Jann Wenner Defends His Legacy — and His Generation’s

Hunter, well, you know, sui generis. Hunter, in fact, was as accurate a reporter as I’ve ever had, but it’s just that his stories went beyond facts, into areas of the truth and spirituality and pharmacology that none of us are really able to judge on our own. My mission always, journalistically speaking, was the truth is the most important thing. As we all know now, if somebody really wants to hoax you, there’s very little you can do about it. Except have the kind of hypervigilance that would mean you could probably publish nothing.

So almost a decade later, there are no lessons that you drew from that experience? In your mind, it’s just wrong place, wrong time? That seems like sort of a glib response.

There are two main things in the story. One was the account of this gang rape given to us by this source, Jackie. That turned out to be a fabrication. Because we didn’t want to identify her, we didn’t demand to meet people to corroborate her story. Our mistake was to let her out of that demand, not wanting to put her through the trauma again. That was one story that ran through the long piece. The other story, having nothing to do with Jackie, was about the handling of rape on that campus by other people — handling rape in general across the country. It was a conscientious, serious attempt to do that issue, and that was like the third piece by that particular individual on sex crimes and one of our second or third pieces about campus rape. So then the hoax was discovered and we lived with the consequence of that. It was one of the most miserable professional experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t mean to be glib about it, but I don’t feel wholly to blame for this, or that it’s some terrible black mark. I think the lesson I learned is, yes, it does happen to everybody. The other thing is, of course, we could have been tighter. So, you know, there’s a series of circumstances. I can’t pull out the hara-kiri knife for that one.

To go back to the book now, in the introduction to the book ——

Am I let off the hook, David? Am I forgiven?

That’s not for me to decide.

History will speak.

History will speak. This is also a history-will-speak kind of question. There are seven subjects in the new book; seven white guys. In the introduction, you acknowledge that performers of color and women performers are just not in your zeitgeist. Which to my mind is not plausible for Jann Wenner. Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, the list keeps going — not in your zeitgeist? What do you think is the deeper explanation for why you interviewed the subjects you interviewed and not other subjects?

Well, let me just. …