As a journalist, I have to say that I just fell in love with this story. This story takes place in the 50′s, way before Hunter S. Thompson coined the term “gonzo journalism.” Gonzo journalism is how Thompson referred to his style of journalism, immersing himself into the subject matter and becoming part of the story himself. I have to admit, some of my favorite pieces I have written have been in the same gonzo style. Looks like Dan Rather was actually quite the gonzo journalist, as well. In a time before gonzo journalism and in the time before he became the legendary journalist he is remember as today.
Dan Rather is known as a journalist that did anything to get the story, and that is quality we praise highly in journalism. In 1961, Rather tied himself to a tree during a hurricane, which landed him a job at CBS New York. But, the most interesting tale is one that I think Dan Rather was a little more hesitant to talk about.
Vivian Giang interviewed Dan Rather in her last semester at journalism school, and he told her about the time he used heroin for a story. Rather previously discussed this with Cliff Jahr from the Ladies Home Journal in the 80′s. Giang asked him about his choice to take heroin, a drastic step, for a news story. Rather replied, “I made the mistake of ever talking about it.”
He was willing to open up to this young journalist about the story. She posted a transcript with Dan Rather’s story, with his permission, of course. Read the transcript here.
The transcript tells the story of Dan Rather, as a young journalist in Houston in the 50′s, when he first heard of heroin due to some arrests that made the news. He consulted with a number of police officers he knew, garnering as much information about the drug as he could. He thought it would be a good story to get some heroin, take it, and describe how it feels. He had no idea how to get the substance, but he did obtain some with the help of his police officer friends. And he took heroin, in the police station, for his story. The cops injected him, and he made notes throughout the process. He produced a series, “This is what heroin is; This is why people take it; This is what you experience while you’re under the influence; That’s why it’s dangerous.” The story did not gain much attention at the time, but years larger when Dan Rather had become an icon, the Ladies Home Journal made this story a big deal.
I just love this story! It is beautiful little journalism tidbit, but also an interesting look at a legend, and the drug policy in the 50s.