Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 is a collection of articles covering the 1972 presidential campaign written by the gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson and illustrated by Ralph Steadman
Ralph Steadman
Ralph Steadman is a British cartoonist and caricaturist who is perhaps best known for his work with American author Hunter S. Thompson.-Personal life:Steadman was born in Wallasey, Cheshire, and brought up in Towyn, North Wales...

. The articles were first serialized in Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

magazine throughout 1972 and later released as a book in early 1973.

The book focuses almost exclusively on the Democratic Party
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

's primaries and the breakdown of the party as it splits between the different candidates. Of particular focus is the manic maneuvering of the George McGovern
George McGovern
George Stanley McGovern is an historian, author, and former U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party nominee in the 1972 presidential election....

 campaign during the Miami convention as they sought to ensure the Democratic nomination despite attempts by the Hubert Humphrey
Hubert Humphrey
Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. , served under President Lyndon B. Johnson as the 38th Vice President of the United States. Humphrey twice served as a United States Senator from Minnesota, and served as Democratic Majority Whip. He was a founder of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and...

 campaign and other candidates to block McGovern.

Thompson began his coverage of the campaign in December 1971, just as the race toward the primaries was beginning, from a rented apartment in Washington, DC (a situation he compared to "living in an armed camp, a condition of constant fear"). Over the next 12 months, in voluminous detail, he covered every aspect of the campaign, from the smallest rally to the raucous conventions.

Because of the freewheeling nature of the campaign, a first-generation fax machine was procured at great expense by the magazine for Thompson. Dubbing it "the mojo wire", Thompson used the new technology to extend the writing process precariously close to printing deadlines, often haphazardly sending in notes mere hours before the magazine went to press. Fellow writers and editors would have to assemble the finished product with Thompson over the phone.

Like his earlier novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson employed a number of unique literary styles in On the Campaign Trail, including the use of vulgarity and the humorous exaggeration of events. Despite the unconventional style, the book is still considered a hallmark of campaign journalism and helped to launch Thompson's role as a popular political observer.

Insider look at the Political Campaigns

A self-described political junkie, Hunter S. Thompson fixes his sights early on McGovern as the candidate to whom he will attach himself. Dismissing 1968 Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey
Hubert Humphrey
Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. , served under President Lyndon B. Johnson as the 38th Vice President of the United States. Humphrey twice served as a United States Senator from Minnesota, and served as Democratic Majority Whip. He was a founder of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and...

 as a "hopeless old hack" and presumed nominee Senator Edmund Muskie
Edmund Muskie
Edmund Sixtus "Ed" Muskie was an American politician from Rumford, Maine. He served as Governor of Maine from 1955 to 1959, as a member of the United States Senate from 1959 to 1980, and as Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter from 1980 to 1981...

 of Maine, whose campaign he said exuded a "stench of death", Thompson was vindicated in his choice of McGovern. The nomination of McGovern was not assured, however, as others in the Democratic party attempted to recruit Ted Kennedy
Ted Kennedy
Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy was a United States Senator from Massachusetts and a member of the Democratic Party. Serving almost 47 years, he was the second most senior member of the Senate when he died and is the fourth-longest-serving senator in United States history...

 to run or focused on George Wallace
George Wallace
George Corley Wallace, Jr. was the 45th Governor of Alabama, serving four terms: 1963–1967, 1971–1979 and 1983–1987. "The most influential loser" in 20th-century U.S. politics, according to biographers Dan T. Carter and Stephan Lesher, he ran for U.S...

's perceived ability to win the South.

With brutal honesty Thompson narrates the smallest decisions on what speech to give where (from school gymnasiums for young voters, to public halls in heavily Polish districts of Milwaukee, to the attempt to create buzz for Muskie through an old-fashioned and disastrous whistle-stop train tour through Florida dubbed the Sunshine Special) to the ill-fated selection of Thomas Eagleton
Thomas Eagleton
Thomas Francis Eagleton was a United States Senator from Missouri, serving from 1968–1987. He is best remembered for briefly being the Democratic vice presidential nominee under George McGovern in 1972...

 as the Vice-Presidential candidate.

The book is notable for its introduction not only to the candidates of 1972 but also its early glimpses of future political leaders. Gary Hart
Gary Hart
Gary Hart is an American politician, lawyer, author, professor and commentator. He served as a Democratic Senator representing Colorado , and ran in the U.S...

 of Colorado, who served as McGovern's campaign manager and would later run for and win a seat in the US Senate, and Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

, who would himself capture the 1976 Democratic nomination and Presidency, are two examples.

Thompson's hatred of Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 is on display throughout—in diatribes on policy, as well as personal invective directed at Nixon and his inner circle. Despite this, Thompson humanizes the incumbent
The incumbent, in politics, is the existing holder of a political office. This term is usually used in reference to elections, in which races can often be defined as being between an incumbent and non-incumbent. For example, in the 2004 United States presidential election, George W...

 through several episodes, including recounting a private interview with Nixon in New Hampshire during the 1968 presidential election that largely focused on their mutual fascination with football. In later years and articles, Thompson recounted his amazement that Nixon wasn't just talking about football but that he seemed to have a "genuine interest" in the game, and often cited the encounter as further evidence of how Nixon's every public maneuver was politically calculated even if it hid his true self.

By the end of the 1972 campaign and its disastrous defeat for McGovern (who won only Massachusetts and Washington D.C., losing even his home state of South Dakota), Thompson was clearly thoroughly exhausted and burned out on the process of politics.

Critique of journalism

As much as it is about the candidates and their various political processes, the book is equally a critical look at the mainstream media coverage of the campaigns and politics. Criticizing the various pundits and political 'experts', Thompson rails against the often incestuous relationships between politicians and those who write about them. The well-known fact of Eagleton's electroshock therapy for depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...

 was broken through the press as a scandal of their own making.

This position of portraying the campaigns as much as a media compilation of the stories they wished to cover instead of the presenting all the stories that occurred was widely recognized as depicting a previously unspoken truth. Frank Mankiewicz
Frank Mankiewicz
Frank Fabian Mankiewicz II is an American journalist.-Biography:He grew up in Beverly Hills, California. His father, screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, co-wrote Citizen Kane, and his uncle, Joseph Mankiewicz, directed such films as All About Eve and Cleopatra.Mankiewicz received a B.A...

, McGovern’s campaign manager, would often say in later years that the book, despite its embellishments, therefore represented the “the least factual, most accurate account” of the election.

Timothy Crouse
Timothy Crouse
-Family:Timothy Crouse's affinity for campaign reporters and the theater took root thanks to his father, Russel Crouse, who was a career newspaperman and playwright. "The stories he told me of his newspaper days—especially traveling around the country with prankish sports teams—had a fatal tinge of...

, who provided supplemental coverage of the campaign for Rolling Stone, wrote a memoir called The Boys on the Bus
The Boys on the Bus
The Boys on the Bus is author Timothy Crouse's seminal non-fiction book detailing life on the road for reporters covering the 1972 United States presidential campaign....

that critically analyzes the coverage of the '72 presidential campaign. In the book, often a standard text in university journalism courses, Crouse echoes Thompson's observations on the Pack Journalism
Pack journalism
Pack journalism is an often derogatory term used to describe the tendency of news reporting to become homogeneous. The term was coined by Timothy Crouse....

mentality of the reporters covering the campaign, who were greatly dependent on the access provided by the Nixon campaign staff. Crouse describes Thompson as the one reporter who broke from the pack, however, and later printings of "The Boys on the Bus" contain an introduction by Thompson.
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