What do you think of when you picture a journalist? A high functioning alcoholic? A caffeine fuelled keyboard jabber? A meal skipping chain-smoker?
Journalism is an incredibly stressful field to work in. I don’t need to tell you this. With tight deadlines needing creativity on demand it’s no wonder that the people who have been at the forefront of the profession would need a smoke every now and then.
Here’s three examples of revered journalists and their love for cancer sticks.
Hunter S Thompson
Pioneer of ‘new journalism’ and his own gonzo style, Hunter S Thompson had a helluva hectic lifestyle to contend with.
For his unique brand of gonzo journalism he had to submerge himself in the lives of his subjects. You think your line of work is hard? Try living alongside the Hells Angels for over a year and catching a savage stomping because of it.
Later in his career his reckless self-endangerment went from physical to chemical as he journeyed into the heart of darkness: the decadent and depraved Kentucky Derby. Continuous partying led to erratic mindsets. For Thompson and his illustrator Ralph Steadman, this gave them their cloudy lenses through which they portray their subjects. The indulgent backrooms of wealthy reprobates at the races never looked so twisted and vile.
Thompson continued his stampede through society by skulking deep into Las Vegas, the Mecca of hedonism. This is where he made his gonzo masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Doing what any great journalist would do, he threw his whole body into the story and staggered through a drugged-up haze down the strip. He went prepared:
“We had 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. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”
It’s safe to say cigarettes were the least of his worries.
One half of the most well known investigative journalist tag-team the seventies ever saw, Carl Bernstein chain-smoked his way through uncovering the Watergate scandal.
In the film adaptation of the scandal, All The President’s Men (1976), Bernstein is rarely portrayed without a cigarette, puffing away whilst slamming into the typewriter or ashing it before apprehending an interviewee. Working alongside Bob Woodward, their investigation into claims the FBI and CIA broke into the Democratic party offices lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Whilst working on the story at the Washington Post, Bernstein was being surveilled by the government and distrusted by his superiors. The pressure on him was pretty intense to say the least.
But was it as stressful as the film depicts? Film blogger and YouTuber Bobby Burns suggests that its pretty true to life:
“They bought in boxes and boxes of trash from the real office and ordered two-hundred of the exact desks from the same manufacturer. The real Bernstein even wrote a draft of the script and some little bits of that ended up in the final product.”
Investigative journalism is hard enough in itself, let alone with the government watching your every move too. You really can’t blame him for lighting up every now and then.
The late, great Christopher Hitchens was an avid fan of smoking and drinking. Rarely on a talk show, before blanket indoor smoking bans of course, was he seen without a glass of whiskey and a lit Rothmans.
Hitchens rode the wave of the Washington high life, being the socialite I’m sure he secretly despised. Smoking and drinking were essentials to socialising in the big city high society. And if you were to be a bigshot journalist and commentator on politics, socialising would be integral to your role.
His many (previously untouchable) targets included Bill Clinton, Michael Moore, Mother Theresa, Henry Kissinger and Princess Diana. Hitchens decimated any mortal in his path. So much so he had to take the fight to another plane of existence to find a sparring partner worthy enough to be ‘Hitchslapped’.
In his seminal work, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he grabbed organised religion by the lapels and threw it into the arena. Everyone cares about making enemies on at least some level; Christopher Hitchens collects them like military brass.
In 2011 he died from esophageal cancer, but in one of the last interviews before his death he expressed no regrets:
“I always knew the risk in the bohemian lifestyle… It helped my concentration, it stopped me being bored, it stopped others from being boring to some extent. It would keep me awake, it would make me want the evening to go on longer, to prolong the conversation, to enhance the moment.“
Surprisingly he did actually quit smoking a few years before his death. It seems strange to think of him without a smoke parked between his fingertips whilst railing against someone who must have justifiably needed it.
Hitchens left us not only with a wealth of bestsellers, but with his immortal take on a terrible habit:
“It’s the most perfect addiction. If you aren’t hungry it will give you an appetite. If you are hungry and there isn’t any food in the immediate future you can dull your pain of hunger by smoking. It wakes you up when you’re tired, it makes you sleepy if you’re not tired. It’s the perfect self-administered micro-drug. It’s the glowing friend that never lets you down.
In fact come to think of it I’m not sure why I gave that shit up.”
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