these days. Defenders of professional purity found themselves mysteriously threatened by writers who not only violated the doctrine of objectivity, but, far worse, actually refused to take it seriously. Tom Wolfe had by the late Sixties raised the banner of the “new journalism,” whose practitioners not only tackle exotic subject matter and take stylistic liberties but presume to describe what their subjects are thinking \(try using facts established in the public record to justify that tunately, though, Wolfe showed no inclination to dirty his spats by treading in the political realm, and he and his literary progeny thus could be relegated to the pages of high-toned magazines where they would pose little threat to the foundations of the old journalism. Hunter S. Thompson pushed further, becoming something of a national culture hero through the wildly anarchic practice of “gonzo journalism,” in which the reporter is an essential participant and agent provacateur in the story, unabashedly crossing and recrossing the frontier between fact and fiction \(which, given the often crazed state of the reporter’s mind, becomes an irrelevant disgressively funny iconoclasm was simply a drug-soaked permutation of the classic the-emperor-has-no-clothes school of journalism, but it proved to have a selflimiting quality; by demonstrating conclusively the madness of American politics, Thompson helped convince millions politics and the entire sphere of public affairs are no longer worthy of attention. Gonzo journalism thus had an impact on social styles and attitudes of mind, but little on the profession. Thompson eventually wandered off to sell his notoriety on the celebrity circuit. Less amusing, but more structurally threatening, is the growing practice of “advocacy journalism,” in which the politically inquisitive reporter makes no bones about the reality that class and corporate interests are part of the story. As more and more newspapers and magazines are swallowed by corporate conglomerates, while increasingly educated and politically savvy reporters are at the same time becoming more and more eager for notches on their pistols, a brand of journalism that questions the system itself begins to look more and more like a radical insurrection in the ranks, at least to those manning the battlements of objectivity. These objectivists would refer to Wallraff as a “leftist journalist.” Through a pleasant coincidence in publishers’ timing, milestone works in the new, gonzo and left-political varieties of journalism all appeared at the end of the decade. Taken together, the collected works of Wallraff and Thompson and Tom Wolfe’s latest and most artful tour de force form an interesting testament to an insurrectionary struggle that was taking place even as Woodward and Bernstein became gossip-column fodder and Baba Wawa became a national joke. Gunter Wallraff, the grimly purposeful agitator, and Hunter Thompson, the legendary rakehell, have several things uniquely in common. Each takes pride in his role as an “outlaw journalist.” Each has evolved a personal brand of journalism in which the reporter is necessarily a participant, each frequently misrepresents himself to fool his subjects, and each is something of a journalistic trickster, stirring up trouble, outwitting the adversaries he attempts to expose and occasionally \(especially in Thompson’s But in style and preferred subject matter, they could not be more different. Wallraff is essentially a guerrilla. His motive is to expose the ruling class to the working class; journalism to him is a weapon. He seeks “to deceive in order not to be deceived to break the rules of the game in order to disclose the secret rules of power.” Wallraffs exploit in exposing the Spinola affair is a bit more colorful than most of his other stories, but in method it is typical. He posed as a sympathetic government official to reveal a plan among major industrialists to build up quasi-military security forces. He worked as a reporter for Bild, the right-wing rag which is the best-read paper in Germany, to reveal exactly how it distorts the truth. He has taken numerous unappetizing jobs to reveal the conditions under which people are actually forced to work in bringing about the “German miracle.” He had himself arrested in Greece, and was tortured in prison, so as to document the abuses of the military junta then ruling that country. Even to us jaded, battle-wise journalists who like to pretend we’ve seen it all, Wallraff’s achievements are absolutely astonishing. The hell of it is, The Undesirable Journalist is far from a great read. Wallraff is no writer, in the sense of one who cares deeply about language or even about telling a good story. He cares only about exposing vital information; despite his well-nigh incredible adventures, he scarcely deigns to furnish us with an anecdote. The writing is brusque, matter-of-fact. It is also sprinkled with editorial asides presenting a basic classstruggle analysis of the subject at hand. These are designed, without condescension, for instruction of a working-class readership. And Wallraff does reach the German working class; surveys have shown that a majority of workers knows something about his work, and many who read nothing else have either read Wallraff or know the substance of his exposes at second-hand through their trade union papers. One other similarity between Wallraff and Thompson: they outrage conventional editors, and can only be published in the more adventurous, usually leftwing journals. The actual subject matter of the articles reprinted in The Undesirable Journalist will be of limited interest to most American readers, except to bring us the depressing knowledge that Germany has gone proto-fascist again. But imagine the impact if we had similar reporters working inside the oil or nuclear industries, for instance, or revealing to us what the Ford managers really say in private about the Pinto. Gunter Wallraff is a key participant in his stories, but his purpose is simply to serve as a catalyst. Hunter Thompson, by contrast, injects his artfully demented personality into situations, preferably extreme situations, just to see what develops. His assaults on Las Vegas, presidential politics, the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl were one of the chief spectator sports of the ’70s; Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 is a seminal work for a generation of disaffected journalists. The Great Shark Hunt collects fragments from Thompson’s three published books, plus virtually everything else he ever wrote, from relatively \(only relaNational Observer and even one for The Nation in the ’60s to his infamous semiendorsement of Jimmy Carter for Rolling Stone in 1976. The collection confirms that Thompson hasn’t really done anything but imitate himself since about 1973. It also confirms that far too frequently he is his own story, forgetting to tell us anything important about what’s going on around him, that he descends regularly into the depths of selfindulgence, and that he uses words like “savage” and “twisted” much too often. I have read a lot of reviews of The Great Shark Hunt. For the most part, they make some of the above points, tut-tut about Thompson’s decadence and recent tendency toward self-parody, and proceed to write him off, and condescendingly at that. My reaction to these critics is a rather strong one; should they fall into my hands, I would not hesitate to use them for sharkbait. For a few years back, Hunter Thompson performed \(the some of the best journalism that has ever THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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