Hunter S. Thompson's Widow Talks About Campaign '08 Coverage

(CBS)
From CBS News' Ryan Corsaro:

(ASPEN, COLO.) - For the young journalists who have the opportunity to follow a candidate for president, there are very few books that are considered must-reads.

But arguably one of the most famous is "Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72" written by Hunter S. Thompson. The book, which chronicled Thompson's involvement in covering the 1972 presidential election year for Rolling Stone Magazine, gave a detailed account of the unseen side of American politics that had rarely been covered.

Thompson's writing in that book focused on exposing the rift between the campaign-crafted image of politicians and the uglier, backroom side of the process.

Anita Thompson, Hunter's widow, says it's unlikely journalists will ever have the access to the more candid side of politicians or campaign inner-workings as her late husband was able to do.

"Hunter kind of ruined that for you," she said, grinning in honesty. She acknowledges that he husband's reporting had a ripple effect on how reporters are able to cover politics today. Ms. Thompson, now a columnist for the Huffington Post, attended John McCain's discussion today at the Aspen Institute, not far from her home.

Asked what she thinks of the national press coverage, Ms. Thompson told CBS News, "I think it's so restrictive."

Unlike most professional journalists who emphasize unbiased coverage in their reporting, Thompson embraced and declared his biases, such as his hatred for then-candidate Richard Nixon, throughout his work and in a loose-lipped and literary style.

Thompson's book not only inspired many journalists to take a more unique perspective and tone to covering journalism, but also caused many political campaigns to limit access to their candidates and internal workings.

In recent weeks, McCain has drastically cut down on his time taking questions from his traveling press. During primary season, McCain reporters sometimes would run out of room on their digital audio recorders as McCain talked about everything from football to the Swedish group ABBA. Now the national press reporters are given only one opportunity a week to ask McCain questions, and always in a formal setting.

Anita Thompson says her husband wanted to journalism to come from the minds of young people, saying he always wanted to live life as he did when he was 22, and was part of why he wanted to cover politics.

"He felt for you guys," she said of the boys on the bus -- a term given to campaign reporters and made famous by the book of the same name written by Timothy Crouse, who also covered campaign politics with Hunter Thompson in 1972.

"It's so great being back here with Hunter's people," she says of the press, and means "back here" literally, as she takes a seat with reporters at the rear of the event.

"You guys are working hard and providing important information to voters and yet the candidates give you such little access," she said sympathetically.

Like her husband, Anita shares a somewhat radical skepticism of information that comes directly from members of government, including candidates, and says she still questions everything.

"Remember Hunter's advice. You know Hunter's rule about press releases," she says. "The 180 rule. If the Pentagon says no soldiers were killed, it's exactly the usually opposite."

Thompson died after a long literary career in 2005 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Referring to the crowd that arrived to attend the McCain event, Ms. Thompson noted that her late husband had feared the demographic in attendance. "This is what he worried about. This is what he would hope would stay out of Aspen."

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