Out of The West: Clinton v Gonzo Man in shoot-out at Little Rock

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - Hillary has submitted her cookie recipe to Family Circle magazine for a 'bake-off' with Barbara Bush and Bill has gone on the MTV rock-video channel to answer questions from ageing teens. In its use of the media, the Clinton campaign has at least been innovative.

The message it wanted to get over, by plunging Governor Clinton into a studio-full of Guns N' Roses fans, was plain. Here, for the first time since JFK, you have a (relatively) youthful candidate: he is 46, able to relate to younger people. The number of voters aged 18-24 is not negligible and in 1988 only 36 per cent bothered to vote.

The MTV venture seemed brave. So did a subsequent appearance on the late-night Arsenio Hall chat and variety show where the candidate donned his host's ever-so-hip dark glasses and struck up with the band on his beloved saxophone.

Now, though, the Arkansas Governor is preparing for a media stunt that looks something like public suicide.

To the amazement of even the journalists concerned, he has provisionally agreed to do a group interview in Little Rock this week with distinguished, but also infamous, editors from that bastion of mutinous American youth, Rolling Stone magazine.

Leading the crew will be Hunter S Thompson, the raging iconoclast whose 1971 book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, about drinking, tripping - strictly in the drug sense - and gambling on the Strip, made him the apostle of anti-establishment rebellion in the US and Britain.

Over recent years he has spent most of his energies preventing the police from searching his Colorado mountain home for narcotics and explosives.

With him for the interview will be the Rolling Stone publisher, Jann Wenner; the national editor, William Greider; and contributor and best-selling political satirist P J O'Rourke.

Hearing of this impending gathering - assuming, unwisely perhaps, that the four actually make it to Little Rock - at first makes one wonder whether Mr Clinton is trying to undo the damage done to his 'right-on' image when he admitted to some New York tabloid sharks that he had smoked marijuana at Oxford University but that - and here was the blunder - he never inhaled. Perhaps Mr Thompson, a master of the outrageous, especially where drugs are concerned, might offer the Governor a second chance with a freshly rolled joint.

Mr Thompson, who started his journalistic career as Caribbean correspondent for Time and whose last book, Generation of Swine, was a kind of anti-Republican diatribe inspired by the 1988 election, also lists among his achievements the invention of 'Gonzo' journalism, where facts are often drowned by the subjective musings and experiences of the journalist.

The style is relentlessly shocking, rude and unconventional but sometimes captures the essence of events in a way that straight reporting does not. He is also, according to Who's Who, director of the Woody Creek Rod and Gun Club and adviser to the Sheriff of Pitkin County.

Ominously for Mr Clinton, Mr Thompson says he has warmed to the candidate. 'I'm beginning to like Clinton more and I'm beginning to like Gore too,' Mr Thompson said in a telephone interview. He is still ice-cool on the Republicans, whom he describes as 'swine' and 'greed-heads'. 'I'm tired of Bush and his Nazis running this country like a private fiefdom. I predict they will all be indicted before November and they should be paraded through the streets in a tumbril.'

Mr Thompson insists he will be nice to the Governor, saying Mr O'Rourke is the one he should watch out for. 'P J has a broken brain. He's for Quayle, he's not just for Bush, he's for Quayle. Figure that]'

So what will Mr Thompson ask? 'Well, I was just working on that. This will be the Rolling Stone blue-riband, high-profile, sharp-shooting political forum. We are going to redefine Clinton's relationship with the press.

'I'm personally, even religiously, concerned with constitutional issues, the Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment. I would like to go down there and tell him about citizens' rights in the broadest sense. We all have citizens' rights that have been eroded by 12 years of government by these swine.'

And whence his new-found liking for Governor Bill? 'I think he's a sport, isn't he?'