“Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer? Agnew was right. The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits – a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by “Raoul Duke” first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in November 1971. The preceding quote from that publication sums up the environment that led to the rise and, eventually, the fall of the great Rolling Stone itself; the shift away from the counterculture that it once represented and the pathological deterioration of principled liberalism.
If these words were to be circulated on the campuses of U.C. Berkley today the same way they were in 1971, you could expect firebombs launched through windows, police cruisers overturned, and any poor fool in a red hat to be viciously assaulted with a bike lock. University students today surmise that musings this offensive, have been manufactured by the primitive IBM computer that once spat out numbers used to help exterminate Jews in the Nazi death camps; a right-wing hate machine. Or maybe Milo Yiannapolous wrote it?
The suffocating media bias of the 1960s was difficult to escape. A lethargic gray specter of middle-class America was distributed with cunning sterility through the generic, bogus smiles of cable news networks and traditional print. Despite the election and assassination of Kennedy and the signing of the Civil Rights Act, if you had turned on a T.V. this was still Eisenhower’s America: regimented, religious, conservative. And the cultural vacuum created by the Eisenhower years had began to suck even harder with Lyndon Banes Johnson at the helm.
American media was out of touch with this new generation. Elitist authoritarians were preaching their moral superiority stamped with stars and stripes to a generation of cynics. These kids didn’t have a fucking clue what they wanted, but they wanted no part of what they were being given. So rose Rolling Stone, a counterculture bible for babyboomers, co-founded by Jann Wenner.
The adjective “cruel,” meaning to willfully cause pain or suffering to others and feeling no concern about it, paired with the noun “faggot,” the antiquated pejorative used to define a homosexual man, is Thompson’s description of the media community of the day. A description evidently endorsed through publication by Jann Wenner in 1971. Because according to Thompson: “…there is no such thing as objective journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”
Wenner today lives with his common law partner Matt Nye in, I’m guessing, New York City. He gives big money to Democrat candidates and makes millions off fabricated stories about the gang-rape epidemic at the University of Virginia. Then loses that money and gives more money to Democrat candidates. Wenner’s closet homosexuality in 1971 didn’t have him take any offence to Thompson’s comments, or at least not enough to hinder publishing the “hate speech.” Maybe it was the dollar signs flashing in his eyes, knowing that something as wild as Thompson’s Vegas adventure was a viable revenue stream. Or maybe liberals back then had more important things to bitch about.
Things were different in the 1960s. The anti-war movement and the civil rights movement were a just cause. The catalyst for a just movement of equal rights for women and gays and minorities was free speech, of which Jann Wenner was a huge proponent. When students at U.C. Berkley marched in the streets in the 1960s, it was an attack on the elitist, authoritarians and an establishment hellbent on keeping opposing viewpoints and the ideas of personal liberty stifled. The gang of “cruel faggots” kept the official narrative running but no one under 30 was listening.
The whole goddamn world had had enough of the travesty of war in Southeast Asia. There was no ignoring the ineptitude of American politics. The only reasonable thing to do in 1969 was to drive out to Altamont for the weekend, load up on heinous chemicals, hunker down and rethink your approach to the political process.
Thompson, the then-young, liberal anti-hero, could often be found gobbling LSD and firing his guns (he was a lifetime member of the NRA) at propane bottles for a crowd of jeering burnouts or Bay area bikers at his fortified compound, Owl Farm, in Woody Creek Colorado.
It was Jann Wenner’s idea to put Hunter, with all of his fear and loathing, on to the campaign trail in 1972. Why not get the guy who wrote Hell’s Angels? Hunter was someone with a penchant for dealing with vicious thugs and sick freaks gone crazy on power, someone who could draw a parallel between Richard Nixon and Sonny Barger.
Thompson’s openly-biased, subjective and wild account of the 1972 presidential election was the red Chevy convertible of campaign coverage. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ on repeat and at full volume, barrelling across the country at 110 miles an hour or so and in search of an honest politician. In Hunter’s eyes, the only one that even came close was George McGovern, the senator from South Dakota.
McGovern’s non-interventionist platform focused on a complete withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for draft evaders and a Milton Freidman inspired, negative income-tax meant to replace the bureaucratic burden of social welfare programs and a complicated tax code. Thompson’s version of events is the story of an idealistic underdog fighting against the odds only to be crushed by postmodern Americanism and the establishment incumbent, “Tricky Dick Nixon.” McGovern might have owed a White House win, in part, to Thompson’s and Rolling Stone’s relentless support had he not owed his White House loss to the mental distress of his vice-presidential pick, Thomas Eagleton.
There’s no way to properly explain how great Rolling Stone was in those early years. How well the magazine represented the anti-establishment culture, individual liberty and equality for everyone. It can’t be compared to anything else because there was nothing else, only the traditional mainstream garbage and Rolling Stone.
In the four decades that followed, the magazine continually fell behind market trends in the music industry, clinging nostalgically to some bygone era. They were late to the party covering punk in the 70’s. While they tried to figure out what had happened in 1991 Seattle they had totally dropped the ball on hip-hop. All of a sudden it was three years later, Kurt Cobain was already dead and they had lost so much ground in the L.A. scene that the black community had given up on them.
Wenner had pompously brushed off having any type of internet media strategy until around 2009, when he appointed one of his sons in charge of the “digital media” division. The type of position acquired only by a millionaire trust-fund brat of a rich liberal.
For years, Rolling Stone was unable to get a handle on what was happening in music or technology. Incompetence was a bad rash that spread through the entire organization. Getting caught with the University of Virginia gang-rape lies was an obvious black eye on the magazine. Wenner’s ability to make sound decisions was in question. His son should have been sent to North Dakota to learn how to weld. Despite all of that, the magazine was still making money, selling something like 1.5 million copies monthly. Not that anyone would admit to reading it or spending money on it.
On February 20, 2005 Hunter Thompson blew his own brains out in the kitchen of Owl Farm. His chronic alcohol and drug abuse had rendered his writing profitless and that was of no use to Rolling Stone. He had survived the last 10 years by republishing old articles and collections of his work from different outlets. He had already lost faith in the American political process. After Bill Clinton failed to appease his concerns over firearms, marijuana legalization and the American constitution, Hunter simply lost interest and poured himself a stiff drink.
One of the core tenets of Thompson’s “Gonzo journalism” was: total subjectivity; blatant, outright bias. An approach emulated by current Rolling Stone top shelf contributor, Matt Taibbi; a pliable, milquetoast impressionist with a learned sense of Thompson’s wit and scorn. The trick, which Taibbi understands as did Thompson, is that good journalism has a subjective theme, of course, but doesn’t blur the lines that keep public servants accountable. Taibbi likens journalists cozying up to politicians to the separation of church and state. Lacking objectivity, a good journalist should still keep an arms length from politicians and be critical of all of them, especially ones entrenched for decades in unashamed cronyism, a disregard for human life and vicious foreign policy.
“Reporters are supposed to be unpleasant, grumpy people who instantly deface the posters of the powerful whenever they get the chance”
– Matt Taibbi
In 2008, Taibbi had the opportunity to join other journalists on one of Obama’s campaign flights. He liked Obama, but when he noticed all the pictures that lined the walls, pictures of Obama and all the different journalists, all with their arms around then candidate Obama and smiling, he admits that he felt a little dirty.
The real downfall of the magazine was that Jann Wenner had hitched the Rolling Stone wagon to a political party instead of a political principal.
Obama graced the cover of Rolling Stone annually through his presidency. Jann Wenner and him had carved out their friendship and put it on display. Few presidents have had the opportunity to sustain 8 full years of foreign bloodshed without any outrage from Wenner and co.
Now that Obama was out, there was a constant theme in the election for his replacement and the primaries leading up to it. Americans were sick of the status quo. They were sick of being fed lies from mainstream media and “fake news.” People were waiting to revolt in the wake of establishment politics. Just give them a guy who’s going to shit on everything and see what happens.
American media today is out of touch and not only with this new generation. Outlets like Rolling Stone keep the official narrative going, but no one under 30 is listening.
When Rolling Stone endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, that was it. The joke was over. Jann Wenner had finally come out of the closet as an elitist authoritarian and a cruel faggot.
* Darcy Gerow is a family man and tradesman. He is a national board member for the Libertarian Party of Canada and the co-founder of @TheHardTruthsBookClub, an organization committed to causing greatness in working age me through brotherhood and literature.