Dust-Up Over Hunter Thompson's Final Years
Rolling Stone Magazine is turning 40. It just released its first digital issue. I was a teenager when it first came out and read it religiously. I subscribed for years. I still read it from time to time.
So, it's painful for me to see there's been a brouhaha in the media this week about Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour's biography of Hunter Thompson. For a quick recap, check out:
- This NY Daily News article
- The LA Times Review which really hurt Hunter's wife, Anita Thompson
- This Washington Times article defending Hunter's later writing and Anita
- Anita responding on her Owl Farm Blog.
I'm not going to slam Wenner's book, I haven't read the whole thing -- just the 8 pages of excerpts in Rolling Stone last month, which I read on an airplane and enjoyed. Even Anita says there's some good stuff in the book.
But Anita very much disagrees with Wenner's characterization of Hunter (see the LA Times review)at the end of his life, his criticism of Hunter's ESPN reporting and the impression he gives that Hunter did nothing worthwhile after leaving Rolling Stone.
On Hunter's ESPN reporting, his activism and the impact he made during the final years of his life, I feel qualified to weigh in and I'm going to side strongly with Anita (and not just because she's my friend.)
During those last years, I followed, praised and quoted Hunter's ESPN articles and his activism on behalf of Lisl Auman, a woman unfairly serving a life sentence for felony murder, both on TalkLeft and before that here.
You don't have to take my word for it on Hunter's later writings. You be the judge. Here are my favorites:
- A Crime Against Nature
"OK, that's about it for sports this time. But I have a flash of Good News from the Police Atrocity front, which is heating up in Denver. Stand back! Good News is rare in the Criminal Justice System, but every once in a while you find it, and this is one of those times. To wit: The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has formally entered the Appeals trial of young Lisl Auman -- the girl who remains locked up in a cell at the Colorado State Prison for the Rest of Her Life with No Possibility of Parole for a bogus crime. Lisl is a living victim of a cold-blooded Political Trial that will cast a long shadow on Denver for many years to come -- she is the only person ever convicted in the United States for Felony Murder while in police custody when the crime happened.
The NACDL brings a heavyweight presence to this case that will quickly level the playing field. Nobody needs a public fight with a team of Elite warriors from the NACDL. It will be like having to fight Joe Frazier every day for six months. There will be injuries, and there will be more than one trip to the Emergency Room this time. No more easy wins for the black hats. The worm is about to turn. That is also a good early bet. Take my word for it."
- Several Grave Injustices
I don't do this very often -- Never, in fact -- but this case is such an outrage that it haunts me & gives me bad dreams at night. I am not a Criminal Lawyer, but I have what might be called "a very strong background" in the Criminal Justice System & many of my friends & associates are widely known as the best legal minds in that cruel & deadly business.
It is no place for amateurs, and even seasoned professionals can make mistakes that are often fatal. The System can grind up the Innocent as well as the Guilty, and that is what I believe happened to 20-year-old Lisl Auman, who was unjustly found guilty of murder and sent to prison for the rest of her Life Without Parole.
....In all my experience with Courts & Crimes & downright Evil behavior by the Law & the Sometimes criminal cops who enforce it, this is the Worst & most Reprehensible miscarriage of "Justice" I've ever encountered -- and that covers a lot of rotten things, including a few close calls of my own. ....I learned a lot about Karma in those moments, and one thing that sticks with me is a quote from Edmund Burke that says: "THE ONLY THING NECESSARY FOR THE TRIUMPH OF EVIL IS FOR GOOD MEN TO DO NOTHING."
....That is what got me into the Lisl Auman case, and that is why I will stay in it until this brutal Wrong is Righted.
- Abandon all Hope Ye in Tampa (included not because I agree but because it's classic Hunter):
Some people will tell you that Bill Clinton fits that description far better than Bush or Nixon -- and they are not entirely wrong. Nixon stabbed his Enemies in the back, but Clinton did it to his Friends. His lust to inflict Punishment surpassed even Nixon's, and he put more people in prison than Caligula. He had his own brother locked up & he refused to pardon his old friend Webb Hubbell. Richard Nixon was a criminally insane Monster -- Bill Clinton is a black-hearted Swine of a friend.
One of Clinton's most Ignoble acts as President was not to pardon an Innocent 22-year-old girl named Lisl Auman, who will now go to prison for the rest of her life without Parole for a crime she was never even Accused of committing. It is a long, ugly story & we don't have time or space for it now -- but you can get the gist of it from Lisl.com.
Hunter stayed involved in Lisl's case until he died. He kept the pressure on and rallied so many people to her cause. Boulder Weekly reported her website had 750,000 visitors after Hunter took up her cause. In 2004, he wrote Prisoner of Denver, a scathing article criticizing the police and district attorney (now our Governor) for Vanity Fair. It's excerpted here, and if you are a fan of Hunter's writing and haven't read it, it's great.
After Hunter's death, Lisl's family posted:
We are grateful for his empathy and willingness to join in the effort to free Lisl from prison. As our friend, mentor and ally, he sustained and encouraged our family and Lisl's supporters. His energy, advice and knowledge were invaluable and seminal as we brought her case to the attention of our community and the world. He opened doors to opportunities which we would not have thought possible.
Matt Mosely wrote:
I believe that getting Lisl Auman out of jail is the most substantative achievement of Hunter's life. This was real action that galvanized a national campaign to literally save an innocent woman's life. The Free Lisl campaign took his written words off the page and made them come alive with purpose and meaning. I think he is smiling somewhere about now, dragging on a Dunhill and thinking, 'Hot damm, I knew we would prevail.'
Hunter died in February, 2005. (Lisl was freed in April, 2006.) He stayed with her case as he promised till the end of his life. His writing about her was widely praised.
You can also judge by what Hunter wrote on politics and other topics near the end of his life. His final ESPN "Hey Rube" column, directed to actor Bill Murray, published days before his death, is here. His Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, dated October 2004 is here. There's Hunter on the Bush Presidency in the Independent/Guardian, also October, 2004. His Hey Rube in particular was praised by many, including John Nichols at The Nation.
Yes, Hunter slowed down at the end and was in pain. He couldn't write as frequently. But he remained a great writer and a skillful activist and he certainly was not a has-been. I think Jann Wenner is just wrong there.
Again, I'm not suggesting Wenner's oral biography isn't worth reading. But take it with a grain of salt. It's far from a complete portrait and at least with respect to his final years, is of questionable accuracy. Hunter deserves better.
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