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Arts and Culture

A Bomb in Every Issue

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Posted on Aug 21, 2009

By Peter Richardson

(Page 2)

In the end, Thompson’s visit wasn’t healthy for Henry Luce.  When Thompson and Hinckle returned to the office after their lunch, they found Thompson’s backpack open, pills of various colors strewn on the floor, and a deranged Henry Luce racing around the office.  He was rushed to the veterinarian’s to have his stomach pumped.  An unsympathetic Thompson later wrote to Hinckle, “That fucking monkey should be killed—or at least arrested—on general principles.”  But Henry Luce remained at large until his penchant for self-interference became a distraction.  “He kept jerking off, so he had to go,” Hinckle said later.  A sympathetic secretary took him home to Marin County. 

Another Scheer recruit was Sol Stern.  Born in Israel, Stern grew up on Vyse Avenue in the Bronx—Leon Trotsky’s old address and the setting for Marty, the Oscar-winning film from 1955.  Stern and Scheer knew each other from a leftist summer camp for Jewish children, and they attended City College together.  In 1961, Stern began a doctoral program in political science at Berkeley, where he also worked with Scheer and David Horowitz on a radical journal called Root and Branch.  Later, he became involved in the Free Speech Movement, dropped out of his graduate program, and joined Ramparts, where he wrote or contributed to many of the magazine’s most memorable pieces, including the CIA stories.

Stern also produced the first major press account of Huey Newton and the Black Panthers for The New York Times Magazine on August 6, 1967.  In that piece, Stern described a street-corner meeting in San Francisco’s Fillmore district where Newton said, “Every time you go to execute a white racist Gestapo cop, you are defending yourself.”  Stern asked Newton if he was truly prepared to kill a police officer; Newton replied that he was.  He was also prepared to die, Newton said, a claim that presaged the title of his subsequent book, Revolutionary Suicide.  Stern also quoted Bobby Seale on the proper response to encountering a police officer on his coffee break:  “Shoot him down—boom, boom—with a 12-gauge shotgun.”  “To these young men,” Stern concluded, “the execution of a police officer would be as natural and justifiable as the execution of a German soldier by a member of the French Resistance.” 

 

book cover

 

A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America

 

By Peter Richardson

 

New Press, 272 pages

 

Buy the book

Stern followed up the next month with a piece in Ramparts called “America’s Black Guerrillas.”  It featured a photograph of a regal Huey Newton in a wicker chair, shotgun in one hand and a spear in the other.  The photograph, which was taken by Ramparts staffer Eldridge Cleaver at his lawyer’s house, later became a popular poster and counterculture icon.

Some months later, Stern was one of four Ramparts employees called before a New York grand jury for burning their draft cards.  The cards were ignited for the December 1967 cover photograph, but the four men were nowhere near the scene of the crime; the photographer had used hand models for the shoot.  Time magazine provided free publicity by describing the four “holding aloft their burning draft cards in a kind of New Left salute.”  The photographer kept the burned cards and later turned them over to the FBI when asked.  In the end, the grand jury issued no indictments, but that didn’t stop Esquire from ribbing the Gang of Four.  All had deferments, the Esquire piece pointed out, and were therefore undraftable.  One of Stern’s deferments was for a trick knee, and the illustration showed him on crutches with a Band-Aid on his kneecap. 

Stern thought the magazine’s Bay Area location was liberating.  The main challenge, he recalled, was “working around Hinckle’s madness.”  It wasn’t just the missed issues, which would have been inconceivable at a mainstream eastern magazine.  (Hinckle felt no overwhelming responsibility to put out twelve issues per year.)  It was also that Hinckle himself was “a wild man.”  Stern recounted one incident after his return from a stint in New York.  While moving items back into the San Francisco office, he briefly left the door of his rental car open.  On an impulse, Hinckle intentionally ran his car into Stern’s, taking off the door completely.  “I don’t have a lot of regard for private property,” Hinckle said later. 

Another Scheer associate, David Horowitz, was brought on to manage the recently formed book division of Ramparts, but he quickly assumed other writing and editing duties.  Like Scheer, Horowitz grew up in New York City with radical parents.  But Horowitz’s parents were New York City schoolteachers, not garment workers, and he studied at Columbia, not CUNY, before beginning his graduate work at Berkeley. Following his work on Root and Branch, Horowitz established himself as a prolific writer.  His book on Berkeley activism, Student, was edited by Saul Landau and published by Ballantine in 1962.  Student sold briskly in paperback and reportedly inspired Mario Savio, a key leader in the Free Speech Movement, to move to Berkeley.  But Horowitz’s intellectual interests took him abroad, first to Sweden and then to London to work for Bertrand Russell’s foundation.  Scheer connected with him there while interviewing Russell and offered him a chance to join Ramparts.

In December 1967, Horowitz accepted the offer and moved back to Berkeley.  He had reservations about Hinckle’s lavish style, but he had no ideological quarrels with the magazine’s hard-hitting stories.  He was also struck by changes in the Bay Area in the few years he had been away.  “When we returned to Berkeley in January 1968,” Horowitz wrote later, “the change was everywhere evident.  People even looked different.  Clothes were tie-dyed and bucolic, colors psychedelic, and hair long.”  Horowitz took his son to a nearby school to hear a local band called Purple Earthquake.  It was the first time he had heard electric instruments in a live setting.  “I looked around at the dreamy faces of the audience,” he wrote later.  “They were wearing the insignias and uniforms of the new counterculture that had blossomed from under the American surface while we were gone, and I experienced an unmistakable, strong kinship with them.”  Like his father, a Communist Party member who had visited the Soviet Union in the 1930s, Horowitz was beginning to feel that a new world was possible.

Many of Scheer’s recruits, and a significant proportion of the magazine’s new investors, were Jewish.  That pattern led I.F. Stone to remark, “There haven’t been so many Jews involved in a Catholic operation since the twelve apostles.”  The shifting composition of the staff affected the magazine’s tone and coverage, especially of the Middle East.  Although Scheer grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and his family included Zionists, he hadn’t thought seriously about the Middle East before the Six-Day War in June 1967.  When that conflict flared, he turned to I.F. Stone for commentary and to Paul Jacobs for reporting.  Through a Ramparts investor, Jacobs met Michael Ansara, whose father was active in the Arab League and arranged a trip to Egypt for Scheer and Jacobs.  Upon their arrival, the three men were held at gunpoint due to a miscommunication between a commander and his troops.  Eight hours later, a limousine arrived to whisk them away. 

During his time in Egypt, Scheer developed what he called the Nasser thesis, which he published in two Ramparts articles.  There he warned that the West should be careful with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, noting that the likeliest alternative to his leadership was the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islam. 

Taken as a whole, Ramparts’ coverage of the Middle East would now be considered balanced, perhaps even prescient.  In the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, for example, an editorial asserted:

What is particularly outrageous about the new cold war consensus of the New Republic and the National Review (sic) is that it ignores the malicious and double-dealing role which U.S. foreign policy has played: supporting the most reactionary element in the Arab world, doing everything possible to keep the Arab world divided, and putting the rights of American oil companies above the needs of the Arab people. … There is no question that Arabs terrorized Israeli border communities, but it is also true that the Israelis discriminated against their native Arab population.  It is also unfair to place the total responsibility for reconciliation on the Jews.  But now, especially in the flush of its military triumph, Israel must take the initiative to forge a progressive future for all the Mideast.

Two of the magazine’s major shareholders, Martin Peretz and Dick Russell, found that position intolerable.  “To me, Nasser was Hitler,” Russell said.  Peretz, an assistant professor at Harvard married to Singer Sewing Machine heiress Anne Farnsworth, argued in Commentary magazine that the editorial provided “the most carefully selective and skewed history of the conflict to come from any source save possibly the propaganda machines of the respective parties.” 

Some Ramparts readers agreed with Peretz.  In the January 1968 issue, a letter to the editor maintained that the magazine’s articles “add up to a warm appreciation of the big-hearted Socialist, Nasser, along with a thinly-veiled indictment of a fictional saber-rattling Israel.”  The more immediate problem for the magazine, however, was financial.  When Scheer realized that Peretz and Russell would withdraw their money from Ramparts, he commissioned a pro-Israel article, but it was too late.  Hinckle estimated that the editorial cost Ramparts $1 million.

***

As Scheer populated the office with his associates, Hinckle continued to recruit local newspaper writers.  One was Adam Hochschild, who started at Ramparts in September 1966 after two years with the Chronicle.  During his time at the San Francisco daily, Hochschild profiled Ramparts for the last issue of the New York Herald Tribune Magazine.  That piece introduced him to Hinckle, and he already knew Scheer from Berkeley, where Hochschild also lived.   

Like a growing number of his Ramparts colleagues, Hochschild was an easterner, but his background differed dramatically from theirs.  His German-Jewish father headed AMAX, a multinational conglomerate whose interests included copper mines in Africa, and his mother’s WASP background provided entry into elite social circles in New York and Princeton.  Guests at the family’s Adirondack summer estate included Adlai Stevenson, George Kennan, and the occasional CIA officer.  One frequent visitor, Hochschild later discovered, was the agency’s liaison with his father’s company.  When he and his parents traveled abroad, company representatives routinely greeted them.  “I still half expect a smiling man to be there anytime I arrive in a new country,” Hochschild wrote later.  “Even if I were on a plane that had been hijacked, with all the passengers held at gunpoint, a hand would quietly take my bag, a voice would say, ‘You don’t have to stay with the others, Mr. Hochschild.  Come right this way … .’ ”


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By Dree, January 26, 2010 at 10:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Gonna read it later.

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By james o. clifford, December 27, 2009 at 3:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An informative read, particularly for those who know little about Ramparts. A better starting point, however, is Warren Hinckle’s “If you have a lemon. make lemonade.” No Hinckle, no Ramparts,at least not the hotfoot kind he produced.
  A couple of people in Peterson’s book saw Hinckle for what he was - a marketing genius. I remember thinking when he broke the MSU story that he realized the important part of news conference was “conference.” Just getting news people in one place was the key. Once they were there they would have to justify being there. And the place was important. The conference was held in New York, not San Francisco where the mag was HQed.
  He was also a pioneer in validation journalism in which you give the reader what they want to hear.
There were a lot of lawyers connected to Ramparts, which I don’t think Peterson realized. The magazine was close to propaganda, where only one side is shown. Could have been the result of Hinckle’s legal and Jesuit training. I am not sure, but I have watched this kind of reporting grow over the last 30 or so years, and it will only become stronger with the Net.
    This trajectory, combined with the virtual death of UPI, which gave AP a monopoly on news distribution, is the real “bomb.”

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By Gera Rosy, August 23, 2009 at 7:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As an undergraduate at Kent State before the massacre, Ramparts Magazine was my guidebook for understanding the chaotic world of the time. It has never been replaced.

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By miller, August 23, 2009 at 6:34 am Link to this comment

Thank you.  I enjoyed the article. I have fond memories
of reading Ramparts.

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By wagonjak, August 22, 2009 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I did illustrations and production work for Ramparts when it was in SF and
remember meeting Hinkle a couple of times…it was a real voice for lefty politics
when there were very few to none in the country…

I also did illustrations and production work for Sundance Magazine…that one
lasted about 6 issues…I remember Ken Kelly throwing an all-out fit about
something and throwing triangles across the room to make his point. I think he
just passed on recently too. Many memories of that era…

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By P. T., August 22, 2009 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

Ramparts was good at coming up with covers that would catch people’s attention.  I remember I bought a copy at the college bookstore and took it to the abode of a friend whose brother was home on military leave from his base in Turkey, where he eavesdropped on the Soviet Union.

The cover had the headline “Why Nothing Works:  The U.S. as an Underdeveloped Country” or something close to that.  My friend’s brother saw it and started laughing.

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By wagonjak, August 22, 2009 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I did numerous illustrations and production work for Ramparts and met Hinkle
and others there at the offices in SF…it was always financially troubled, and
seemed to exist for awhile from issue to issue. It was a voice of intelligent leftist
reason during a time when there was very little of that anywhere, and the
blogosphere was way over the horizon…I never knew Scheer, and I wonder if the
tape of this interview is available anywhere…Carl Muecke

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By Paul O'Curry, August 21, 2009 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Back in 71/72 when I arrived in the US from Europe I was a subscriber to Ramparts , MS, and I.F.Stones weekly.  I can still remember many of the articles I read at that time and notice that Mother Jones is trying to bridge the gap.  The battle against neo fasists is more dire than ever!

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By Helen Hickman, August 21, 2009 at 10:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ramparts was an incredible magazine, and it certainly made an impact on my life. 
I was living in a small, isolated community on Vancouver Island and the articles,
especially on Vietnam, had a profound effect on me.  I still have all my copies of
the magazine, and intend to keep them forever.  My grateful thanks to Robert
Scheer and to Truthdig.

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By NYCartist, August 21, 2009 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

I read Ramparts in the mid1960s, at the very least.
In my mid20s, went south for two years of small cog in the wheel civil rights work and began my art career.
Went with mag subs because, as I later wrote in letters to friends back in NYC, “I only knew I was still in the US because the mail trucks said ‘US Mail’ on them.”.  (I’d been to Europe the summer before I went South.)

I’d gone South for, and with, my then-spouse’s new job, organizing in the AntiPoverty Program.  I got a pt time job, “volunteer” with a civil rights law firm after the local police took our photos (for intimidation) exiting an antiwar speech from a visiting professor, in the local Black YMCA, just after we arrived.
Spouse was told by his boss that an agent of the US gov’t (an agency), came to his office, waving a list of our mag zubs and said, “They are communists. Fire him.”.  The boss laughed, told spouse, who told me. (History lesson:I was too young to be a communist. No ideological bent, procivil rights, antiVietnam War, former teacher. How radical was that? Spouse and partner were doing real community organizing work, based on community desires: on police brutality and starting a credit union by mothers on welfare.)
I thought it was funny until I learned of COINTELPRO.
(No, spouse did not get fired. After 2 years, people in the community took over his and co-organizing partner’s jobs, which is what it was sposed to do.)  We went to another city, where I could not get volunteer work with the public defender’s office “Your having worked in a civil rights law office is too controversial for ...(the city).”

  I think Ramparts was on the list, but for sure, The Nation, The Catholic Worker (only 1cent per issue) and IF Stone’s Weekly were on the list.

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