BEDTIME FOR GONZO
Warren Hinckle’s grand tribute to Hunter S. Thompson [March 21] defines “gonzo journalism” (where the reporter becomes “the active part of the story”) as growing “out of a 1970 assignment I gave Thompson,” for his Ramparts-esque Scanlan’s Monthly. Thank God (and Mr. Hinckle) for having the chutzpah and foresight to let Hunter loose on the Kentucky Derby, where he met up with Ralph Steadman. But such editorial prescience–fostering a modern author’s exorcising of American hypocrisies–dates back further. Tom Wolfe, in The New Journalism, writes about an assignment that the late David Newman of Esquire gave my father, Terry Southern, in 1962:
“It was the first example I noticed of a form of journalism in which the writer starts out to do a feature assignment (‘Go to Mississippi and see what happens when five hundred pubescent baton twirlers meet in earnest competition’) and ends up writing a curious form of autobiography…. The supposed subject…becomes incidental.”
Professor William McKeen, chair of the University of Florida journalism department and editor of Literary Journalism, writes, “In many ways this story [Terry’s “Twirling at Ole Miss”] provides a model for Hunter Thompson to follow later in the decade.”
Perhaps the term “gonzo journalism” must indeed be reserved for the drugs, guns, politics and iron-in-the-soul agit-prop of HST, and the “new journalism,” kicked off by Terry and carried on by writers like George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, John Updike, Truman Capote, Molly Ivins, P.J. O’Rourke, Michael Herr, Mark Singer, Barbara Ehrenreich and Tom Wolfe, will be reinvented by today’s outraged writers and (more important) tomorrow’s media makers.
While my father set out to “blast smugness and complacency,” I think Thompson became that impulse. As the neocon(job) bandwagon rolls along, the two of them must be shaking their heads with increasing incredulity.
YOUNG & GHOULISH
Eric Alterman, in “Anti-Semite? Self-Hating Jew? Moi?” shouldn’t worry when people like Cathy Young attack him as a “self-hating” Jew [“The Liberal Media,” March 28]. Take it as a compliment. When people like Cathy Young start praising him, then he should worry.
With all due respect to Eric Alterman, his opening line, “That the Boston Globe is a great newspaper can be in no doubt,” is dead wrong. Since being bought by the New York Times and particularly since Marty Baron became its editor, the national and international reporting has become dreadful; the editorial writers–Cathy Young and Jeff Jacoby in particular–are an embarrassment; the morale among reporters keeps sinking (there was more joie de vivre at David Nyhan’s funeral than in the Globe building); and even its decent coverage of events like the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal is grossly overdone. Even its sports section smothers you with too many articles on the same topic.
Believe me, Eric, I have read the Globe for years, and it may be the best lousy newspaper or the worst good newspaper, but it certainly is not without doubt a great newspaper. Try reading it on a daily basis.
New York City
As a famous Jewish sage once said, “You may be right.”
Re “In Fact…,” March 21, “The Creditors’ Ball“: The Democratic Party is looking more and more like the hapless Washington Generals who play the foils to the Harlem Globetrotters. If ever there was an opportunity for Democratic senators to unite behind America’s working class, the bankruptcy bill, which creates a new class of indentured servants, was it. Yet many Democratic senators willingly fell on their tushes, looked comically bewildered or forgot what team they were on as the GOP dribbled through them and slam-dunked this meanspirited, ill-conceived legislation on the American people. Perhaps the Green Party needs to replace these clowns so there can be some real opposition to one-party government.
DENNIS M. CLAUSEN
NAME ‘EM & SHAME ‘EM!
Eighteen democrats caved in on tort “reform,” going against what ought to be one of their fundamental principles, namely, protecting the rights of victims of corporate abuse to sue the offending corporations [Dan Zegart, “Tort ‘Reform’ Triumphs,” March 7]. When this happens, The Nation should name these senators.
They are: Bayh (IN), Bingaman (NM), Cantwell (WA), Carper (DE), Conrad (ND), Dodd (CT), Feinstein (CA), Johnson (SD), Kohl (WI), Landrieu (LA), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Obama (IL), Reed (RI), Rockefeller (WV), Salazar (CO) and Schumer (NY).
Even some progressives voted for the so-called Class Action Fairness Act, which shows that we citizens cannot take even progressive senators’ votes for granted. Every one of these votes should be considered a failure by grass-roots groups in the respective states.
Dan Zegart is absolutely right to call the Class Action Fairness Act “a catastrophe for workers and consumers,” as he is right to draw connections between tort “reform” and the right wing’s other attacks on poor and working Americans. Unfortunately, some leaders of the labor movement have actually jumped on board with the right, supporting tort reform initiatives and caps on asbestos-victim compensation. Last year the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) drew fire from groups such as the AARP and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform for helping nursing-home companies lobby for tort reform in the California legislature. The bill in question would have severely limited patients’ ability to sue nursing homes over mistreatment. Why would a union support such measures? In exchange for its lobbying, SEIU was promised unfettered access to organize nursing-home workers.
Similarly, the United Auto Workers is one of many unions that aggressively supported the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2004, legislation that would have prevented victims from suing companies for punitive damages. In urging the Senate to pass this bill, these union leaders said it would be a way to alleviate the “asbestos litigation crisis.” As Zegart rightly points out, such litigation crises are works of exaggeration or outright fiction, crafted by right-wing “legal extremists.” But union leaders’ support for tort reform and similar measures illustrates a true crisis facing all progressives–the growing number of “progressive” leaders who have decided that the only way to beat the right is to join them.
‘SHOOTING THE MESSENGER’ INDEED
Jeremy Scahill’s “Shooting the Messenger” [March 7] was an excellent overview of the fate that journalists have suffered in Iraq at the hands of the US military, but it didn’t answer one question: Does the United States deliberately target journalists? On January 26, 2004, Democracy Now! featured an interview Scahill conducted with Gen. Wesley Clark, who was in charge of NATO forces that bombed Radio Television Serbia, killing sixteen journalists. Clark vigorously defends that bombing, although he tries to escape responsibility for the deaths by asserting that “Milosevic was warned.” The deliberate targeting of Radio Television Serbia remains an undisputed fact. Although Clark talks about how it was a “command and control” center, at the time, various pronouncements by the US government made it quite clear that it was the alleged “propaganda” being dispensed–that is, its journalistic output–that qualified RTS as a “command and control” center, and nothing else.
It’s also worth remembering that, although no one was killed in the attack, the US military deliberately bombed the Al Jazeera offices in Kabul during the assault on Afghanistan. A spokesman for the US Central Command said the bombing was based on “compelling” evidence that the facility was being used by Al Qaeda, but needless to say, no compelling evidence, or any evidence at all, was ever released. Does the US military deliberately target journalists? Unquestionably yes.
There’s an interesting backstory to the news that former CNN executive Eason Jordan, chased from his job by right-wing bloggers for saying he believed journalists killed by coalition forces in Iraq had been targeted. During its 1999 war in Yugoslavia, NATO disliked the way the central Serb TV station in Belgrade was covering the fighting. Jordan, then head of CNN International, was informed that NATO planned to attack the station. He protested and the jets veered away during their first sortie. Jordan had time to clear out CNN’s crew and equipment from the building. Two days later, on April 23, NATO struck, killing sixteen journalists and technicians. After the war ended, in October 1999, Jordan revealed the story of the premeditated attack at the “News World” media conference in Barcelona.
DEAN–LEAN & KEEN
With John Nichols, I applaud Howard Dean’s ascendancy to greater influence in the Democratic Party [“Now He Has the Power,” March 7]. If Dean is wise, he will counsel the Democrats to give leaders like Barbara Boxer–not just more white guys like himself–greater visibility and power. The Republicans have given minority spokespeople like Condoleezza Rice a lot of visibility, if not a lot of power, and it worries me that in the next public debate over affirmative action, we could witness the pathetic spectacle of a white male trying to defend this noble and needed remedy over the objections of a black female opponent. Eric Paul Jacobsen
TRANSLATIONS OF SCIASCIA
In her March 28 “Fear and Loathing in Italy,” Frederika Randall states that only a few of Leonardo Sciascia’s books have been translated into English. There are, in fact, English translations of at least nineteen of Sciascia’s titles.