Mention “gonzo journalism” and many people under 40 might look puzzled. Those older probably will say the name of Hunter S. Thompson, who popularized the style and term in the 1970s up until his death in 2005.
Thompson, who was always up for adventure and narcotics, made himself part of the story — especially when he covered politics. He despised President Richard Nixon and admired South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, who ran against Nixon in 1972. His coverage of the race in Rolling Stone made him a household name to many baby-boomers.
Gonzo journalism stories are usually written in the first person, with no claims of objectivity. The thoughts of the writers and their interpretations of the source’s words or character are shared.
Decades ago, many journalism professors discussed Thompson — at least for a class or two. Thompson was a maverick with his first-hand reporting that brought to light some behind-the-scenes information about how the press covered the president. Nevertheless, many professors frowned upon the style because of its bias, although they found it interesting. Now it seems to be the rage, especially among TV broadcasters like Jim Acosta of CNN and Sean Hannity of Fox News.
Acosta likes to make himself part of the story at press conferences with President Donald Trump. He often rambles and tries to score political points before asking a question. Hannity will have the president on his program or will host a town hall, yet lists the president’s talking points instead of asking tough questions.
Apparently many news outlets, including print like the Washington Post and New York Times, find it OK to editorialize in news stories. It’s almost impossible now to distinguish news stories from the editorial pages in these newspapers.
What happened to presenting facts and both sides and then letting the reader or audience make up their own minds? Do these “journalists” think that their readers or audience aren’t smart enough to form their own opinions? Do they think people don’t recognize what they are doing?
While objective reporting may not be as exciting as biased reporting with anonymous sources and “if true” stories, it is necessary in a democracy. The country was founded on a free press. It needs honest reporting just as it needs free markets.
At least with Gonzo journalism, Thompson admitted his biases. Most major media outlets do not. Maybe they recognize their brands have slipped so far from being known as objective that they no longer see a need in touting it — even though many of the reporters still claim to be neutral.