Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gonzo Journalism's Return

By Howard Kurtz/ Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006; C01

Matt Taibbi doesn't believe in understatement.

In his latest article, he calls the 109th Congress "the most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch." And he doesn't stop there. Congress is "a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula -- a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable."

Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone, which has been re-energized this year in mixing political coverage with its covers on Justin Timberlake, Bob Dylan, Christina Aguilera and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Owner Jann Wenner has been heavily involved in packaging pieces that -- no great shock here -- savage President Bush and the Republicans.

"We feel a much greater sense of urgency to cover this stuff," says Managing Editor Will Dana. "With Bush and conservative control of Congress, the values the magazine has always stood for are under assault. We feel the need to sound the alarms pretty loudly."

A May cover story by historian Sean Wilentz -- "The Worst President in History?" -- sold surprisingly well, Dana says. In June, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s piece on alleged voting irregularities in Ohio -- "Did Bush Steal the 2004 Election?" -- generated considerable media buzz. James Bamford won a National Magazine Award for a story last fall on the selling of the Iraq war.

The most over-the-top writer by far is Taibbi, 36, the son of NBC correspondent Mike Taibbi. The younger Taibbi's style is such that he often seems to be channeling the late Hunter Thompson. "I used to do a lot of drugs, and I'm a humorist," Taibbi says in acknowledging the comparison.

In a piece on Tom DeLay, he wrote: "Like our current president, he's an ex-drunk (he claims he used to suck down twelve martinis a night) given to preposterous rhetorical excesses (he once compared the Audubon Society to the Klan), making him a sort of cartoon version of a shameless, pig-hearted right-wing hypocrite."

And Taibbi had this to say about the Connecticut Senate race between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont: "If you believe the propaganda emanating from Lieberman and his coterie of whore-cronies in the Democratic Leadership Council, Lamont is a dangerous, pillar-crushing revolutionary, a preppy, tanned mixture of Lenin and the Ayatollah."

Sometimes he goes too far, as with a piece last year for the New York Press on the ailing John Paul II, titled "The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope." Taibbi left soon afterward, as did the paper's editor.

"It was something I wrote in the middle of the night," Taibbi says. "Something like 10 different congressmen denounced it. It was a nightmare."

Despite his GOP-bashing, Taibbi is no fan of the Democrats, whom he depicts as addicted to special-interest money. He sees campaigns -- and political coverage -- as a farce, "with these clowns getting up and saying the same thing over and over again, and the press corps treats these people like they're Nobel Prize winners.

"News outlets are interested in selling news as a battle between two fierce ideological opposites. You get conservative journalists who do nothing but hit the liberals, and liberal journalists who do nothing but demonize George Bush. They hate George Bush so much they don't bother to criticize Democrats for supporting the Iraq war. And it's totally uninteresting."

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