few who were known to have mentioned it privately lammed up 1000 percent when McGovern’s harried staffers began making inquiries on that fateful Thursday afternoon in Miami.  Any Washington political reporter who blows a Senator’s chance for the vice-presidency might as well start looking for another beat to cover—because his name will be instant mud on Capitol Hill.

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From → Books, History, Politics

One Comment
  1. Chris Hill permalink

    Thanks for the reminder. Starting in the mid-90s I’ve made it a point to read this book every year a presidential election is held. It’s amazing (and scary and sad and other things) how some things are exactly the same as they were in 1972.

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