Thursday, August 27, 2009

Now That Would’ve Been Something!

In my reading about the state of the media industry (critical perspectives on how we got where we are today and myriad hypotheses on how we might find our way to a new sustainable model), I came across this interesting Market Watch column on The Wall Street Journal’s site. In it writer Jon Friedman discusses the state of the newspaper business and interviews San Francisco Chronicle and Hearst Newspaper Co. editor-at-large Phil Bronstein.

While there are some interesting, if not entirely new, points raised through the course of the column, what I found most interesting was Bronstein’s tale of how in 1994, as the executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner, he attempted to hire renowned gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson to cover the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Imagine that! Thompson would’ve had an absolute field day with that one. He had gone to town covering the Pulitzer divorce trial that rocked Palm Beach in the early 1980s for Rolling Stone (lots of skeletons shakin’ out of socialites’ closets in that one). One can only begin to imagine the scathing wit and satire Dr. Gonzo could’ve applied to the O.J. debacle – the camera-hungry attorneys, the L.A. police dept., the Brentwood celebrity crowd, the delusionally-egotistical-and-not-so-smart former athlete ... the whole lot! HST was a master of social commentary, after all; the more twisted the better.

Bronstein had somewhat of an “in” to hook the good doctor for the assignment because Thompson had recently been writing a regular (well ... frequent, not much regular about HST) column for the Examiner.

During the negotiations between writer and editor, HST had the cojones to demand a satellite dish, two suites at the Chateau Marmont (long L.A.’s notoriously decadent playground to wanton stars of all pursuits and persuasions), and, last but not least, an unlimited expense account! Alas, the poor (literally) Examiner didn’t stand a chance. Thompson wouldn’t cave. He didn’t need the gig and he had nothing more to prove to anybody.

Maybe it’s better that it didn’t happen. By the 1990s HST had, for the most part, become a parody of himself. Like many great talents and artists, he failed to rise above his own best clichés ... instead resorting to simply replaying them with different names and places. I prefer to remember him fearing and loathing what he saw in Las Vegas and haranguing Nixon until he left D.C. with his tail between his legs.

Res ispa loquitur.

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