Friday, May 09, 2008

Campaign Journalism

Rich Reflects on Mailer

In the new issue of the New York Review, Frank Rich, the Times columnist, reflects on Norman Mailer's election-coverage journalism:

Mailer's take on the 1960 Democratic convention for Esquire, "Superman Comes to the Supermarket," had been an early salvo. By 1968, Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), Hunter S. Thompson (Hell's Angels), and, at The New Yorker, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) had created nonfiction "novels" that upended the staid conventions of newspaper and magazine writing by injecting strong subjective voices, self-reflection, opinion, and, most of all, good writing that animated current events and the characters who populated them. Mailer's book-length recounting of the 1967 march on the Pentagon, The Armies of the Night (subtitled History as a Novel, The Novel as History), had arguably been his most well-received venture since The Naked and the Dead. His book Miami and the Siege of Chicago was its eagerly awaited sequel.[
Mailer's election-year chronicle has its progeny—most notably Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 and Richard Ben Cramer's opus of the 1988 race, What It Takes—but its literary energy and intellectual independence remain the exception rather than the rule in American campaign coverage. For all the books churned out each election cycle, they are often throwbacks to Teddy White, not Mailer and Thompson. Occasionally a fresh voice breaks through—Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone in 2008—but much of what passes for political reportage now in print, whether on paper or on a Web site, succumbs to the same kind of small-bore pack mentality that Mailer set out to vanquish. Open up Miami and the Siege of Chicago to any page and you'll see how American journalism flowered even as the country lost its way.
I hadn't heard of Miami and the Siege of Chicago, but Rich's good words will make me add it to my list of books to read.


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