I read several left-wing journals during my youth in Baton Rouge: Rolling Stone, the Paris Review, Esquire, the Village Voice. The most explosive and shocking was Ramparts, which served scalding revolutionary rhetoric and incendiary exposes of CIA plots and other U.S. government mischief.
Warren Hinckle, the swashbuckling, eye-patched editor who built Ramparts' into an unlikely commercial success, died Thursday in San Francisco of pneumonia at age 77, according to a New York Times obituary.
Ramparts mixed slick magazine creativity and far left politics to gain an audience of 250,000 at its height, before a rapid decline. The magazine started as a liberal Catholic publication before the radical aristocrat Hinckle transformed it with arty provocative covers and racy, high-octane writing.
While Hinckle never gave up his left-wing politics, writing left-wing political columns for San Francisco newspapers for decades, several writers whom I associated with Ramparts turned into staunch conservatives. David Horowitz and Peter Collier in past years hurled tirades against liberals, while Ramparts writer Brit Hume gained fame as a mumbling Fox News anchor and commentator.
After Ramparts' demise, Hinckle gained further new journalism notoriety by starting the short-lived Scanlon's Monthly, which launched Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism career with a story on the Kentucky Derby, the first in which Thompson teamed with the British illustrator Ralph Steadman. That was the start of Thompson's tripped-out satirical pieces that led to "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail."
I've read several pieces on Thompson's career lately, which made me wonder if any writing could seem more lame these days. Perhaps I'm wrong, and Thompson's work would still appear fresh and vital, rather than sadly dated.
Hinckle's death brings a similar feeling of waste and excess. The left-wing journalism of the 1960s and 1970a remains celebrated by a few aging cultural warriors of the time, but the long dominance of right-wing politics shows a legacy of failure.