October 7, 2015
A Bomb in Every Issue
Posted on Aug 21, 2009
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.”
A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America
By Peter Richardson
New Press, 272 pages
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:
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 … .’ ”
New and Improved Comments