Authors@Google: Matthew Moseley

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 05.10.2010

>>Female commentator: Hi, everyone. And Authors at Google team would like, is happy to have
Matt Moseley come and speak with us today.
And Matt is a communications strategist in Boulder, Colorado. He has served as a Deputy
Press Secretary under White House Communications Director, Mike McCurry for the Denver Summit
of Eight and he was a communications director for Hunter S. Thompson's funeral and ash-blast,
which is good. And he's currently working with Rolling Stone magazine to cover Burning
Matt's here today to talk with us about his first book, Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder,
Hunter S. Thompson and the Last Gonzo Campaign. I'll let Matt tell you a little more about
that story, but I wanted to share with you what I think would be the best LinkedIn recommendation
of all time and it's a quote from Sam Kashner from Vanity Fair about Matt's book. And he
says: "If I'm ever busted for something I never did, I want Matt Moseley's phone number
sewn into my underwear." [laughs] Which has to, that's fantastic.
So please welcome Matt Moseley.
>>Matt Moseley: Thank you so much Tracey for having me here. Can, is this okay everybody
can hear?
I-I do wanna say about Sam's quote in Vanity Fair that if you're actually are busted for
something you never did, call your lawyer first.
And then they will call me. So --
Today I'm gonna tell you a little story about how a single letter changed a girl's life.
To do that, first I wanna talk about, the book is called Dear Dr. Thompson and it's
about a letter that a woman wrote to Hunter S. Thompson; who if some of you know who Hunter
S. Thompson was.
Hunter was an outlaw journalist and he was significant not because of I think what he
wrote and some of the pieces and specific pieces of art that he wrote, but that he was
significant because he changed the face of journalism.
He was really one of the first reporters to ever insert themselves into a story. And by
doing that he paved the way for other great writers like David Halberstam and Tom Wolfe
and Norman Mailer to also become Gonzo journalists and participatory journalism where people
and journalists were not unbiased observers, they were participants in the story.
And that's why this book is really no different and it-it's a great testament to the success
of Gonzo journalism.
So to understand how Hunter Thompson got involved in this case, you have to understand the woman
of Lisl Auman
There's Hunter in his kitchen when we were workin' together. Now Lisl Auman was a naive
young girl who grew up in the suburbs of Littleton, Colorado.
She would, she was a peaceful, loving woman. Had a, had a lot of nice friends; did okay
in school, but then kind of fell in with the bad group of people. Eventually ended up dropping
out of Arapahoe Community College and she went up into the hills above Denver and to
Evergreen and Buffalo Creek looking for a better and simpler life. But she moved in
within a nefarious character named Shawn Cheever. Now Shawn was not very nice to her. They lived
together about three months and it was already kind of se-sending some bad signals and was
- she had to get out of there.
So she goes to her friend Demi Soriano's house in Denver and she says, "Demi, can you help
me move out?" And Demi says, "Yeah. I know a couple a guys who can help you move out."
So she calls over her friends who happen to be skinheads and-and this is Matthaeus Jaehnig
shows up the very next day about noon in a fire engine-arrest-me-red Trans Am he called
the Thunder Chicken. And he'd just stolen if from south of Colorado Springs.
So against every instinct in her soul Lisl Auman climbs into the Thunder Chicken and
they go up to Buffalo Creek to get her stuff. But while that's happening they get her stuff,
the skinheads also start taking some of Cheever's belongings: a snowboard, some CD's, some pretty
low level things. But the neighbors see this and they call the cops.
So a high speed chase happens down into Denver, 90 miles an hour in the Thunder Chicken, police
behind. Matthaeus leans out of the car and starts firing at police and he says, "Grab
the wheel!" So Lisl grabs the wheel. They make it down into Denver; they go into the
Monaco Place Apartments where they started. Matthaeus runs into an alcove; Lisl runs to
police. "Help, help!" They throw her down into the snow, put-put a knee in her back.
"Where did he go? Where did he go?"
Well the last time that she saw him was the last time that they saw him. So she had no
idea where he went. "I don't know. I don't know," she says.
Meanwhile, Officer Bruce VanderJagt is slowly creeping along the alcove wall and he-he's
creeping along and all of a sudden he poked his head around a corner and "Bam!" She shoots
his head; Matthaeus Jaehnig shots his head off.
Lisl is driven away from the scene, she's in police handcuffs already, and Matthaeus
Jaehnig then shoots himself.
So a high profile trial happens in Denver. There's really only one person to left to
blame for the death of Officer Bruce VanderJagt, and that's Lisl Auman.
So she is sentenced to life without parole for felony murder because she was sort of
classified as an accomplice. They said that she steered the getaway car; that she was
the skinhead's girlfriend; that, although they'd only know each other 12 hours.
And this was all orchestrated by the prosecutor, the lead prosecutor and the Denver District
Attorney who was Bill Ritter. And Bill Ritter, if you know, is the current Governor of Colorado
So they sentence her to life without parole in a very, very acrimonious trial where there
was really only one answer and that was Lisl Auman goes to jail for life.
So the years start rolling by like a broken down dam for Lisl in prison; a scared, naive,
young girl who never, she thought she would be home that night. She never thought it was
going to be an instance where she'd spend the rest of her days in jail.
And so she ruminates on a book that she had read three years prior. She-she's sitting
in jail; she doesn't have much to do. And this book had really made an impression on
her. It was called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
She ruminated about the zany author and she said, "You know I'm gonna write this crazy,
old bastard a letter." And she does. She writes him a letter and she says, all she says is,
"Your books aren't available in the prison library." She doesn't ask him for anything.
She doesn't say, "Can you, can you get me outa jail."
But Hunter reads the letter one night and he cocks her Cheshire cat grin and he says,
"I think maybe I can help."
So he pulls out a piece of his elegant stationary with his name embossed in blue across the
top and he writes her a letter back. And he says, "I think I can do more than help."
So then he writes about her in an ESPN column and as fate would have it, Hunter Thompson
had an annual Super Bowl party every year. And just that weekend the National Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers was in Aspen holding their annual criminal law seminar.
So he says, "Come on over to my place for the Super Bowl. We'll blow somethin' up and
we'll have a good time."
They're over there but at half-time instead of talking about football, Hunter hands out
dossiers on the Lisl Auman case. And so all these criminal defense attorneys are like,
"What-what is going on here? We came over to-to watch the Super Bowl."
But Hunter plies them with the story of Lisl and says, "This is the test case for felony
murder. We have an opportunity here to overturn this law, maybe through this case. Can you
help me out? Will you do it?"
And sure enough at the end of that football game, Gerald Lefcourt who was the President
of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers pushes his winnings back towards Hunter
and says, "We're in."
And it was that night that the Free Lisl, the National Committee to Free Lisl Auman
was born.
So Hunter wrote about it in his ESPN column; sparked 30,000 hits to her Website that went
from like 300 overnight.
And I read an article about Hunter being involved in this case and I-I thought, "How-how crazy
was not just the fact pattern of the case, but now you had this Gonzo element out here
trying to call for a young woman's release. I mean this was the author of Fear and Loathing
in Las Vegas. I, this was a different side of Hunter.
So I thought about this a lot and I went back to my office in Denver the next morning and
I sketched out a little memo. This, here's what you could do to launch a public information
campaign. Here's how maybe we could tell a different story than what had already been
So I faxed him that memo that afternoon and I was telling Tracey as we were having lunch
today about that day. Because I was sitting in the City Grille right across from the Colorado
State Capitol and I see an unknown phone number pop up on my, on my Blackberry and I answer
it and he said, "Oh yeah, yeah is this Matt Moseley?" And I knew it had to be him. It's
maybe the call you've been waiting for your whole life.
I jumped up, I go to the little table, and I take out my little notebook, and for about
45 minutes we talked and he said, "Come on up, son. Next time you're in Aspen give me
a call and we'll blow somethin' up. It-it'll be fun. We won't just work."
And so about a couple weeks later I did go up to Owl Farm and we launched the campaign
and I was gonna be the strategist and tactician of putting the nuts and bolts on this campaign
and keepin' it running while Hunter would be our titular head and would, and would act
as the drawing mechanism.
But one of the things I really thought about as we prepared for this rally that we were
going to have on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol was how to use the Gonzo element.
Okay we we're gonna have Warren Zevon come and play "Lawyers, Guns and Money" on the
west steps of the Capitol. But I also didn't want it to be Hunter calling the cops some
bad name and then the next thing you know we're putting the nail on a coffin of a life
sentence without parole.
And I remember at the rally this is on the west steps of the Capitol and Hunter looks
down at his notepad and he writes, "Today's pig is tomorrow's bacon." And there are cops
all around the perimeter of the rally, right? I-I said, "Hunter you can't say that." He
goes, "Don't tell me what to say." And I said, "You know you're right, you can't really
--" He was one of the few principals I've worked for, you just couldn't hand him talking
points. [laughs] He just wasn't that kinda guy.
We held a rally on the west steps of the Capitol. Warren Zevon played "Lawyers, Guns and Money"
to call for the release of Lisl. And what we did that day was change the narrative.
Bill Ritter said that she had steered the getaway car, was the skinhead's girlfriend,
and was the mastermind behind a plot to murder this officer.
And we told the story, a much different story about a girl who climbed in a car and had
no more control over that car ride than you or I. And because of that, because of that
the felony murder law is wrong, because it allows people to be held liable for crimes
that they had no intention or no desire to commit.
And that I posit to you is part of the call to action to this book that I've written here
today. It's a call for the abolishment of the felony murder law. There are thousands
of people right now in prisons for crimes, serving sentences for crimes they obviously
didn't do.
Lisl was the first person ever to be convicted of a crime while in police custody in handcuffs
in a car. How could she be responsible for that?
So what we did was we changed the narrative that day on the west steps, five years later
after Lisl had been imprisoned. And I remember us walking through the State Capitol this
is right in front of the Governor's office and Hunter looking around and he said, "Watch
out for the assassins." [laughs]
Of course I did, knew there wouldn't be an assassins but you can see I looked anyway
thinkin' that maybe there were.
But yet while we changed the story, while we had a different narrative going, the Court
of Appeals still rejected Lisl's appeal case. So for several years it laid dormant and we
just, we tried to gin up public support. But then a little ray of light and sunshine broke
through because the Colorado Supreme Court granted the case a writ of certiorari which
is just they grant, they allow to hear the case on the very simple technical matter:
who was actually fleeing from the crime? Was it Lisl or was it Matthaeus Jaehnig for completely
independent reasons?
So it goes to the Supreme Court. Hunter in the meantime writes an article for Vanity
Fair co-authored with Mark Seal and that was a 30,000 piece bombshell that called the Denver
cops "brutes" and called them "liars" and really took them to task for the case.
That article, by the way, was just optioned into a movie 10 days before the release of
the book.
We're at the Supreme Court, it's the first time they've ever held two oral arguments,
it's been lasting for a year now, okay, we're al, we've been involved in this case now for
five or six years. They hold two oral arguments and in that time Hunter kills himself.
And then it was two weeks later that they overturned the decision and they remanded
it back to the Denver District Court for a retrial.
And Hunter had a lot on his plate and I will read to you I think a little bit, a passage
from the book about what Hunter I think brought to this case and what he brought to journalism.
[sound of pages turning]
"Hunter's curiosity led him to everywhere: to the historical def-events that defined
his era. He was covered the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl, and the America's Cup. He
reported in Latin America, in Cambodia, and in Africa for the Rumble in the Jungle. He
drank beers with Ga, on the beach with Gary Hart and he urinated with George McGovern.
"He narrowly lost his campaign in Picken County on the Freak Power Ticket.
"Hunter showed up at some of the most critical junctures of the second half of the 20th century
and it ended with Lisl Auman."
So I took away a couple of lessons from working with Hunter through the years. And I write,
"that Hunter taught me to be your own person and to write your own story." Not in the literal
sense but that we're in the driver's seat of our own destinies. He taught me that each
one of us must ride the crest of a high and beautiful wave of our own.
"Ski the mountain. Swim the river. Sing the song. Dance the dance. Write the book. Buy
the ticket and take the ride," he said.
So I couldn't help but think that looking back with the right kind of eyes that when
Lisl wrote her letter to Hunter and he miraculously wrote back that it was the high water mark
in her long journey. It was the place where her wave finally broke and rolled back.
So when you read this book, and I hope that you will, there are three lessons to take
away from it.
The first is that don't let your daughter climb in the car with a skinhead. And I-I
say that facetiously but I'm not joking because any one of us, I-I don't remember I-I recalled
to Tracey about 20 years ago I came and saw the Grateful Dead at Shoreline. And after
a concert any one of us can climb in a car, "I need a right home." Or you climb in a car
with friend and they go in and rob a 7-11 and you have no intention. You can still be
held liable for that crime.
And that's the second call to action and the second lesson of the book. Is let's abolish
the felony murder rule. We're one of the only countries left in the world, democratic societies,
that still has a felony murder law.
It was a remnant of English common law from the 16th century and England has banned it.
Most European nations have banned it and we're the only ones left. So I think we need to
abolish that law.
But the-the last thing, really the heart of the book and why it's called Dear Dr. Thompson,
is that I think all of us should write our own letters. Write a letter that changes somebody's
life. Develop a software, write a book, write a memo, do something that changes our world.
And I think that is what Hunter would have wanted from all of us.
And that to me is the Gonzo ethic. And it isn't about a-a lifestyle of guns or drugs;
it's about changing the world and changing his life. And that, I think that's what Hunter
did through his writing and I hope that this book is at least a little bit in part a legacy
to him and a testament to what the great work that he did in his life.
So I'll leave you with the last part of the book where Lisl is going home.
These are some of the photos from Hunter's funeral. That's him running for sheriff. And
this is our cocktail napkin at his funeral about one of the other lessons: never call
9-1-1, never. This means you.
"Leaving the Hudson Hotel in Buffalo Creek turned into a much harder chore than Lisl
could have ever imagined. Moving took almost a decade to complete. She had lost nearly
everything in the process and two people had died.
"She went to the Hudson Hotel looking for a better, simpler, life in the forest above
Denver, but she went out of the frying pan and into the fire by moving in with Shawn
Cheever, and against every instinct in her soul climbing into the Thunder Chicken.
"Even though she had been had at Hudson Hotel for only a few months it had taken her eight
years to be finally free from its maw.
"The woman who appeared to Lisl in her dream just days before this calumny happened was
spot on prophetic. Lisl was having a picnic on the, with her family on the edge of a lake
and the woman pointed to a big, ominous cloud off in the distance and she told Lisl that
this was the beginning of a very long and dark storm. Fortuna had been right. A Category
five storm had moved through bringing with it hurricane force winds and torrential flood
of tears and wrought devastation to the lives of the VanderJagt's, the Jaehnig's, and the
"But the storm was finally passing. The sun was shining once again leaving the landscape
of Lisl's life verdant and fertile; a field of dreams where she was now free to cultivate
the life about which she had only dreamed.
"The storm for all of its heartache and terror had washed away the ugliness from her life.
So instead of being broken and sullied as many do be-become behind bars, Lisl emerged
from prison fresh and clean and ready to prove herself.
"On the evening of April 26, 2005, Colleen Auerbach, Lisl's mother, picked Lisl up from
Tully Hall. Lisl had with her one small bag. It was the only thing left after eight years
in prison. Her move from the Hudson Hotel was finally complete. It was the best car
ride of her life. She was finally going home."
Thank you everybody for your time today. And thank you Google for the Author's at Google
series and for Tracey for putting this together. I really appreciate it. Thank you all.
I'd love to entertain a few questions or --
>>Tracey: Yeah, if any, if anyone has any questions just come on up to the microphone.
>>Matt Moseley: Howdy.
>>male in audience: Hi. So I saw your, the picture of the fireworks --
>>Matt Moseley: Yeah.
>>male in audience: and the ash-launch?
>>Matt Mosley: Uh-huh.
>>male in audience: can you just tell the story of-of Hunter's funeral and --
>>Matt Moseley: [laughs]
>>male in audience: your part in that?
>>Matt Moseley: Sure. You bet.
>>male in audience: Thanks.
>>Matt Moseley: You can see here, so when Hunter died he had left a-a little video clip
from a 19, I think early '70s BBC documentary crew film-filmed him walkin ' around L.A.
with Ralph Steadman and he, they went into a mortuary and they filmed Hunter described
he wanted for his funeral. He wanted a 153 foot tall Gonzo fist to be shot, to be constructed
at his home at Owl Farm and they would shoot his ashes out of that.
So he died and Johnny Depp said, "Oh yeah. Is that what you want 'cause that's what you're
gonna get. The joke's finally on you, man."
So Johnny Depp built this at incredible personal expense and hired me to be the communications
director and kind of Owl Farm family spokesperson. And it was one of the most wildest, craziest
nights I could ever imagine. For a funeral even. [laughs]
You can see we've got the, we've got the red shark here parked at the base. So just that
gives you an-an indication of just how tall and how big it really was. And then Ralph
Steadman did this little drawing of here's Hunter floating out into the ether. [laughs]
Yeah. So thanks for your question. It was, it was a really great -- and it was, it was
then too that I really started to-to struggle with what did Hunter mean? What was his legacy?
And I tried to say, "Go beyond his savage behavior and look at him as an artist. Look
at him as a revolutionary journalist and what his contributions were." And that's what I
tried to frame it as in the media too. So thanks.
You 'all got any questions?
I was joking.
>>male in audience 2: So I see that your mom wrote a very positive review --
>>Matt Moseley: [laughs]
>>male in audience 2: of your book --
>>male in audience 2: on Amazon which I think is great. I wrote a book too and my Mom has
not reviewed it, but --
>>Matt Moseley: Maybe-maybe, oh --
>>male in audience 2: Well, so the question is did she tell you this was coming?
>>Matt Moseley: [laughs] The review? No, she didn't. And-and [laughs] it was very funny.
I had a book signing at my home where I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana and I got a call
from a newspaper who said, "I've just spoken with your mother." [laughs] And I said, I
said, "Okay, now it's like PR/Mother, PR Agent/Mother. And I said, "Mom I think I'll handle that
side of it and you can handle the mothering." Maybe they're one in the same. I don't know.
Thanks for that astute observation.
That's funny. I'll have to tell her about that.
>>female in audience: Hi. So one question I have is I would assume that a lot of people
who are convicted for murder would kind of I guess say that they were innocent like all
along. So how did Lisl like make her point so compelling and like actually get someone
to listen and advocate for her? 'Cause I would assume that a lot of people would just like
say they were innocent. Which in her case she was.
>>Matt Moseley: That is a great question because she tried to get traction and her family was
yelling in a megaphone, but nobody would listen. And they wrote to Alan Dershowitz, they wrote
to all the great Johnny Cochran's and all the great attorneys. And nobody would take
up the cause.
So at the end of the book I talk about Hunter's sad irony of involvement. People were saying,
"Wasn't it great that Hunter got involved and got her out of jail? Wasn't this so cool?
Are you gonna guys have a big party with an open bar and bunting?" We'd say, "No."
The sad irony is that people shouldn't need a celebrity to get out of jail. The justice
system should work on its own. And people shouldn't need people sending out press releases
and they shouldn't need Warren Zevon playing "Lawyers, Guns and Money" on the west steps
of the Capitol.
The justice system should function normally. Nobody should need celebrities. In fact what
about all the people that are in here right now that don't have anybody championing their
cause? And there are people.
There was this series done in I encourage everyone to watch it. It's called the Front
Line - 5. It was a Front Line PBS series of people serving sentences remarkably similar
to Lisl's. Somebody made, their cousin made 'em get in the car and drive like they were
gonna go pick up something to eat for dinner and never came home again. Things like that.
There's a lot of opportunity out there to correct some of these injustices, but who's
gonna listen to them?
Thanks. Good question.
>>female in audience: Thank you.
>>female in audience 2: Hi there.
>>Matt Moseley: Hi.
>>female in audience 2: So the minute you mentioned that Hunter took his own life my
brain said, "Huh-uh." So how are we sure that he took his own life?
>>Matt Moseley: [laughs]
>>female in audience 2: Because you shared that right after you talked about this horrific
article he wrote in Vanity Fair.
>>Matt Moseley: Yeah. It was, I had talked to him actually the night before. I was in
Grand Junction. I was doing a political campaign tour and he said, "You gotta come over. We're
gonna get a decision soon." He thought.
>>female in audience 2: Um.
>>Matt Moseley: He felt that there would be a decision soon.
And I had to go back home and the next night he, I learned he killed himself. It was the
next day, so I don't think it had anything to do with me, obviously. But he had polo
is my life. He had projects stacked up on his desk. He had the Lisl case that he felt
was gonna, he felt, he had some hope for. So it was very puzzling to all of a sudden
he did take his life.
The forensics, there was an investigation done in Aspen which basically turns out it
happened just the way they said it did. He shot himself. His grandson, Will and Juan
were staying in the guest cabin next door. So that was a little tragic that they had
to go through that.
But he was in a lot of pain too. He had a cast on his leg where he had apparently taken
a wrong turn at the mini bar in Hawaii and he also had hip problems that he was refusing
to kinda get fixed. So he was in a lot of physical pain but it's still very puzzling
to a lot of people why he took his life.
>>female in audience 2: Um.
>>Matt Moseley: Was he was warrior or was he a wimp? Was he coward or was he courageous
in that? I don't know.
Thank you.
>>female in audience 2: You're welcome. I have another question.
>>Matt Moseley: Uh-huh.
>>female in audience 2: Could you tell us a little bit more about what you do beyond
being an author? I know Tracey mentioned a little bit, but maybe a quick little bio on
all the other interesting things you're a part of.
>>Matt Mosley: Good. Thank you.
I, oh I'm sorry.
Yeah, I-I work in for a company called Intermountain Corporate Affairs in Denver and we do strategic
communications and government relations. But this is the kind of stuff I would love to
do. And it's being a-a spokesperson, it's fighting for a cause, it's being out there
advocating. And I would love to write another book, but I don't necessarily aspire to be
a full-time writer. I wanna have, I wanna go do things and live it and then write about
it. And not necessarily just be the writer, but be-be an activist too.
And that's why it was important I think to end it on that note about writing. Each one
of us should write a little letter all the time. Do something that changes the world.
So, great.
>>male in audience 3: Just curious if the Governor had comments after the verdict got
>>Matt Moseley: Yes, very good question because I spent three years writing this book and
I'd already been her family spokesperson so I had three boxes of research before I even
put one perd-word to paper.
I went to talk to Bill Ritter, I went to talk to the Police Chief, Jerry Whitman. I tried
talking to the current DA and none of them would talk to me. Once she walked outta jail,
none of 'em said a single mo-nother word about Lisl.
She was the most important case for five years and they demonized her every chance they could
and yet when she got out there was not a single word more spoken. And this is important, I
tried to get the research from the Denver District Attorney's Office. I sent a written
request in. It took dozens of phone calls and a year later before I finally got a response
and they said, "Sure, we'll let you look at all the 12 boxes, but you're gonna have to
pay $150.00 per box. You're gonna have to pay a $50 per hour attorney redaction fee
for us to go through the boxes first and then you're gonna have to pay another $50 for an
attorney to sit there when you go through them."
That was a ridiculous exercise because I already had all the research and all the stuff was
already available in the Denver District, the Denver County Records Department.
So the fact that they stonewalled it, they obfuscated, it says to me, speaks volumes
about what they feel their own culpability in the situation was. And that if they really
felt, if they really felt that they were on solid ground, they would have cooperated and
they'd have said, "Yeah, we were right because of x, y, and x and we still stand by it."
Nobody said a word.
So, but thank you for the question.
Go ahead.
>>Tracey: Any other questions? Okay. Well thank you, Matt. Thanks for joining us.
>>Matt Mosley: Thank you, Tracey and thanks everybody. It's been really fun. Appreciate
it. Thank you Google!