Is Hunter S Thompson a notorious liar?

Reading Hell’s Angels and there’s an angel called Preetam Bobo who is fascinating to me as a martial artist. (Apparently he was a promising middleweight boxer who used to hold death kumites – although no one died, because the bouts ended as soon as the financial backers realized their guy was done.) A fellow martial artist and historical scholar I know said, “Thompson is a notorious liar. Sounds like bullshit to me. Read Sunny Barger’s autobiography and see if this guy is mentioned.”

I’m reading the autobiography, but I want to know: is Thompson a notorious liar? I didn’t expect to hear this, I kind of thought he was revered in journalism circles.

He embellishes, if you will. He doesn’t deny it. You think Fear and Loating in Las Vegas went down exactly like he wrote it? Of course not, but he admits it. It falls under his self-proclaimed Gonzo journalism. My edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has an afterword by him where he says anyone who belives everything in the book is true is a fool.

I’ve never heard anything bad about HST as a journalist.

He’s definitely not a strict literalist; the idea behind his style of embellishment is that he combines literary techniques (i.e., fiction) with journalistic reporting to give a version of events that’s “more real” than the events that actually happened.

I find his writing extremely entertaining, but I certainly wouldn’t use him as a cite for anything.

Well, maybe as a reference on the effects of heavy doses of hallucinogens.

When he was writing real journalism in the early days he was very good, a keen observer who went beyond the obvious and reported what was really taking place behind the scenes. He wrote wonderful descriptions and did wild interviews.

The 1972 election was so beyond surreal that his writing took on that tone. There seemed no point to giving the facts - Teddy White was there for that* - and so he went over to giving his impressions of the madness. Unfortunately for him and everybody else, the Duke gonzo persona was all that anyone ever wanted from him after that and he appeared to be all too glad to oblige. Very little of what I’ve been able to read of his stuff since then was worth bothering with.

But up until about 1972 he was looking to be one of the greats.
*Ironically, the “inside” and “connected” Teddy White completely missed Watergate (I think he had to go back and write it in after the fact) and he never wrote a Making of the President book after 1972 because he was thoroughly disgraced as a reporter. That didn’t shut him up completely, but he was finished as a mover and shaker.

I agree; Thompson embellishes.
I"m not precisely sure where I read it (I think it may have been in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail* after it was originally mentioned) but Thompson attributed the strange behavior of a vice-presidential candidate to an Amazonian hallucingenic drug called Ibogaine (or something similar). Turns out the story was total bunk; Thompson thought it was amusing that the man’s behavior (I believe it was Musgrove; the details are fuzzy and I wasn’t alive at the time so…a similar name may be correct) correlated perfectly with the side-effects of the drug. The thing is, other newspapers picked up Thompson’s story and reprinted it as truth (HST’s appeared in Rolling Stone, I believe).

That, of course, doesn’t prove whether he’s credible or not; it’s just an amusing anecdote.
Regardless of his credibility, he’s damn amusing. Did anyone see him on Conan last when he claimed he hand-made his Nike shoes?
Conan: Why did you put the swoosh on them?
HST: Adds pinash.


Looking back on the Ibogaine episode, he said something to the effect of:

“I wrote there were rumors Muskie was on Ibogaine. What I didn’t mention was that I was the one who started the rumors.”

HST’s piece on meeting Clarence Thomas that appeared in Rolling Stone is so far over the top that there’s no way it could be true. (One of Thomas’s supposed friends was a guy who lived in a trailer park, ran around naked while beating up on a blow up doll!) That still doesn’t change the fact that HST is an incredible writer and even if 99% of what he says is BS, it still provides more insightful commentary than any of the talking heads or syndicated columnists out there.

Also, HST published many papers in sociology journals on the Hell’s Angels, that being peer-reviewed, could be taken as true. I’ve only read one of his papers and it didn’t mention the individual in question, but the others might.

I not aware of HST asserting that anything was a fact, or the considered opinion of the majority present at the event, unless that was to the very best of his considerable knowledge the case.

Lately, in what I suspect is an effort to bloster the crediblity of the current crop of Rolling Stone writers, there’s been a backlash with various former editoral assistants and copy editors claiming they wrote half of HST’s stuff and so on. None of these peope have been able to produce any evidence, however, and HST has a considerable archive of notes and original drafts.

He does run around writing wild things such as “There were rumors Muskie was on Ibogaine” and it’s up to the reader to understand the difference between color comentary and reporting.

Not that this has anything to do with his writing or reporting… but he does have a problem being a little forceful with women. Starting with his first wife.

compare the accounts of Thompson and Tom Wolfe on the hells angels (Hells Angels versus the electric koolaid acid test). It’s probably been 20 years so YMMV, but it struck me when I read the electric koolaid after Hells that Tom Wolfe probably was the one with second hand/made up accounts. Thompsons account in Hells Angels rang very true of SF at the time and the Angels at the time.

Barger is a well-known felon.

Thompson is a brillint journalist who uses an exaggerated,highly stylized approach to reporting.

I know which of the two is more credible.

I enjoy Hunter Thompson’s work, but I can’t speak as to his tendency to embellish. I did, though, work with a guy in Santa Cruz, Ca, back in the 1960s who was a part-time karate instructor. He claimed to have known the Bobo person, who was, according to my coworker, every bit as wild and wooly as Thompson made him out to be. For what it’s worth, my coworker was fairly wild and wooly himself and not at all reluctant to take on anyone, anywhere. If he had a tendency to make things up, I certainly wouldn’t be the one to call him on it.

Thompson gets at the truth beyond the facts.

“Absolute truth is a rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”

–HST, in The Great Shark Hunt

Judging from what I’ve read of his work, and the fact that I got to meet the guy once several years ago, I think “liar” is too strong a term. Sure, he embellishes and exaggerates on occasion, but he nails the gist of the story most of the time. It isn’t as if he’s pretending to chronicle hardcore data, anyway. Much of his writing involves personal perception of events, and that’s subjective, by the nature of it. His style of “literary journalism” lends itself to some tweaking of factual details, but I would think anyone who reads much of his stuff would acknowledge and accept that.

:eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: You’ve just been added to my Ubercool Dopers list for that comment alone!

I can’t remeber the name of the book/film project, but two women set out across the country talking to various American Icons, HST being one of them. Their tales of time spent with him are pretty hilarious.

In his book, Barger describes Thompson as a gutless coward and a fake who hid in the trunk of his car during an Angels fight with the police at Bass Lake in 1966. He also claims an Angel, Junkie George, “poleaxed Hunter while a couple us kicked him around,” after Thompson told him “Only punks slap their old ladies and kick dogs,” Thompson had just witnessed George slapping his woman and then kicking his dog after it bit him.

Barger also blames Thompson for making up some of the mythology about the Angels (like “memberss pissing on their patches”) and the book serving as a law enforcement guide for the Hell’s Angels.

Thompson embellishes, Barger claims the Angels are misrepresented and misunderstood. I wouldn’t trust either one of them for a straight factual retelling of events.

Don’t know about you but if any more than 2 Hell’s Angels were beating on me, I believe I’d hide in the trunk too.

Ever see those guys he’s talking about? Check out the Stone’s “Gimme Shelter”…I’m pretty sure that’s the same Angel Chapter that HST was running with a few years earlier.