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A Bomb in Every Issue

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Posted on Aug 21, 2009

By Peter Richardson

(Page 5)

In 1967, Hinckle shut down The Sunday Ramparts, leaving Wenner out of work.  (Hinckle would briefly revive the paper as a daily during the San Francisco newspaper strike of 1968.)  Within months, Wenner and Gleason conceived a new magazine and began assembling the first issue in a spare room at 301 Broadway.  Later, Wenner moved his magazine’s office to a loft on Brannan Street over Garrett Press, which also printed Ramparts.  At Gleason’s suggestion, Wenner named his magazine after a Bob Dylan song, and with Stermer’s permission, he lifted his design directly from The Sunday Ramparts.  “I only had Ramparts and my high school yearbook as a model for the magazine,” Wenner said later.  “We still use some of the elements from Ramparts.” 

The first issue of Rolling Stone appeared in November 1967, and the magazine’s success became an important if largely unacknowledged part of Ramparts’ legacy.  In his memoir, Hinckle disavowed Wenner and Rolling Stone:

What I found objectionable about the hippies—or rather about some hippie promoters—was the attempt to make a serious political stance out of goofing off. ...  One of the leading merchandisers of this counterculture bullshit was Rolling Stone, the rock culture tabloid that was started by two disgruntled Ramparts types.  One of them was Jann Wenner, then a fat and pudgy kid hanging around the office. … The truth of the matter is that I hardly knew the kid; and the only thing that Ramparts gave him to help start his paper was a bottle of rubber cement to paste up the first issue, and I screamed about that.

 

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

Hinckle was more deferential to Gleason, a key factor in Rolling Stone’s success. Hinckle later claimed that he was sorry he “dumped on [Gleason’s] flower children without giving him a chance to defend the little fascists.”  But for Hinckle, the bloodshed at the Altamont rock concert in 1969, when the Hell’s Angels killed a spectator in front of the stage, was vindication of his theory that the “hippie cultists” aided the forces of fascism. 

Ramparts
may have held the hippies at arm’s length, but Hinckle’s article spread their story.  Moreover, the magazine’s pages increasingly reflected the counterculture’s influence in and around San Francisco.  Psychedelic art, nudity, drug references, and sexual content became commonplace, especially but not only in the advertisements.  One long-running full-page ad for Avant-Garde magazine featured a close-up of a woman climaxing.  (The marketing copy claimed that she had “just finished reading her latest issue and, as usual, she’s satisfied.”)  In many ways, however, Ramparts’ treatment of sex resembled Esquire’s, and the earlier article on Hugh Hefner was a thinly veiled appeal to Playboy’s ethos and readership.  Gene Marine’s “A Male Guide to Women’s Liberation,” which Marine spun into a book, would have been equally at home in those magazines.  Nor was the cover tease for that piece especially sensitive to its homosexual audience.  The November 1968 banner read, “Breaking the Faggot Barrier in Men’s Clothes.”

Gratuitous appeals to sex produced other jarring results.  One cover story, “A Paranoid’s Guide to Bugging,” explored surveillance technology, a subject of great interest in the Ramparts office.  The cover photo featured Carol Doda, the busty blonde stripper from a North Beach nightclub, in a black brassiere looking directly into the camera; a recording device peeked out of her waistband, and cords ran to two attachments on the bra near her nipples.  Although brazen, the cover concept wasn’t radical so much as business as usual.  If it demonstrated the staff’s explicit strategy—using mainstream techniques to advance leftist ideas—it also reflected that strategy’s limitations. 

When the magazine addressed feminist concerns, it frequently fell short.  Warren and Marianne Hinckle’s generally laudatory “Women Power” cover story of February 1968 was criticized for its reference to “narrow-minded bitches,” and the cover photograph caused a minor furor.  The shot featured a female model’s cleavage, but her head was cropped out of the picture.  The irony wasn’t lost on the female staff or readers, many of whom were organizing the first women’s groups.  In awarding Warren Hinckle the “Male Chauvinist of the Month Award,” the March issue of Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement maintained that he “depicted ‘political women’ as having two tits and no head.” 

 

***

As the Haight-Ashbury story and another CIA bombshell—this one on the agency’s secret funding of the National Student Association—reached large audiences, Eldridge Cleaver was assembling the Soul on Ice manuscript for McGraw-Hill.  In May 1967, however, Cleaver accompanied Bobby Seale and seventeen other Panthers in full regalia to the state capitol in Sacramento.  Their purpose was to protest a new gun control bill, which was widely regarded as a response to the Panthers’ armed patrols of Oakland’s black neighborhoods. 

Predominantly white, sleepy, and surrounded by farmland, Sacramento was an unlikely venue for eighteen armed black militants.  Brandishing their shotguns and M-16s, the Panthers were met by reporters before entering the capitol and striding into the legislative chamber.  As cameras flashed, police officers confiscated the weapons and led the Panthers off the floor of the assembly with minimal resistance.  Outside the building, Bobby Seale read Executive Mandate Number One to the press:

The Black Panther Party calls upon American people in general and black people in particular to take full note of the racist California legislature which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless, at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder and repression of black people.

When they returned to their cars, Cleaver told Seale,  “Brother, we did it.  We did it, man.  We put it over.”  Seale replied, “That’s right, brother, we did.”  Then Seale gave the order to leave.  “Let’s go.  We gonna go eat all this fried chicken that we got here, ’cause I’m hungry and it’s hot in this town.”

On their way out of town, the Panthers were arrested at a gas station.  The arresting officer approached Seale’s car with his gun out.  Seale directed him to holster his weapon.  “And the next thing I heard was brothers jacking rounds, jacking shells off into the chambers of their guns,” he recalled.  The officer holstered his gun, and the Panthers were arrested without further incident.  The news coverage made them instant celebrities.  Six Panthers, including Seale, were eventually convicted on misdemeanor charges.  Cleaver was released the next day because he was unarmed and covering the event for Ramparts.

Meanwhile, relations between the Panthers and the largely white Oakland police force continued to worsen.  The party’s literature featured images of heroic black men and women overcoming authority figures, especially the police, who were drawn as swine.  One of the party’s chants included the verse:

The revolution has come.
Off the pig!
Time to pick up the gun.
Off the pig! 

At a Panther wedding, a group of children performed a variation on that theme: “We want a pork chop, off the pig!”

A few months after the Sacramento protest, Newton converted these words into action.  On October 28, 1967, a young police officer named John Frey stopped Newton’s car near the corner of Seventh and Willow streets in West Oakland.  Newton and a friend named Gene McKinney had been celebrating the end of Newton’s probation, which followed a conviction for stabbing a man at a party with a steak knife.  Realizing he had stopped Newton, Frey called for backup.  When officer Herbert Heanes arrived, Frey ordered Newton out of the car and led him toward the patrol cars.  The two men scuffled, and Frey received a fatal gunshot wound.  Heanes shot Newton in the stomach and was wounded himself before Newton and McKinney fled. 

Newton and McKinney approached a passing car and told the driver to take them to a nearby address.  According to the motorist, one of them had a gun, and Newton said, “I just shot two dudes.”  Newton made it to the home of a fellow Panther, who took him to Kaiser Hospital, where Newton was arrested.  A photograph of Newton handcuffed to an emergency room gurney, writhing in agony, went out to the rest of the nation. 

With Seale in jail on the Sacramento misdemeanor, Cleaver was no longer an ordinary journalist—if he had ever been one.  Instead, he became the acting leader of the Black Panther Party, America’s premier revolutionary organization.

***

After 1967, Ramparts would continue to roil the establishment, but its glory days were short-lived.  Never on solid financial ground after Keating’s funds evaporated, Ramparts filed for bankruptcy in January 1969.  Hinckle left to found Scanlan’s, where he helped launch Gonzo journalism by pairing Hunter S. Thompson and illustrator Ralph Steadman.  Ramparts reorganized and resumed publishing in April 1969, but a coup led by Horowitz and Collier led to the departure of Scheer and Stermer later that year.  The magazine cut costs and took a more dogmatic editorial line.  Circulation declined steadily until 1975, when the magazine closed its doors for good. 

Despite its brief life, Ramparts was remarkably influential. By hiring Eldridge Cleaver, covering the Black Panthers, and sponsoring work by its leaders, the magazine played a critical role in the Black Power movement. Ramparts also mobilized opposition to the Vietnam War, not least by moving leaders like Martin Luther King.  Finally, Ramparts indirectly influenced the history of the CIA.  According to author Tim Weiner, the initial CIA investigation of Ramparts “grew into a much larger effort: prying into the unruly world of the underground press.”  After New York Times reporter and Ramparts contributor Seymour Hersh exposed that effort, Congress created the first intelligence oversight committees. The Senate version was especially effective at investigating CIA and FBI malfeasance.  It was chaired by Frank Church, Ed Keating’s college friend at Stanford University.

But Ramparts’ deepest influence was on the media itself.  By demonstrating that a “radical slick” could attract a large readership, Ramparts overcame resistance from more established outlets and cleared the way for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones (another magazine founded by Ramparts veterans), and other publications that proved to be more durable.  It also forced mainstream news organizations to pick up their game.  In a recent interview, one former Ramparts staffer summed up the magazine’s legacy this way: “When you look back at it, where else would those articles appear?  The Saturday Evening Post?”  In the aftermath of Ramparts’ success, CBS launched 60 Minutes, the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, and the Washington Post broke the Watergate story.  Far from the centers of political power, Ramparts charted new territory in American journalism, and 1967 was its most adventurous year. 

Copyright © 2009 Peter Richardson. This excerpt originally appeared in A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America by Peter Richardson, published by The New Press. Printed here with permission by The New Press.


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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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