Hunter S Thompson on 911
Hunter S. Thompson, talked to Mick O'Regan
from Radio National's Media Report.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
6:15am - Thursday 29 August 2002
please note the transcript has been edited as well as CENSORED .
Mick O’Regan: Unlike Walter Cronkite, Hunter S. Thompson is a stirrer, a deliberately provocative commentator and a freewheeling iconoclast, infamous for his relentless critique of the American government and military.
He lives in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and that’s where I found him at the end of a less than perfect telephone line, to ask his opinion of the state of the US media.
Hunter S. Thompson: Well let’s see, ‘shamefully’ is a word that comes to mind, but that’s not true in the case of The New York Times, The Washington Post, but overall the American journalism I think has been cowed and intimidated by the massive flat-sucking, this patriotic orgy that the White House keeps whipping up. You know if you criticise the President it’s unpatriotic and there’s something wrong with you, you may be a terrorist.
Mick O’Regan: So in that sense, there’s not enough room for dissenting voices?
Hunter S. Thompson: There’s plenty of room there’s not just enough people who are willing to take the risk. It’s sort of a herd mentality, a lemming-like mentality. If you don’t go with the flow you’re anti-American and therefore a suspect. And we’ve seen this before, these patriotic frenzies. It’s very convenient having an undeclared war that you can call a war and impose military tribunals and wartime security and we have these generals telling us that this war’s going to go on for a long, long time. Maybe not so much the generals now, the generals are a little afraid of Iraq, a little worried about it, but it’s the civilians in the White House, the gang of thieving, just lobbyists for the military industrial complex, who are running the White House, and to be against them is to be patriotic, then hell, call me a traitor.
Mick O’Regan: Do you think that most of the American media, or say most of the influential American media has bought that patriotism line, and as a result are self-censoring themselves?
Hunter S. Thompson: There you go, self-censorship, yes, that’s a very good point. Yes, I would say that. Now there are always exceptions to that but there’ve been damn few. Yeah.
Mick O’Regan: So is it the White House laying down what they think is appropriate journalism, or is it the news media outlets deciding that they have to be patriotic, that they’re under some sort of undeclared duty at the moment, to somehow reflect the patriotism of the American public?
Hunter S. Thompson: Well it goes a little deeper than that, because this Administration is well on the road to seizing power, and Tom Dashell, the Senate Democratic leader the other day accused Bush of trying to seize dictatorial powers. Now that was a big breakthrough, and I’m starting to sense that the tide may be turning against the President; we have to beat this bastard one way or another. And the American government is the greatest enemy of freedom around the world that I can think of. And we keep waving that flag, freedom, yes, these people are flag-suckers.
Mick O’Regan: What about the language that’s being used to describe the so-called undeclared war? I mean there have been criticisms in the mainstream press in Australia that journalists have too readily taken up the language of politicians and bureaucrats, that they have uncritically declared the war against terror without really thinking it through; what’s your assessment of the situation in the States?
Hunter S. Thompson: Well I’m glad to hear that – you’re talking about Australian journalists?
Mick O’Regan: Yes.
Hunter S. Thompson: Yes, well that’s good. Congratulations boys. There is not much of that in this country yet. This over here is the most paranoid, most insecure country that I’ve ever lived in, I mean it’s the worst this country has been since I have ever seen it.
Mick O’Regan: Do you feel like there’s a restriction of media freedom at the moment? Is there a restricted space for media freedom?
Hunter S. Thompson: I wouldn’t say it’s a restricted space, but it’s a dark and dangerous grey area to venture into. Several journalists have lost their jobs, columnist Bill Maher on ABC, but some people were made an example of early on. The media doesn’t reflect world opinion or even a larger, more intelligent opinion over here, it’s just this drumbeat of celebrity worship and child funerals and hooded prisoners being led around Guantanamo. No I’m very disturbed about the civil rights implications of this, and everybody should be.
Mick O’Regan: So just on journalists who may have lost their jobs, are you saying that people who came out and were fearless in their critique of the government or the government’s policy, that those people actually lost their jobs as journalists?
Hunter S. Thompson: Well I can think of two that come to mind right in the beginning. I haven’t heard of any since. But I think Bill Maher, there was some kind of rave after 9/11 that all these people, cowards, you know these dirty little bastards, who snuck up on us and pulled off what amounts to a perfect crime really, no witnesses, very little cost; talk about cost-effective, that was a hell of a strike. I’m not sure I’d call them cowards, but that’s what Bill Maher said on TV and he said he considered our missile attacks on unseen victims, wedding parties etc. that that was cowardly. Whacko. Well that brought a huge tidal wave of condemnation that came down on him. And that was the ABC, yeah.
Mick O’Regan: So at the moment people don’t want to hear that sort of criticism, they want people to rally round the flag and support the military?
Hunter S. Thompson: I think that’s right, and I think the reason for that is that they don’t want to hear it because boy, that’s going to be a lot of agonising reappraisal, as they say. What reality is in this country and the world right now. Yes, popular opinion in this country has to be swung over to “the White House is wrong, these people are corporate thieves. They’ve turned the American Dream into a chamber of looting.” It would take a lot of adjustment, mentally.
Mick O’Regan: At the moment, even in Australia, the media is preparing for the first anniversary of the attacks in a couple of weeks from now. How is the American media preparing to sort of commemorate the first anniversary of the September 11th attack?
Hunter S. Thompson: You would never believe it, it’s so insane. This is a frantic publicity. Every day on television the President’s on TV at least once a day, and celebrations of the dead, the patriots, exposes on Al Qaida, it’s just relentless, in fact 25 hours a day, of just how tragic it was and how patriotic it was, and how much we have to get back at these dirty little swine, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised for as hideous and dumb as it sounds, an invasion of Iraq on September 11, yeah I’ll get out and take a long shot bet on that.
Mick O’Regan: That you think that the occasion might actually be used as a way of using that popular fervour or that popular patriotism as an appropriate day to launch an invasion?
Hunter S. Thompson: Well it seems like that to me, because that’s their only power base really, is that frenzy of patriotism, and it’s our revenge strike, you know, Uncle Sam gets even. If that’s going to work at all, there would be no time when it would work better when everyone in the country is cranked up into emotional frenzies. I myself am getting little teary eyed like watching some CNN special. This reminds me exactly of the month after the attack when there was just one drumroll after another after another. But there is some opposition now popping up in this country, a lot of it.
Mick O’Regan: Could I take you back to September 11th. What I’d really like to know is your reactions. And I know you said you were writing a sports column for ESPN when the planes hit the towers, but could I get you to tell that story of when you found out about it and what you were doing and what your reaction was?
Hunter S. Thompson: I had in fact just finished a sports column for ESPN. Here it is: ‘It was just after dawn in Woody Creek, Colorado when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday morning. And as usual I was writing about sports. But not for long. Football suddenly seemed irrelevant compared to the scenes of destruction and other devastation coming out of New York on TV.’
Mick O’Regan: You went on to say in that article, which I have in front of me, that ‘even ESPN was broadcasting war news. It was the worst disaster in the history of the United States.’ Do you think that the event completely transformed the way in which Americans see themselves and their own vulnerability?’
Hunter S. Thompson: No, the event by itself wouldn’t have done that. But it was the way the Administration was able to use that event. Even use it as a springboard for everything they wanted to do. And that might tell you something. I remember when I was writing that column you sort of wonder when something like that happens, Well who stands to benefit? Who had the opportunity and the motive? You just kind of look at these basic things, and I don’t know if I want to go into this on worldwide radio here, but –
Mick O’Regan: You may as well.
Hunter S. Thompson: All right. Well I saw that the US government was going to benefit, and the White House people, the republican administration to take the mind of the public off of the crashing economy. Now you want to keep in mind that every time a person named Bush gets into office, the nation goes into a drastic recession they call it.
Mick O’Regan: It seems a very long bow to me, but are you sort of suggesting that this worked in the favour of the Bush Administration?
Hunter S. Thompson: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I have spent enough time on the inside of, well in the White House and you know, campaigns and I’ve known enough people who do these things, think this way, to know that the public version of the news or whatever event, is never really what happened.
Mick O’Regan: Well let me just ask you on that. I mean you’ve pioneered a form of journalism called Gonzo journalism, in which it’s almost like there’s no revision. What you see and feel is what goes down on the page, and it’s that first blush, that first image that hits the readership. Does that mean that in a way it’s hard for you to appear credible within the US media because people would say Oh look, that’s just another conspiracy theory from a drug-addled Gonzo journalist like Hunter S. Thompson?
Hunter S. Thompson: Yeah, that’s a problem. I’m not sure if it’s my problem or other people’s, or their’s, but I stand by this column and the one after it. I’ve been right so often, and my percentages are so high, I’ll stand by this column that I wrote that day, and the next one. So what appears to be maybe Gonzo journalism, I’m not going to claim any prophetic powers, but…
Mick O’Regan: Well one of the things you do say in that first article you wrote, you say, ‘It’s now 24 hours later, and we’re not getting much information about the 5Ws of this thing.’ Now by the 5Ws I’m presuming you mean the Who, the What, the When, the Why and the How. Is that still how you feel, that a year later those key questions haven’t been answered?
Hunter S. Thompson: Absolutely. It’s even worse though. How much more do we have than we had a year ago? Damn little, I think.
Mick O’Regan: Hunter Thompson, will you be at home watching the commemoration programs on 11th September? Will you be among the audience, which I imagine will number tens of millions of people who watch what happens in New York?
Hunter S. Thompson: That’s a good point, that’s a good question, and yes, it’s soon, isn’t it? No, I won’t. I think I’ll grab Anita and take a road trip. We’ll just go off and have a little fun. Why sit around and watch that stuff?
Mick O’Regan: US journalist, Hunter S. Thompson with a very personal and idiosyncratic view of September 11.
"We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world--a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just Whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us...No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we'll kill you.
Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? Who among us can be happy and proud of having this innocent blood on our hands? Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid rich kids like George Bush? They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammad Ali locked up for refusing to kill gooks. They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the American character. They are the racists and hate mongers among us--they are the Ku Klux Klan. I piss down the throats of these Nazis.
And I am too old to worry about whether they like it or not. Fuck them."
-Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear