Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson will be joining the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame this year.
(We double-checked. It’s not an April Fool’s joke.)
Thompson was born in Louisville and grew up in the city. Although he’s often associated with Colorado, where he made his home for years (and from where his ashes were blasted skyward), Thompson has been a celebrated figure in Louisville among journalists and non-journalists who enjoy Thompson’s particular brand of things like this (wear headphones with this link if you’re at work or near children).
What would Thompson say about the honor? It’s impossible to know, but he did once say his kind of journalism “has never been universally popular.” And he was never shy about criticizing his profession in any terms necessary. He also had some clear thoughts on his approach.
There are a lot of ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people — who are almost always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled, because they are wrong. This is a dangerous notion, and very few professional journalists will endorse it — calling it “vengeful” and “primitive” and “perverse” regardless of how often they might do the same thing themselves. “That kind of stuff is opinion,” they say, “and the reader is cheated if it’s not labelled as opinion.” Well, maybe so. Maybe Tom Paine cheated his readers and Mark Twain was a devious fraud with no morals at all who used journalism for his own foul ends. And maybe H. L. Mencken should have been locked up for trying to pass off his opinions on gullible readers and normal “objective journalism.” Mencken understood that politics — as used in journalism — was the art of controlling his environment, and he made no apologies for it. In my case, using what politely might be called “advocacy journalism,” I’ve used reporting as a weapon to affect political situations that bear down on my environment.
Thompson joins longtime WHAS-TV reporter (and current U of L spokesman) Mark Hebert in this year’s class.
The other inductees are:
- Elizabeth Hansen, Eastern Kentucky University
- Dave McBride, Ohio County Times News
- Lee Mueller, Lexington Herald-Leader
- Mike Philipps, Kentucky Post/Cincinnati Post
- Wes Strader, Western Kentucky University
In honor of the event, check out some of Thompson’s Hall of Fame-worthy work, like this early piece on Louisville and race.
And, because it is HST, let’s watch this video of him shooting guns with Conan O’Brien: