Rolling Stone has never been the bastion of good journalism

Fear and fabrication in Las Vegas

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For anyone that needs a reminder that Rolling Stone has never been the bastion of good journalism, I found this old article in the Haire of the Dog archives:

LAS VEGAS — Sports Illustrated writer Raoul Duke’s harrowing description of a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas, detailed in a recent Rolling Stone two-part article, began to unravel Friday as interviews revealed doubts about significant elements of the account. The Las Vegas hotel where the author was staying, as well as leaders of the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference, issued a statement rebutting the story, and Sports Illustrated apologized for a lapse in judgment in hiring the reporter to cover the Mint 400 race.

Hunter S. Thompson, a Sports Illustrated stringer who published his account in Rolling Stone under the pen name Raoul Duke, said he encountered a room full of man-sized lizards at the Mint Las Vegas, allegations which inspired scores of drugged-out hippies to descend on the hotel en masse, filling its rooms with the stench of marijuana smoke, unwashed bodies, and hedonistic behavior. Shocking for its gruesome details, the account, “Fear and Loating in Las Vegas,” described several days of drug-fueled decadence, wanton acts of violence, and immoral behavior, have rapidly transformed the writer into a folk hero of the Tune In and Drop Out generation and caused the hotel to lose revenue, as its regular clients have sought out more pleasant smelling gambling halls.

The Mint Las Vegas, where much of the details in the book were alleged to have occurred, has been working with police and has concluded that much, if not all of the allegations, reported in this work of journalism are untrue. Among other things, the hotel management said there was no National District Attorneys Conference scheduled the weekend of the Mint 400 race. In fact, it took place an entire month later.

A group of Duke’s close friends, including his so-called attorney Dr. Gonzo — who, by the way, is not a lawyer nor the recipient of a Ph.d —said they believe that something strange happened to the writer, but they also have come to doubt his account. A bellhop who regularly delivered room service to Duke’s room said the writer spent most of his stay in front of a typewriter writing and smoking cigarettes. Although Duke appeared physically intoxicated at times, he did not at any time mention that he was being attacked by bats.

The friends said that details of the trip have changed over time — beginning as two separate weekends before being condensed into merely one — and that they have not been able to verify key points in recent days, most notably Duke’s encounter with a hitchhiker. In regards to the hitchhiker, Gonzo, a.k.a. Oscar Zeta Acosta, says he and Thompson actually encountered the wayward youth on a trip to Northern California, not in Vegas. Acosta also says that the pair were driving Thompson’s yellow VW Beetle, not the massive red Cadillac Eldorado described in the journalistic account.

Acosta also says that the contents of the VW’s trunk during the duo’s two Las Vegas trips did not include “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls,” as reported by Duke in Rolling Stone. Instead, Thompson had only brought along “one dime bag of grass, five pellets of mescaline, two-tabs of high-powered blotter acid, a case of Budweiser, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored antacids.”

Reached by phone, Thompson said Friday that he worked as a freelance writer for several sports publications and was familiar with Raoul Duke’s work, but he thought the Rolling Stone article was a “failed experiment in gonzo journalism” that had been clearly written by a depraved mind and a craven beast the likes of which the world hadn’t seen since Richard Nixon first crawled forth from the slimy depths of the abyss itself stinking of sacrilege and spent shotgun shells. Thompson added that he has never met Duke in person and, frankly, hoped never to. 

Note: T. Rees Shapiro's Washington Post article on the Rolling Stone University of Virginia story provided the basis for this column.


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