julieswan (julieswn) Thu 11 Feb 10 12:39
We are happy to welcome Peter Richardson, author of "A Bomb in Every Issue" to Inkwell.vue. Peter Richardson is editorial director at PoliPointPress <www.p3books.com>, a lecturer at San Francisco State University, and chair of the California Studies Association. From 1999 to 2005, he was as an editor at the Public Policy Institute of California <www.ppic.org>, a nonprofit research organization in San Francisco. Before that, he was an associate professor of English at the University of North Texas, a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Iceland, and an editor at Harper & Row, Publishers. His previous work includes American Prophet: The Life and Work of Carey McWilliams and numerous publications on language, literature, media, and California public policy. He lives in Marin County and writes about California culture at <www.peterrichardson.blogspot.com>. Leading our discussion is Mark McDonough. Mark has been a denizen of the Well for 20 years. He grew up during the Sixties. Though still in high school during the peak of the counterculture, he was very much influenced by the atmosphere, culture, and politics of the times. Later, as a young journalist, he met (but did not know well) at least a few of the many fascinating characters mentioned in "A Bomb in Every Issue." He now does software quality assurance - "Hey, it's a living and I'm good at it!" - and has co-authored a book on alcohol treatment Thank you both for joining us.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 12 Feb 10 05:38
Peter, I'd just like to start by saying what a great time I had reading the book. It connected a lot of dots! What got you interested in the Ramparts story?
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Fri 12 Feb 10 07:20
Thanks, Mark. It was fun to write, too. The Ramparts project grew in part out of my last book, which was about Carey McWilliams, the great California writer and editor of The Nation. For that book, I interviewed guys like Bob Scheer and Gene Marine, who had written for both magazines, but I knew nothing about Ramparts. This despite the fact that I grew up in the Bay Area, was interested in politics and history, liked to read, etc. When I started working at PoliPointPress in 2005, I began meeting guys like Larry Bensky and Reese Erlich, both of whom had worked for Ramparts. So a weird kind of clustering was starting to happen. The final straw was a talk I heard by Gene Marine on the history of KPFA. While Gene was talking, I thought of several books about KPFA, but I wondered if there was anything out there about Ramparts. After the talk, I asked the people in the room if they could recommend anything. When no one could, I decided to look into writing it. Since Ramparts was around for only 13 years, I figured I could finish the project in my lifetime. For both the McWilliams and Ramparts books, a big part of the appeal was my complete ignorance at the outset of each project. How did these remarkable people and achievements slip off the cultural radar? Geography is part of it, I think. Jonathan Hall of the San Francisco Public Library put it this way: If Ramparts had been a New York magazine, there would have been a Broadway musical about it decades ago.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 12 Feb 10 07:42
I guess I had a similar picture of Ramparts. I was influenced by the counterculture as a kid, but other than being against the Vietnam War, I wasn't hugely political. I was vaguely aware that Ramparts existed, but don't believe I ever held an issue in my hands. And as you mention, when the magazine's name has cropped up in recent years (prior to your book) it's mainly been in reference to the odd post-Ramparts career of arch conservative David Horowitz. What astounded me about your book was the sheer number of connections I wasn't aware of. It's as if Ramparts seeded the entire culture of journalism with these amazing people and then vanished from our collective memory. I had no idea, for example, that Mother Jones was in any way related to Ramparts, but as soon as I learned that, the degree of influence was obvious (pretty much the only other left-wing political magazine with attractive graphics and layout, for starters). I also met Bensky a few times and Paul Krassner, but associated them with other ventures. One thing that struck me repeatedly while reading the book was what an odd part Warren Hinckle played. Between his great charm and drive and his utter financial irresponsibility, he seems to have been both the creator of the Ramparts history cares about (as opposed to the Catholic intellectual journal it started as) and the architect of its eventual doom. After reading about some of his antics, I was frankly amazed that he was still around to be interviewed! When you talked to other folks involved in the magazine, did you get the sense that they viewed Hinckle as the key ingredient in the magazine's success or felt regret that Ramparts didn't have a steadier hand on the tiller?
For Rosetti, wombats held a peculiar fascination (loris) Fri 12 Feb 10 10:53
peter, since the book came out last fall, who or what interesting new whatevers have come forward?
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sat 13 Feb 10 08:33
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Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Sat 13 Feb 10 20:30
Mark: Yes, the connections go on forever. I had no idea how interlinked all these journalists were. It's a bit like discovering that many of your favorite rock stars once belonged to the same obscure band. (A band like John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Steve Keating once suggested.) With Hinckle, both of your hunches came through very strongly in the interviews. Most people thought he was indispensable, and most regretted his improvidence. But I didn't hear a lot of conjecturing about what might have been, maybe because Hinckle's extravagance was so connected to the magazine's success on the publicity and fundraising fronts. In general, the feeling was that Hinckle brought the showmanship, art director Dugald Stermer brought the design chops, and Bob Scheer brought the political smarts. All three elements were necessary for lift-off. Rosetti Wombat: Good question about what I've learned since the book came out. Several former National Student Association members have approached me after my book talks. Some knew about the CIA's covert support for their organization; Ramparts' May 1967 story on that operation was a blockbuster. Another scholar asked me if I had seen the San Francisco Diocese's file on Ramparts; evidently it kept one, presumably because the magazine in the early days was such a pain the neck to the Catholic Church in California. (Ramparts, especially Ed Keating, wanted the Church to come out more forcefully for fair housing, for example.) I also discovered that I had fallen for a Ramparts hoax. A contributor named "Bob Cratchit," supposedly an inmate at Soledad State Prison, wrote some articles on shoplifting, cheating on your taxes, etc. In fact, Cratchit was Bob Kaldenbach, the magazine's business manager. Peter Collier, a former editor who has since repudiated the magazine's politics, pointed that out in his book review for the New Criterion. This is humbling business, I tell you.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 14 Feb 10 09:17
One of the things that's always made me scratch my head about the 60s is where the line was between fun craziness and bad craziness. The Ramparts story has elements of both kinds of craziness. Having a monkey in your office: fun (although I admit I'm glad my boss doesn't have one in our office). Making heroes of the Bay Area Black Panthers: less fun. Did you get the sense that Ramparts at some point crossed a line and became part of the bad craziness of the period?
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Mon 15 Feb 10 09:27
Yes, I have that sense, and many of the people I interviewed felt that very strongly. The Ramparts middle period--say, 1965 to 1969--was its prime. An office monkey, yes--very broad and anarchic and high-spirited. Also a lot of very consequential investigative reporting and a Polk award. But even during this time, you can see something else happening. Eldridge Cleaver came on in December 1966--Ramparts publisher Ed Keating helped arrange his release from prison--and Cleaver became the main contact with the Black Panther Party. Whatever else you say about Eldridge Cleaver, he wasn't an investigative journalist, and that kind of journalism was Ramparts' calling card. It would take a great deal of space to connect all the dots here, but my sense is that some portion of the bad craziness you mention coincides with the magazine's move away from its strong suit, which was muckraking. That move was in some ways predictable. It's a lot cheaper and easier to run opinion and analysis. And after 1969, Ramparts had more competition on the muckraking front. It became narrower, shriller, less fun, and the worst of the bad craziness--the murder of Ramparts bookkeeper Betty Van Patter--happened toward the end of the magazine's run.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 16 Feb 10 04:36
Yes, I've been aware of that story for a long time. Among other things, it struck me as a "what were they thinking?" decision to recommend Van Patter for a job with the Panthers, given that she was well known to be honest and detail-oriented and that the Panthers, even to those who admired them, were acknowledged to be violent and not entirely right side of the law. I gather that it was largely Van Patter's murder which led to Peter Collier and David Horowitz not only out of the magazine's orbit but out of the left entirely. I known from your list of interviews that you talked to both Collier and Horowitz. Did either of them say anything that especially surprised you or cast new light on their political conversions?
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 16 Feb 10 07:57
Yes, David cites Betty's murder as the turning point in his political journey. In fact, he wrote about this for Salon in a 1999 piece called "Who Killed Betty Van Patter?" My interview with David was remarkable mostly for the contrast between his public persona and how he came off over lunch. The few speeches I've watched on C-SPAN targeted left and liberal academics. Having worked in that vineyard for decades now, I thought his comments were divisive and misleading. But in person, David seemed to be looking for ideological common ground, and his insights about the magazine's achievement were tempered and accurate. He didn't apologize for his polemical style; instead, he noted that he learned it from the left. Which may be true, but it suggests that the left is somehow responsible for his rhetorical excesses today. My interview with Peter took place in Sacramento--he drove down from Nevada City, where he lives. He still works closely with David, but they come off very differently in person. David is serious, Peter is tart and witty. Although both were graduate students in English before hooking up with Ramparts, Peter's conversation felt more literary. One of his main themes was the magazine's anti-Americanism. In discussions about the 60s, the organizing trope is usually Oedipal, the (radical) son's lethal competition with the (Cold War liberal) father. But Peter made it sound more like the parable of the prodigal son. The Ramparts folks had gone out of their way to offend America, but the country was big enough and generous enough to forgive them. David and Peter responded differently to the book, too. I think David could see that I bent over backwards to be fair to him. (Others thought I was too charitable in that department.) Peter's review for the New Criterion argued that I was a soft-headed when it came to the magazine; evidently, I didn't appreciate the full horror of their crimes. I wouldn't dream of gainsaying their personal experiences or how they feel about it now. They were there, I wasn't, and I specifically wanted to hear their reflections. But my ultimate goal was to see the magazine steadily and whole, and to let readers draw their own conclusions about its achievements and shortcomings. So I'm not surprised that we have different interpretations of the Rorschach test that is Ramparts magazine.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 16 Feb 10 09:06
People like David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens fascinate me. How and why can one person change their opinions so radically, so completely? It shows how close the radical left is to the radical right in some ways. Not the opinions and stances, but the kind of person who is attracted to that kind of thinking. I am not someone who sees stark black and white in regards to most issues and I think one must, to be strongly radical left or right.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 16 Feb 10 09:15
I think what Horowitz said in your interview about the Left being incapable of telling the truth about itself is certainly over-drawn, but I recognize the impulse he's talking about - and it especially comes out in the story of the Black Panthers, who were tailor-made for media celebrity. It's hard to turn around and knock what you've glorified and believed in. Of course, how good the Right is about telling the truth is a whole separate question. I'm asking about some of the more controversial aspects of the magazine and its history in part because, well, that's what sells books! (grin) But I think it's important not to forget that the "good craziness" was just as real as the bad craziness. Not having read the magazine at the time (just a bit too young), I was much amused by some of the covers you reproduced on your dust jacket. Ramparts did not invent the idea of eye-catching and provocative magazine covers (Esquire was pretty notable, among others), but they seemed to raise it to a new level. I can see a connection between Ramparts covers and National Lampoon covers (the hot magazine when I was in high school). One thing I did not realize until I read your book was that Ramparts originated as a Catholic magazine of the left - I had no idea. You describe how the founding publisher Edward Keating was marginalized and eventually left the magazine. Did the connection to the Catholic left go with him or did it persist in some way (and I know at this point some younger readers will be thinking "the Catholic *left?*"). And Julie slips in with a good observation.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 16 Feb 10 20:39
Yes, Julie, that kind of ideological switcheroo seems odd, but I think you're right about the habits of mind you mention. Notice, too, that David's positions have one thing in common--an aversion to liberalism, which, at its best, stresses tolerance, sympathy, and good temper. Maybe those qualities weaken the impulse toward black-and-white reasoning? Hitchens' case might be a little different from David's, or at least it seemed so when I heard him speak in San Francisco some years ago. As he explained it, his support for the Iraq war was quite personal. He felt solidarity with the Iraqi Kurds he knew, and he had despised Islamic extremism ever since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. By the way, Hitchens told me he had contributed to Ramparts, too--under a pseudonym. I probably never would have known otherwise. Mark, I should add that David's comments about liberal-left professors are not completely baseless, either. In that sense, it resembles most of what I see on Fox. It's more a question, I think, of selection, emphasis, and proportion. I hadn't noticed the connection to National Lampoon. That made a big impression on me, too, especially the vacation stuff and O.C. and Stiggs. Esquire, yes. I'm quite sure the Ramparts folks had that magazine in mind, and the feeling may have been mutual, since Esquire tried to hire Ramparts art director Dugald Stermer. About Catholicism: Warren Hinckle was Catholic, too, but Ramparts lost most of that DNA when Keating departed. Bob Scheer has pointed out that the magazine's support for Cesar Chavez and the farm workers was connected to the magazine's Catholic origins. I should add, too, that Keating wasn't a classic lefty when the magazine first appeared. Like Hinckle and Stermer, he was more of a rebel than a radical. Of the major players at that time, only Bob Scheer could really be described as a radical, and he was enough of a mainstream Democrat to receive 48 percent of the vote in a 1966 congressional primary. Once Bob became managing editor, he recruited his Berkeley friends, many of whom were Jewish. (They included David Horowitz and Sol Stern.) That led I.F. Stone to remark that there hadn't been so many Jews involved in a Catholic operation since the twelve apostles.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 17 Feb 10 05:33
Right, I have experienced that left-liberal professor close-mindedness myself. In fact, when I was in college, I even ran into a number of professors who were pretty much secret communists, although in an "open secret" sort of way. One who was later revealed to have been an agent for Stasi! He took a looooong sabbatical when East Germany fell, but as far as I know is still in academia. I think your comment about intolerant rigidity in ideology is very astute and that indeed may provide the explanation for people who suddenly change from one extreme set of beliefs to another.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Wed 17 Feb 10 05:58
Reds in higher education is actually an important part of the backdrop to the Ramparts story. The loyalty oath flap at UC Berkeley was a huge issue in the early 1950s, and the HUAC meetings in San Francisco (1960) galvanized a new generation of activists. By the time Bob Scheer appeared on William F. Buckley's "Firing Line" in 1967, guys like him were no longer intimidated by the right's penchant to label leftists un-American. Maybe the best evidence of that was Jerry Rubin's appearance before HUAC in full colonial regalia, announcing that he was an American revolutionary. Bob told me he drew strength from Warren and Dugald on that score. Both of Bob's parents were radicals, CP members at one time if I recall correctly. I believe his father was asked to leave the Party for refusing to settle a labor strike. His mother was a Russian immigrant who never became a citizen, so he never felt like the All-American kid. But Warren and Dugald considered themselves as American as apple pie.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 17 Feb 10 08:43
You said in the book that Horowitz asked if you were from "a political family." I assume that was some sort of code-like way of asking if your parents were communists.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 17 Feb 10 09:34
Great start to this conversation. I love Julie's observation in <11>.
(fom) Wed 17 Feb 10 14:14
I loved the book and have several comments and questions, but need to organize my thoughts a little first.
Beyond all doubt (robertflink) Wed 17 Feb 10 17:20
>I think your comment about intolerant rigidity in ideology is very astute and that indeed may provide the explanation for people who suddenly change from one extreme set of beliefs to another.< BTW, Eric Hoffer's "True Believer" explored this phenomenon in 1951.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Wed 17 Feb 10 20:04
Mark: Yes, I think that's what David meant by that. (They weren't, by the way.) David wasn't the only one who was curious about my politics. Bob Scheer admitted that he was ducking me for a year or so. Not only because he was unsure about my politics, but because in his experience, most people never really got Ramparts and its make-up. It had the Catholics, it had Bob's Berkeley crowd, and it had people like Howard Gossage, who was an advertising executive/Mad Man. It also had Jessica Mitford, Adam Hochschild, who came over from the Chronicle, Ralph Gleason, Jann Wenner, and of course the Family Stone--Izzy, Judy, Marc, and Peter--contributing at various times and in various capacities. So it was a little more layered than most people realize.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 18 Feb 10 04:10
That part didn't surprise me. First, human institutions are more complex than people generally think, and second the Sixties made for odd bedfellows in every way. Vegans and people who ate only meat! Back-to-the-landers and technological utopians! And so on. In fact, the only person who surprised me in your discussion of people associated with Ramparts was... oh, help my boomer memory, Peter - it was the guy who later went on to become a not at all left wing mainstream TV journalist. And for the record, my parents (still living) are not commies either, although my Mom once took me to a Pete Seeger concert when I was little, so you've gotta wonder about her a bit...
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Thu 18 Feb 10 05:49
You might be thinking of Brit Hume, who was the magazine's DC correspondent for a short time. He came out of Jack Anderson's shop and wasn't a lefty, though he was investigated like one during the Nixon years. He decamped for ABC News and then became a heavy hitter at Fox. Funny about your mother and Pete Seeger. It reminded me of the Malvina Reynolds bit in the book. She and her husband, a labor organizer and Communist, lived next door to my paternal grandmother in Berkeley. Naturally, the FBI paid my grandmother a call, probably to ask about meetings at the house and so on. My grandmother, something of a bohemian in her youth, had become more conservative, perhaps in response to developments around campus in the 1960s. But when she fell and broke her hip in the front yard, it was Malvina who tended to her until my father arrived. For me, that little tidbit grounded the Berkeley story--not only because it affected my family, but also because it shows that Berkeley was more than an ideological battle ground. (Maybe we should talk about this offline, but your examples of vegans/carnivores and back-to-the-landers/tech utopians struck a chord with me. I really dug Fred Turner's book on the latter, and since I'm currently obsessed with the Grateful Dead's story, I associate the all-meat thing with Owsley Stanley. All of that figures in my SF State course, which focuses on utopian and dystopian representations of California.) Anyway, back to Ramparts ...
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 18 Feb 10 10:39
Peter, I have a question about Ramparts. Is there a list of issues, tables of contents or even cover stories, online someplace for reference? It's not easily found via google nor linked from the Wikipedia article. Your mention of your course brought it to mind. I'm trying to remember if there was a very utopian depiction of my home town, Canyon, California, as a Ramparts cover story called "The Last Rural Place in Urban America," or if that was another publication entirely.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 18 Feb 10 17:05
Yes, it was Brit Hume! And sure, I'm always happy to respond to things offline and read my well email account faithfully. But back to Ramparts...
For Rosetti, wombats held a peculiar fascination (loris) Thu 18 Feb 10 19:37
peter, one thing i was struck by in the story of 'ramparts' was how the magazine really revived investigative reporting --- and witness the publications which spun out from it. did you have any bittersweet feelings of looking backwards, what with the possibilities for such seemingly going away now?
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