Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Fri 19 Feb 10 07:51
Gail, there's nothing online now, but after we made a few inquiries, Alexander St. Press decided to put all the back issues up--on a subscription basis. It's part of a larger package on the 60s. Yes, I think there was a story on Canyon. I had forgotten about that. That's the little burg in the hills behind Oakland, just outside of Moraga? I have it associated with Peter Collier for some reason, but I'm not sure about that. Maybe he wrote it, or it appeared while he was an editor? Rosetti: Weirdly, the current state of journalism made the Ramparts story timely. No doubt much of journalism's infrastructure is collapsing. I highly recommend Bob McChesney and John Nichols on that topic. But Bob Scheer would say that the good old days weren't that good. That's why Ramparts was needed in the first place--because most of the big news organizations were missing or garbling the stories. Bob would also say that his website now, Truthdig, is Ramparts on speed. Warren Hinckle had a similar take. When I asked him why Ramparts was so successful, he said, "Probably because the other places were so shitty." So I'm not sure it was any easier to muckrake then, and I think the urge to do investigative journalism is still there. When I attended Netroots Nation last year, I went to a session on muckraking run by Esther Kaplan of the Nation Institute. It was packed. And the youthful bloggers of today were not so different from the cocky kids at Ramparts. I don't think muckraking is the natural byproduct of traditional journalism, the kind that's collapsing now. And periods of vibrant muckraking are the exception, not the rule. What's required, it seems, are savvy fringe players who know how to play the big outlets off each other. Ramparts was really good at that.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 19 Feb 10 07:55
Link to the Alexander St. Press project? Sounds interesting.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Fri 19 Feb 10 15:50
Here's the relevant link, but I'm not sure when the Ramparts stuff will go up. http://www.alexanderstreetpress.com/products/sixt.htm
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sat 20 Feb 10 10:28
I grew up in Berkeley,in the 60s and 70s and my parents had a subscription to Ramparts so I remember reading it back then. It seems like it was such a small little world back then with all the people who were involved with the magazine. Or maybe it feels that way now, because so many of the people involved back then are well known journalists now. I think they thought they could and would change the world. I don't think people now have that same expectation, though it may be more possible now with the internet and the instant connection to information that it provides.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Sat 20 Feb 10 15:20
My family lived across the street from Peter Collier and his family for several years. I took care of his yard for a couple of summers. I have a couple of great stories I will relate when appropriate.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Sun 21 Feb 10 07:11
I'd love to hear the stories. As I note in the book, I grew up in El Cerrito, and we didn't read the magazine. But as I was doing the research, I had the strong sense that Ramparts helped create the Bay Area world I was born into. Julie, I see what you mean about the staff's aspirations. They didn't incite the revolution, which was their explicit goal under David and Peter. But I argue in the book that Ramparts (especially in the Hink/Scheer years) did help change America's governance, society, and media. You mention our access to information now. That goes to an important part of the Ramparts story. Many people I interviewed--David Weir and Jeff Cohen come to mind--talked about how eager they and their friends were to see each issue. The magazine came out once a month, and one copy might circulate through the university dorms until the next one came out. This kind of information wasn't instantly available. You had to wait for it, and Ramparts was the only "slick" that was producing it. So it was a very different media landscape.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 22 Feb 10 05:54
I had two thoughts re: muckraking while reading the book. On the one hand, I feared that in the current media landscape, muckraking might almost go away - at least until the landscape changes again. On the other hand, it was encouraging to hear how much a precariously-funded group of talented people accomplished at Ramparts. But it's certainly worrisome that the "traditional media" are under so much financial pressure - not that they've raked a lot of muck recently (thinking of things like the dismal performance of everyone but Knight-Ridder during the runup to the Iraq war). One thing I also thought was very astute (and is rarely mentioned) is your discussion of the psychological toll that sort of reporting takes on writers. Long ago in a land far away, I did some investigative reporting, and it really is like getting dropped into a very unpleasant spy novel. Most accounts of investigative reporting play up the heroic role of the reporter and downplay how draining, confusing, and even frightening it is.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Mon 22 Feb 10 09:32
I'd take it back even further to the old muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair. You are on to something here. How do you tell the President of the United States or the Chairman of the Board of General Motors that they are standing there naked, and live through the blowback of lies, rationalizations, disinformation, and "national security interest?" Today we have the film "The Insider" and Michael Moore. It sells tickets and popcorn. But what happens when people come out of the theatre?
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Mon 22 Feb 10 17:09
Mark and David, these are great points. It's important to remember that virtually every major news organization missed what may be the two most important stories of the last decade (the Iraq invasion and the housing bubble) by a mile. But I also worry about who or what will replace those organizations. McChesney and Nichols have argued that p.r. is doing so now. It looks like news, but it isn't journalism. David, exactly right about the old muckrakers. Muckraking has never been easy. It takes time, money, a supportive organization, and chutzpah. By the way, one of Upton Sinclair's causes, food safety, was a Ramparts staple. Gene Marine and Daniel Zwerdling wrote big stories on food pollution and additives. Zwerdling noted that the Washington Post ran a piece recently that was essentially the same one he wrote in the 70s. His latest coup, I think, concerned the army major who opened fire on his colleagues in Texas. "The Insider" and Michael Moore: Not to get too genealogical about it, Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino in the film) contributed to Ramparts, was a big fan of the magazine, kindly blurbed my book, and invited Bob Scheer and me to his UC Berkeley class. Back in those days, he edited an alternative weekly in San Diego. Then he went to Rolling Stone. About the time Jann Wenner moved the magazine to New York, Lowell co-founded the Center for Investigative Reporting. So I think he sees himself as working in that tradition. Anyone who hasn't seen "The Speech" from "The Insider" recently should have a look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIjpP-XngKA This dramatizes some of the tensions you and Mark have noted. Michael Moore's link is more attenuated, but he edited Mother Jones before starting his film work. That wasn't too many years after the MoJo founders split off from Ramparts.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 23 Feb 10 08:17
That clip is great, and it also illustrates the way in which big money censors information almost without needing any explicit rules - it's just understood that you don't do anything which would have a negative impact on the bottom line. And from business point of view, that makes perfect sense. I came across a story the other day pointing out that the NYT has not covered a budding scandal involving Mexican plutocrat Carlos Slim, who also happens to hold a good chunk of their debt. Peter, I'm not asking you to be a prophet, but did the story of Ramparts give you any thoughts about where journalism might be headed in the next few years?
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 23 Feb 10 19:14
Yep, I've spent a lot of time following that conversation. Many of the authors I edit at PoliPointPress are wondering about that, too. I don't think we're adequately replacing the journalists who are losing their jobs now, though I'm not sure the sky is falling. There are certainly a lot of innovations happening, and some of them have been advanced by the folks and organizations we're discussing here, including CIR. The key word there is collaboration. I think you'll see more attempts to pool resources, push out stories across media platforms, and cover the news in new and different ways. As far as solutions, I like McChesney and Nichols's argument that journalism is a public good, something we shouldn't necessarily expect the market to provide in the appropriate quantity and quality. In that sense, it's like defense, infrastructure, or education. There are lessons to be learned both from comparing our approach to those of other industrialized democracies and to the U.S. system of an earlier period. If I understand their argument correctly, a per capita comparison to other countries (Britain, Germany, etc.) suggests we should be spending about $30 billion of public funds per year to support such journalism. We now spend about $400 million. That probably doesn't surprise anyone. But if we also look at the mid-nineteenth century in this country, the public subsidy for newspapers, adjusted for inflation and such, would be about $30 billion as well. This is largely because the U.S. Postal Service used to deliver newspapers for free. As a result, we had lots of newspapers, many voices, and a vibrant public conversation. Most of the interesting political journalism in this country, left and right, loses money. So I wonder if our idea that political journalism should pay its own way needs a fresh review.
For Rosetti, wombats held a peculiar fascination (loris) Tue 23 Feb 10 20:58
peter, was struck by your comment that opinion and analysis are cheaper/easier than investigative reporting (in context of signaling the end of 'ramparts'). yet of course in the blogosphere, that's mostly what there is now. contrasting with the 'ramparts' era, was struck recently that people will -donate- $ to wikimedia and people write there for free --- but so many are loathe to pay creators -anything- online. your book really reminded me of how things have changed (btw, there's an entire topic in <byline>, a conference for freelance writers on the well, entitled something like 'can ANYONE survive in the new media economy?")
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 24 Feb 10 03:27
>journalism is a public good, something we shouldn't necessarily >expect the market to provide in the appropriate quantity and >quality. So is long-distance mass transit (i.e., rail), and the govt has so far managed not to support that. Or health care. As for making a living in the new media economy, let me just say that I'm glad I never tried in the old media economy, and this new one is much much worse. CAse in point: I just had a book published. THe Huffington Post, via their Books Intern, asked me to write something timed to the release for a feature they have in which authors introduce their books. They sent the guidelines, which talked about word length, etc., (and of course didn't mention money, because I was doing this for free) but nothing about content--e.g., should it be openly commercial (here's why you should buy my book) or just write something that ties to the book or what? I got no answer. So I wrote two 800-word pieces, one that flogged, one that didn't, neither Pulitzer material, but both coherent, timely, etc., certainly no worse than anything else on HuffPo, and told them to let me know which they wanted, what changes, etc. AS the release date approached, and I still heard nothing, I sent an inquiry. Then another. The date came and went and the next week, I got a form email (who knew?) from the intern thanking me for my submission but regretting it wasn't suitable for their needs at this time. I emailed back reminding her that she'd solicited the material and that it used to be if you did that, you at least let the author know what he could do to make it suitable. She wrote back to say that they don't have the time to do that. So one wasted morning, one learned lesson. Don't work for free. Which in the new media biz, may mean don't work. But I'd work for Ramparts for a buck a word.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Wed 24 Feb 10 06:10
Have you all discussed Jaron Lanier's "You Are Not a Gadget?" He's the computer scientist who invented the term "virtual reality," but he's not very impressed with the new media economy, which makes Google fantastically rich and beggars journalists, authors, musicians, etc. Here's a quote: "If you want to know what's really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than with truth or beauty ... The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract. The basic idea of this contract that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given away without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising."
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 24 Feb 10 06:28
I read an excerpt from Lanier's book in Harpers and found it a bit gloomy even for me (I am not known for looking on the bright side). I should probably take a look at the whole book. The Ramparts story makes one long for more activist journalism, but it's also an interesting example of asymmetric warfare. On the one hand was the might of the US government, with enormous resources and a willingness to break at least some laws to stamp out dissent (I'm thinking of COINTELPRO, which you discuss in the book). On the other side, a bunch of young writers, a con man/genius editor, and a handful of guilty (or idealistic) heirs. For a group with such slender resources, they were a prodigious pain in the rear end to the powers that be.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 24 Feb 10 06:31
On the WELL, we have an old expression (pre-dates even my 20 years of involvement) "plate o shrimp!" which describes a weird "wow, I was just thinking of that very thing!" coincidence. So, plate o shrimp! <http://www.alternet.org/investigations/145735/exposing_the_great_american_bubb le_barons%3A_join_us_in_the_investigation> This describes an effort to do coordinated participatory investigative journalism on people who made vast fortunes from the housing bubble and the financial fallout.
For Rosetti, wombats held a peculiar fascination (loris) Wed 24 Feb 10 11:09
sigh...some of us have been writing about the end of days for writers for, oh, i dunno, 15 years on my end... anyway, your book always reminded me of my one personal encounter with scheer: i had just moved to berkeley in 1973, and somehow ended up at a party where all the -guys- (including scheer) were in the living room, talking about politics and the news of the day. all the -women- were consigned to the kitchen. i tried piping up in the living room, to no avail. the strange mix of what was so much better then, yet what was so much worse...
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Thu 25 Feb 10 06:33
I'm glad to see the creativity on the production side of the journalism equation. That's one reason I don't share the gloominess you note about Lanier. (I only read the Harper's excerpt, too.) Interestingly, some of the Ramparts people lamented the influence of advertisers as well. Howard Gossage, Hinckle's guru and an advertising ace, claimed that dependence on advertising was the bane of the magazine world. His cover story in Ramparts (August 1965) was called "The Fictitious Freedom of the Press: An Advertising Man's Lament." Here's an excerpt: "In a way it is too bad that so much is made of our Constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press from government control, for it tends to obscure other incursions on freedom of the press which are just as dangerous, and much more immediate ... In this century we have seen effective control of our press shift from the public, for whom it presumably exists, to the advertiser, who merely uses it to sell his wares to the public." And so on. We're now seeing the full price of that dependence, except now the system doesn't even compensate the writers. It reminds me a little of broadcast television during my lifetime. At first we tolerated the commercials so we could watch programs for free. Now we have to pay a monthly fee, but the commercials are still there. In fact, many of the programs are ads: not just the infomercials, but also "Entertainment Tonight" and its ilk, which are thinly veiled promotions for other Hollywood products. I should add that according to McChesney & Nichols, the concern that government support for journalism would lead to effective censorship isn't born out by cross-country comparisons. Places like Scandinavia, where the government subsidies are highest, have less government interference than we do--according to studies sponsored by libertarian organizations here in the U.S.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 25 Feb 10 07:28
Yes, I find it ironic that there's so much screaming (from the Tea Party crowd and their ilk) about government control of this or that. It seems to me that corporate influence is a much bigger issue. Corporations are why we don't have many of the benefits and protections that people take for granted in other industrialized countries. Howard Gossage, BTW, sounded like a very colorful and interesting character. "A Bomb in Every Issue" made me want to learn more about him. A bohemian ad man/philosopher. That was not an unknown type in those years (I'm thinking about figures like David Ogilvy) but it sounds like Gossage had a more broad-ranging intellect than most.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Thu 25 Feb 10 08:09
Yes, Gossage was remarkable and is still revered, I gather, in the ad biz--especially in the Bay Area. He introduced people like Herb Caen and Jessica Mitford to the Ramparts circus. Rosetti, your experience assorts well with other things I heard in the interviews. The staff was a bit of a boys club, despite important contributions from Jessica Mitford, Judy Stone, Kathleen Cleaver, Susan Sontag, et al. Susan Griffin, a staffer, pointed out the male bias to me, though Susan's Ramparts piece on rape was another remarkable contribution. I believe that piece came out during the Horowitz/Collier years, as did much of the environmental stuff. Your experience post-dates Scheer's departure from the magazine. His 1969 ouster was led by David and Peter, whom Bob had recruited to Ramparts. Bob was living with the Red Family in Berkeley, and he later called that a crazy, bitter time. That was roughly when the Red Family ousted Tom Hayden for being a chauvinist. He moved down to Santa Monica and married Jane Fonda, whose daughter attended the Red Family's pre-school. Bob's fortunes turned in 1976, when he interviewed Jimmy Carter for Playboy. (That was the famous lust-in-my-heart interview.) On the strength of that piece, the L.A. Times hired Bob. He later told me that his Times colleagues didn't know that much about his Ramparts years. Nor did most of his colleagues at USC, where he teaches now. So he was gratified that the book (and especially the New York Times reviews) acknowledged the magazine's contributions.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Thu 25 Feb 10 09:08
Mark, one more genealogical note. You linked to AlterNet, which is published by Don Hazen. Don used to be the publisher of Mother Jones, which I think supports my claim that Ramparts (which begat Mother Jones) is the point of origin for the Bay Area's political journalism today.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 25 Feb 10 15:32
Wow - that's great! I didn't know that, but I've become a big fan of alternet.
Gail Williams (gail) Sun 28 Feb 10 07:39
Peter, I was wondering how the book has been received, especially by those who are in the book. Did reactions differed depending on the subjects' current political affiliations? How are other readers responding?
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Sun 28 Feb 10 15:08
I heard privately from several people (who probably don't agree on much else) that my book was fair. Several said I was too easy on David Horowitz. Bob Scheer said that I "got" Ramparts. Dugald Stermer said he liked the book, and that his kids got a lot out of it. Adam Hochshild was very supportive, read the ms. before publication, blurbed it, and was glad that the critical reception raised the magazine's profile. Peter Collier and Sol Stern were less congratulatory. They felt I was too impressed with the magazine and wasn't alert enough to its shortcomings. I had a long online exchange with Sol about that. Sol's take is here: http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_1_ramparts.html Some of the conversation took place on Ron Radoshs' Pajamas Medial blog: http://pajamasmedia.com/ronradosh/2010/01/19/reading-ramparts-in-the-21st-cent ury-a-look-back-at-the-60s-major-left-wing-magazine/ Peter Collier's review for the New Criterion is here: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Life-along-the--4371 I suppose my main point with Sol was that Ramparts was practically the only outlet doing consequential investigative journalism at that time. Would we have been better off without that? We may have a chance to test that approach if we can't figure out a way to support that kind of journalism.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Mon 1 Mar 10 07:05
Were there any connections between The Nation and Ramparts? I was struck by the relationship between the staff at Ramparts and the Black Panthers. I don't think people are quite so naive now, but the pretty much total acceptance of their modus operandi seems like it was part and parcel of the 60s. Now that we are post Oklahoma City and other events, I would hope that that kind of naivety might be a thing of the past. Again there is not so much difference between extreme thinking, on the right or on the left.
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