Hunter Thompson just copied Annie Leibowitz

Plus his ideas for reforming baseball and jock-sniffing sports writers

From ESPN site. Not surprisingly, ESPN coddles Thompson. He’s an old pal of an ESPN executive editor.
  • From ESPN site. Not surprisingly, ESPN coddles Thompson. He’s an old pal of an ESPN executive editor.

Despite all of his outrage and bombast. Hunter S. Thompson has always had the best gig in town. Make no mistake: gonzo journalism has been his ticket to a lush life. True, you can’t fake it; your conviction has to be consistent, genuine, raw, and ardent, but if you happen to have a mind like Thompson’s, if you happen to be whip smart and impulsive, then it’s easy street. Thompson himself has defined gonzo journalism as “a style of reporting based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism.” In other words, say whatever in the hell you want, so long as it means something. Thompson recently explained | gonzo journalism to NPR contributor Hugo Perez this way: “It was really born of innate laziness.... I’m a monument to the triumph of laziness, because I just took the notebooks really and typed them up. I was trying to compete with photographers and illustrators. Whenever Annie Leibowitz would finish a story, she’d just send her film in. But I’d be left with the empty pages to slave over, so I thought, ! well, I can do that too.”

Thompson’s most recent soapbox has been a weekly column for Since November of last year, he has been writing “Hey, Rube!”

(, ! which appears on the Disney-owned sports site’s irreverent Page 2. “Hey, Rube” means “Hey, Dummy,” as in “Hey, idiot, if you think this column is about sports then that’s your fault,” though it’s worth pointing out that in Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s autobiography The Sixteenth Round, the incarcerated boxer’s prison buddies address him as “Hey, Rube.”

Not surprisingly, ESPN coddles Thompson. He’s an old pal of ESPN executive editor John A. Walsh, who was managing editor of Rolling Stone in the early ’70s, when Thompson was its national affairs editor. “Hunter will call me and rail at me and want to know how he can watch an obscure basketball game that he’s having trouble getting on the satellite,” Walsh told the American Journalism Review in February. Walsh added that he has no idea whether Thompson’s column will arrive every week at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, though so far, so good. “I’ve made 24 consecutive deadlines with,” Thompson boasted to Perez.

Thompson told Perez that he’s no stranger to making electronic submissions. He said that he used to travel around with a small fax machine for sending in his newspaper stories from the road.

“I could pull into a gas won't be missed, station,” he explained, “a closed gas station in South Miami, anywhere at all, and I used to carry a 50-foot extension cord, so I could plug it into the side of the building over by the rest rooms. And as long as I had a phone that I could get a quarter into, the machine would run.” But just because Thompson is up to date technologically doesn’t mean that he’s in step. He may be a sports buff (he began his career as a sportswriter in Florida), but in his inaugural “Hey, Rube!” column, he proposed several ways to shorten baseball games, a sport he abhors. “Not even the New Rules would drag me back to the Ballpark,” he wrote, “but I am a Doctor of Wisdom, a professional man, and some of my friends in the Business have asked me to have a look at this problem, which I have, and this is my solution, for good or ill.” First, “Eliminate the pitchers, and they won’t be missed. Pitchers, as a group, are pampered little swine.... They are as useless as tits on a boar-hog & should all be put to sleep.” Thompson also proposed allowing all base runners to run to any base (“but not backwards”): “First to Third, Second to Home, etc. And with NO PITCHER in the game, this frantic scrambling across the infield will be Feasible and Tempting.” The column usually begins as a gambler’s take on pro sports, then segues into politics, which Thompson understands as just another high-stakes games spoiled by capital. “I can Play in this league,” Thompson stated in one early column. “I don’t like it — but when my own editors at ESPN start asking me to get outraged about the Huge Salaries being paid these days to Baseball Pitchers — instead of the truly Insane high-stakes Gambling that is going on right now in our national Political Arena — I know how Thomas Jefferson felt when he said, ‘I fear for the fate of my country when I reflect that God is Just.’ ”

But as is typical of Thompson, he reserves the most crushing blows not for his subjects — “preternaturally arrogant” athletes — but for the corrupted press that feeds off them, that “rude & brainless subculture of fascist drunks” who are “more disgusting by nature than maggots oozing out of the carcass of a dead animal.” Your “average career sportswriter,” Thompson charges, is a “jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal.” Only Thompson can earn three squares a day by biting the hand that feeds him.

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