inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #26 of 89: 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.       
 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #27 of 89: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 19 Feb 10 07:55
    
Link to the Alexander St. Press project? Sounds interesting.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #28 of 89: 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
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #29 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #30 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #31 of 89: 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. 



   
  

    
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #32 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #33 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #34 of 89: 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.   
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #35 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #36 of 89: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #37 of 89: 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?")
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #38 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #39 of 89: 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."  
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #40 of 89: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #41 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #42 of 89: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #43 of 89: 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.     
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #44 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #45 of 89: 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.   
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #46 of 89: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #47 of 89: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #48 of 89: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #49 of 89: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.377 : Peter Richardson, "A Bomb in Every Issue"
permalink #50 of 89: 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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