inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #0 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #1 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #2 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #3 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #4 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #5 of 89: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sat 13 Feb 10 08:33
    
 (Note: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added
  to this conversation by emailing them to inkwell@well.com -- please
  include "A Bomb in Every Issue" in the subject line.)

 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #6 of 89: 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.

  
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #7 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #8 of 89: 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.    

        
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #9 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #10 of 89: 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.    

 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #11 of 89: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #12 of 89: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #13 of 89: 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.       
    
 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #14 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #15 of 89: 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.
   
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #16 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #17 of 89: uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 17 Feb 10 09:34
    
Great start to this conversation.  I love Julie's observation in <11>.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #18 of 89: (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. 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #19 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #20 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #21 of 89: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #22 of 89: 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 ... 
 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #23 of 89: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #24 of 89: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #25 of 89: 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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