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A Bomb in Every Issue

Peter Richardson
Reviewer
Peter Richardson teaches humanities and American studies at San Francisco State University. He has written three critically acclaimed books: No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead (2015); A…
Peter Richardson

Editor’s note: The following is adapted from a chapter of “A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America” by Peter Richardson.

The Havoc of War: How Ramparts Magazine Challenged American Culture

Revered mostly by media aficionados and older activists today, Ramparts magazine (1962-75) was once America’s premier forum for investigative journalism. Founded by Edward Keating, it began as a Catholic literary magazine based in Menlo Park, California. But soon after Warren Hinckle became its editor, he hired Dugald Stermer as art director and recruited Robert Scheer to write about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. During Hinckle’s tenure, Ramparts moved to San Francisco, developed a cutting-edge design, published a series of hard-hitting exposés, and boosted circulation to almost 250,000. A Time magazine headline in January 1967—“A Bomb in Every Issue”—described its impact.

By that time, Ramparts was riding high, but the sailing was far from smooth. The magazine had attracted powerful enemies, including the CIA, which began investigating Ramparts after it ran an April 1966 story on the agency’s covert activities in Vietnam. By the end of that year, Keating had engineered Eldridge Cleaver’s release from San Quentin state prison and hired him at the magazine. Three months later, Cleaver witnessed an armed showdown between Huey Newton and the San Francisco police outside the magazine’s office. Shortly after that, Keating departed following a messy and well-publicized fight over control of the magazine.

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

What followed these fractious events proved to be a critical period in Ramparts’ short life. Over the next year, Scheer would debate the magazine’s critics on national television; a Ramparts photo-essay would profoundly influence Dr. Martin Luther King’s position on the Vietnam War; Hinckle would fascinate some readers and enrage others with his coverage of San Francisco’s flower children before the Summer of Love; and Ramparts would earn the prestigious Polk Award for excellence in magazine reporting. This essay, adapted from a longer study, considers that fateful time in the magazine’s history and maps its extraordinary effect on American politics and media.

***

In June 1967, Scheer appeared on Firing Line, a television program that featured debates with conservative host William F. Buckley. The episode’s title (“Is Ramparts Magazine Un-American?”) indicated that Buckley was leaving little to chance.

Buckley’s interest in Ramparts was three-fold. Like Keating, he was the founding publisher of a political magazine and was constantly battling the economic realities of that enterprise. Even a half-century after its creation, with a circulation of almost 155,000 and a generation of conservative national leadership to support it, National Review was operating at a substantial deficit.

Another source of Buckley’s interest in Ramparts was his Catholicism. His undergraduate experience at Yale had introduced him to the “nonchalant and cheeky secularism” that he targeted in his first book, God and Man at Yale. Buckley may have supported Keating’s original urge to sponsor a Catholic literary quarterly, but he had every reason to deplore its transformation into a nonchalant, very cheeky, increasingly secular, and unabashedly left-wing publication under Hinckle and Scheer.

A third reason for Buckley’s interest in Ramparts was his affiliation with the CIA. Four years before he founded his magazine, Buckley was recruited into the agency. After training in Washington DC, he served in Mexico City as a deep cover agent. His supervisor was E. Howard Hunt, who gained more fame than a former CIA agent should when he was apprehended for the Watergate burglary in the 1970s. Buckley’s CIA service was apparently short-lived; he lived in Mexico for less than year. In a 2005 National Review editorial, he referred to his government service:

In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico? “I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President.” He thought this amusing, and that is all that it was, under the aspect of the heavens.

If subverting the Mexican government was amusing a half-century later, Buckley was less diverted by Scheer’s exposé of the CIA’s activities in Vietnam while the conflict there was raging.

To prepare Scheer for the Firing Line taping, staff writer Bob Avakian assembled a packet of research material on Buckley and the show. Staffers also told Scheer that Buckley frequently interrupted his guests. They advised him not to tolerate that but rather to take the offensive, which Scheer proceeded to do. The result was an intellectual food fight at a time when such spectacles were rare on broadcast television.

The sharp words began with Buckley’s backhanded introduction of Scheer, who emerged at Ramparts after the “liquidation” of its founder. Scheer had visited Asia several times, Buckley continued, “in his passion to find the United States responsible for all that goes wrong there.” When his turn to speak came around, Scheer complimented Buckley’s reading of his cue cards and then suggested a hypothetical and equally unfair introduction in which Buckley would be described as supporting white supremacist governments in Africa. “I think I see why you don’t have your own show,” Buckley quipped.

Most of the exchange centered on a story Scheer had written about British philosopher Bertrand Russell in May 1967. For that issue’s cover, Stermer commissioned Norman Rockwell to draw Russell’s portrait. Given Rockwell’s reputation for all-American pictures, the cover was an ironic comment on Russell’s criticism of U.S. foreign policy.

In an attempt to summarize his differences with Scheer, Buckley offered the following:

Mr. Scheer, you seem to be extremely reluctant to accept what I consider to be the intellectual requirements of your analysis: namely, that sure, Bertrand Russell’s anti-American, but he has a good right to be anti-American because during the 1960s we became a highly unlovely country and anybody in fact who is pro-American at this in time has an addled wit, to say nothing of an unserviceable amoral sense. Now, why don’t you say, Yes, I am anti-American?

Scheer refused to bite. If he accepted Buckley’s invitation to endorse Russell’s criticisms, Buckley would dub that position anti-American, then un-American, and then pin that label on Ramparts and its staff. The House Committee on Un-American Activities had ruined many lives and careers in the 1950s with similar tactics. HUAC was still active, but Berkeley activist Jerry Rubin had dramatized its waning authority when, describing himself as an American revolutionary, he appeared before the committee in full colonial garb.

The debate between Buckley and Scheer then took an even more personal turn. Buckley mocked Scheer’s writing style, and Scheer made a crack about the faces Buckley made while speaking. As the program drew to a close, Scheer raised the moderator’s hackles when he compared Buckley to a Stalinist or Maoist with an $11-million inheritance. “Mr. Chairman, don’t get upset,” Buckley told the moderator. “This is his syndrome.”

Buckley closed as follows: “Here is a man who when he ran for election used as a campaign manager a Communist whose magazine defends a lot of positions that are uniquely defended by Communists. I don’t think he understands the consequences of it.” Scheer replied:

I mentioned Mr. Buckley’s eleven million because I find it presumptuous that he could so accurately perceive the needs of people in underdeveloped countries who live on $50 a day (sic). I also find him to be highly anti-American in that his contempt for freedom has supported the McCarthy Committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his own red-baiting, and his own attacks on anyone that dissents in this society, and in fact his own attempts to make a person who is a Communist a non-person in much the same way as the Soviet Union has done.

The two spent most of the hour jousting rather than clarifying the underlying issues, which were matters of life and death for thousands of Vietnamese and Americans. When they touched on the original question, Scheer resisted but didn’t refute Buckley’s charge that Ramparts was un-American.

In fact, Buckley and the editors at Time weren’t the only ones who considered the Ramparts crew unpatriotic. While relaxing at Elaine’s in New York City, staff writer Peter Collier and Hinckle were approached by Willie Morris, the Mississippi native who became Harper’s youngest editor in 1967. “The trouble with you all,” Morris said, “is you didn’t love America.” Collier was struck by Morris’s use of the past tense. Even if America had become unlovable (or, in Buckley’s argot, unlovely), Morris implied that the Ramparts critique was diluted if they had never loved America.

Scheer saw it otherwise. For him, the main point of Ramparts was to apply what he had learned at City College about the American system, including the First Amendment, limited government, and checks and balances. “We weren’t defending any ground,” Scheer later said. “We weren’t leading a movement. That was extremely liberating.” As for foreign policy, Scheer’s main point was that other countries, including Cuba and Vietnam, should be allowed to make their own histories without interference from the United States. In the context of the Cold War, that position was widely regarded as pro-communist, but it outlasted that conflict and eventually extended to nations like Iran, where, Scheer later wrote, U.S. mischief beginning in the 1950s had produced “a sorry history.”

***

Although the Firing Line episode produced more heat than light, it showed that Scheer was becoming the magazine’s face to the world. He was also recruiting more staff from his Berkeley circle. One such recruit was Peter Collier, a graduate student in English who dropped his dissertation on Jane Austen and joined the Free Speech Movement. The product of a Southern California suburb, Collier thought of Berkeley in the early 1960s as a vibrant, bohemian intellectual center. It was “an amazing time—Wordsworthian,” he recalled, alluding to that poet’s famous lyric on the French Revolution: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!”

After working on Scheer’s campaign, Collier joined the staff at Ramparts, where his writing and editing skills were rewarded. He was skeptical of Hinckle, whom he later described as a “dime-store Citizen Hearst,” but he appreciated Hinckle’s fundamental insight that the New Left had broader appeal than the mainstream media suspected. During this time, Collier’s three-year-old son became fascinated by Hinckle’s eye patch and began referring to him as “that pirate guy.” Collier later remarked that his son was closer to the truth than he could have known.

Collier’s position at the magazine made him an eyewitness to some of its signature moments. One involved Hunter S. Thompson, whose first bestseller, Hell’s Angels, Collier had reviewed upon its publication in 1967. Thompson was living on Parnassus Avenue in the Haight when Collier brought him by the office for lunch with Hinckle. At the time, Hinckle was keeping a capuchin monkey there. He bought it for his daughter, but the family dog had gone after the monkey, which then bit Denise. Renaming the monkey Henry Luce after the founder of Time magazine, Hinckle decided to quarter him in the office. When he wasn’t in his cage, Henry Luce frequently ran along the tops of the office dividers, screeching loudly. But after the office was burglarized overnight, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Henry Luce was the only witness, and he wasn’t talking. 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 … .’ ” Before joining Ramparts, Hochschild worked the police beat in San Francisco. There he heard older reporters recount stories that they couldn’t get into the paper: for example, a sweetheart deal for a public construction job, racist comments by a mayoral candidate that the paper was backing, and other tales of corruption and malfeasance. “If you wanted to be a journalist but cared about social issues,” Hochschild recalled, “the alternatives looked bleak.” The two main options were writing for low-circulation radical journals or for daily newspapers, where social concerns had to be smuggled into stories.

For Hochschild and others, Ramparts was the solution to that problem. In addition to doing real investigative work, the magazine had a knack for making larger outlets respond to its stories. The formula was simple, Hochschild noted later: “Find an exposé that major newspapers are afraid to touch, publish it with a big enough splash so they can’t afford to ignore it … and then publicize it in a way that plays the press off against each other.” Certainly investors appreciated the magazine’s ability to break stories that the New York Times and other mainstream publications would play for a week or more. Hochschild also admired the literary flair Ramparts brought to its major stories, which were “written with the liveliness of detective novels.”

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

Hochschild described his time at Ramparts as “zany but exciting.” In a 1986 memoir about his relationship with his father, he sketched the scene inside the Ramparts office.

Assuming the office phones are tapped, we dash out to make key calls from pay phones. We junior staffers work in cubicles with partitions that do not come all the way to the ceiling; sometimes I look up from my typewriter and see the hairy underside of a small monkey flying from partition to partition above my head. It is the office mascot, named Henry Luce.

Hochschild’s wide-ranging contributions to Ramparts included a profile of Clark Kerr after his dismissal from the University of California, but many of his pieces focused on black communities, both in South Africa, where he had written for an anti-government newspaper one summer, and in the American south, where he worked as a civil rights worker in the summer of 1964. Hochschild downplayed his family background, but it popped up awkwardly from time to time. While he was writing a story about a complicated oil-lease scandal in Colorado, a source informed him that AMAX executives “had half the legislature in their pockets.” A fellow Ramparts staffer researching American corporations in Africa came across Hochschild’s father’s name and asked, “Hey, Adam, are you related to this guy?” After a slew of CIA front operations were exposed in the wake of one Ramparts story, one such organization turned out to be the African-American Institute, where his father had been board chairman for a decade.

Hochschild’s tenure at Ramparts coincided with a string of exceptionally strong issues. In September 1967, for example, he wrote a piece about Regis Debray, the 26-year-old French intellectual whose contact with Che Guevara had landed him in a Bolivian prison. The other articles in that issue included Sol Stern on the Panthers and other black radicals; a William Turner piece on New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison; Noam Chomsky on Vietnam and Howard Zinn’s “logic of withdrawal”; Judy Stone on B. Traven, the mysterious author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre; Paul Goodman on the Diggers, the Haight-Ashbury anarchist troupe; Studs Terkel on Paul Goodman and American morality; and an article on Guatemalan guerrillas by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan journalist who would later gain fame as the author of The Open Veins of Latin America, Memory of Fire, and Soccer in Sun and Shadow. That sort of line-up was an extraordinary departure from mainstream American journalism, and in March 1967, Ramparts received the George Polk Memorial Award. Ironically, it shared the award with Time, its sharpest and most persistent critic.

Ramparts wasn’t only a critical success. Its circulation was the envy of many more established magazines, and its impact was dramatic, especially among the nation’s swelling ranks of college students. Jeff Cohen, who would later co-found Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), recalled the magazine’s reception at the University of Michigan:

I saw my first issue at seventeen and starting reading it in ’68 or ’69. Each issue went around the dorm in Ann Arbor in 1969. It was dog-eared by the time I got it. It really was a radicalizing tool of its own. It ripped your head off. It helped us turn my cousin’s fraternity into an SDS chapter.

Shaba Om, who would later stand trial in the New York Panther 21 case, was also radicalized by Ramparts:

I was walking down the streets in midtown Manhattan and saw this magazine called Ramparts, and Black Panthers were on the cover of the magazine. I’d heard about the Black Panther Party before, so I bought a copy of Ramparts and began reading it—and man these dudes are together and crazy as hell. The more I learned about the party, the more it excited me.

For the first time, a radical slick was reaching a broad audience—and blowing its mind.

***
Ramparts

was also influencing national leaders, most notably Martin Luther King. In January 1967, many were urging Dr. King to come out against the Vietnam War. Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation, invited him to a forum the following month in Los Angeles, but many of King’s advisors warned against commenting on foreign policy, and King was reluctant to shift his focus from civil rights.

That same January, Ramparts ran a photo-essay by human rights activist and political scientist William Pepper called “The Children of Vietnam.” It showed in hideous detail the effects of U.S. bombing and protracted warfare on that country’s children. The preface by pediatrician and bestselling author Dr. Benjamin Spock claimed that one million children “had been killed or wounded or burned in the war America is carrying on in Vietnam.”

Predictably, Time magazine denigrated Ramparts for its journalistic and moral shortcomings. In its January 6 issue, Time maintained that the first CIA story “had already been published in book form elsewhere” and noted that Ramparts had moved its office to “one of those topless streets in San Francisco’s New Left bohemia.” The final paragraph spelled out the moral for readers who might otherwise have missed it:

Ramparts is slick enough to lure the unwary and bedazzled reader into accepting flimflam as fact. After boasting that the January issue would “document” that a million Vietnamese children had been killed or wounded in the war, it produced a mere juggling of highly dubious statistics and a collection of very touching pictures, some of which could have been taken in any distressed country.

No story here, apparently, and no need for Americans to worry about the effects of bombing Vietnam’s civilian population.

That month, Dr. King left for Jamaica for four weeks of solitude and writing. At the airport, he bought several magazines and met his friend, Bernard Lee, for lunch. Lee later recalled that King reacted strongly to the Vietnam story:

When he came to Ramparts magazine, he stopped. He froze as he looked at the pictures from Vietnam. He saw a picture of a Vietnamese mother holding her dead baby, a baby killed by our military. Then Martin just pushed the plate of food away from him. I looked up and said, “Doesn’t it taste any good?,” and he answered, “Nothing will ever taste any good for me until I do everything I can to end that war.”

King wasn’t the only one moved by that piece; many staff members were in tears while working on the spread, and it gave art director Dugald Stermer nightmares. He later said it was “just about the nastiest job I’ve ever had.”

When he returned from Jamaica, King spoke against the war in Los Angeles, but he saved his strongest comments for a speech at the Riverside Church on April 4, exactly one year before his assassination. King listed seven reasons for stopping the war and urged the U.S. government, which he called “the major purveyor of violence in the world,” to end the bombing and set a date for troop withdrawal. “We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world—a world that borders on our doors,” he concluded. “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

After the speech, King was buoyant. Although he was criticized in the mainstream media, he was satisfied with his position. In his study of King during this time, David Garrow noted that he “finally made the moral declaration he had felt obligated to deliver ever since that January day when he saw the photos in Ramparts.” King offered Ramparts exclusive publication rights for the speech, which ran the following month with the title “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam.” At a Southern Leadership Christian Conference meeting that year, he told his colleagues, “I picked up an article entitled ‘The Children of Vietnam,’ and I read it, and after reading that article I said to myself, ‘Never again will I be silent on an issue that is destroying the soul of our nation and destroying thousands and thousands of little children in Vietnam.’ ”

***

As Ramparts’ national influence grew, its hometown was experiencing a historical transformation. In the spring and summer of 1967, roughly 75,000 young people flocked to San Francisco to create or sample the novel scene that was emerging there. Black musicians called the earliest arrivals “hipsters,” but San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen changed that to “hippies.” After Ramparts picked up the term, the name stuck.

The scene’s epicenter was Haight-Ashbury, originally an affluent neighborhood of ornate Victorian homes that had survived the 1906 earthquake. After World War II, many were divided into flats in response to an acute housing shortage, and their owners began moving out to newer suburbs. By the 1960s, the Haight had become a plentiful source of low-rent housing. It also offered easy access to Golden Gate Park’s 1,000 acres of woodlands, meadows, lakes, gardens, and recreation areas.

The Haight was to the hippies what North Beach was to the Beats, but its animating spirit differed from its precursor’s. In their landmark work on the social history of LSD, Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain summarized that difference:

More than anything the Haight was a unique state of mind, an arena of exploration and celebration. The new hipsters had cast aside the syndrome of alienation and despair that saddled many of the their beatnik forebears. The accent shifted from solitude to communion, from the individual to the interpersonal.

Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters reflected that change in spirit. They had generated a festive scene in and around Kesey’s home in La Honda, a tiny community in the coastal mountains south of San Francisco. Their activities included wild parties with Hunter Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, and the Hell’s Angels; a freewheeling cross-country trip in a brightly painted school bus; and a series of “acid tests” in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, where revelers tripped on LSD. In January 1966, Kesey and the Pranksters also organized the Trips Festival, a three-day blowout in Golden Gate Park with music, guerrilla theater, mime exhibitions, trampolines, and plenty of acid. Jerry (“Captain Trips”) Garcia performed with his band, the Grateful Dead, and later described the event as “thousands of people, man, all helplessly stoned. … It was magic, far-out beautiful magic.” When LSD was outlawed in October 1966, Kesey and the Pranksters convened an Acid Test Graduation on Halloween; the event’s theme, Kesey told television reporters, was “trip or treat.”

book cover

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

By Peter Richardson

New Press, 272 pages

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In January 1967, the Diggers, a radial community-action group of improvisational actors, sponsored the Human Be-In, which drew more than 20,000 people to Golden Gate Park. First announced in the San Francisco Oracle, an underground newspaper published in Haight-Ashbury, the event was described as “a gathering of tribes” to celebrate countercultural values. Speakers included Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder, and various San Francisco bands performed. But even by that time, some participants had misgivings about the Haight-Ashbury scene. Decades later, Grateful Dead singer Bob Weir recalled the warning signs:

Even before the summer of ’67, the strangers coming in were starting to outnumber the rest of us. We weren’t quite getting the riffraff yet—people with missing teeth and stuff like that. But the folks who lived in our youth ghetto in Haight-Ashbury in ’65 and ’66 were of an artistic bent, almost all of them. Everyone brought something to the party. By the time of the Be-In, people were coming just to be at the party, not bringing anything. I could see the whole thing tilting.

Hunter Thompson had reached the same conclusion. He gloried in the early days of “Hashbury,” which he later identified as his time and place:

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. … You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. … And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail.

Yet even before the Summer of Love rolled around, Thompson felt the magic slipping away. “By the end of ’66,” he wrote later, “the whole neighborhood had become a cop-magnet and a bad sideshow.” The rest of the world was still fascinated, however, and Thompson advanced his budding career by describing the kaleidoscopic scene for the New York Times Magazine.

Theodore Roszak famously coined the term counterculture to describe this milieu, whose participants tended to share an interest in radical politics, psychedelic experience (“counterfeit infinity,” in Roszak’s parlance), sexual freedom, an aversion to technocracy, and an interest in Eastern religions, mysticism, and the occult. Roszak’s study was by no means an uncritical celebration of this culture. He enjoyed puncturing its rhetorical excesses, including this passage from the Oracle on avoiding hepatitis:

Doing your thing doesn’t have to include dumping bad Karma on your soul-brothers. Don’t touch food or drink or prepare it, without first thoroughly washing your hands, especially if you’ve just been to the john. … You can even afford to get up tight about it, especially if your home is of the tribal kind.

“My pre-tribal father,” Roszak noted, “used to phrase this piece of folk wisdom as: ‘You wash up before you sit down at this table!’ But I seem to remember being about five years old at the time.”

Roszak also wondered about the politics of the counterculture and its histrionic resistance to traditional values. The angriest dissenters, he observed, staged heroic confrontations that “opened themselves to the most obvious kinds of police and military violence:”

They quickly draw the conclusion that the status quo is supported by nothing more than bayonets, overlooking the fact that these bayonets enjoy the support of a vast consensus which has been won for the status quo by means far more subtle and enduring than armed force.

On balance, however, Roszak was sympathetic to the youthful revolt against technocracy and managerial liberalism. He was also receptive to Eastern spirituality. His conclusion cited Chuang Tzu and the virtues of government through non-action; his source was a book by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who had contributed several articles to Ramparts in its earliest days.

Although Roszak was a Bay Area academic, he wrote his groundbreaking articles for Carey McWilliams at The Nation before producing his seminal book, The Making of a Counter Culture, in 1969. Likewise, McWilliams commissioned Hunter Thompson’s articles on two Bay Area phenomena, the Hell’s Angels and Free Speech Movement. Neither man wrote any signed pieces for Ramparts, though Thompson regarded the magazine highly and was listed as a contributing editor after he moved to Aspen. That esteem was evident in his later account of meeting Hinckle:

I met [Hinckle] through his magazine, Ramparts. I met him before Rolling Stone ever existed. Ramparts was a crossroads of my world in San Francisco, a slicker version of The Nation—with glossy covers and such. Warren had a genius for getting stories that could get placed on the front page of the New York Times. He had a beautiful eye for what story had a high, weird look to it. You know, busting the Defense Department—Ramparts was real left, radical. I paid a lot of attention to them and ended up being a columnist. Ramparts was the scene until some geek withdrew the funding and it collapsed. Jann Wenner, who founded Rolling Stone, actually worked there in the library—he was a copy boy or something.

Thompson also felt close enough to Ramparts to offer management pointers to Hinckle. After a visit to 301 Broadway, he struck off one of his famous letters:

Again … it was a good show over there, and my advice to you is to give up all forms of booze and bookkeepers for the duration of the crisis. Moderation in all things. When you turn up a freak on the staff, don’t just fire him/her—pursue him into the very bowels of the economy and queer his act for all time. And get that nigger off the premises. You’ve got to get a grip on yourself. Otherwise … they’ll cut your throat.

Closer in every way to the San Francisco counterculture than The Nation would ever be, Ramparts did surprisingly little original reporting on it. The radicals on the staff were unimpressed by the flower children’s fantasies about transcending politics, and Hinckle viewed the city’s newest residents skeptically. “The hippies grew up in my backyard,” he noted in his memoir. “I did not find them good neighbors.”

Yet it was Hinckle who wrote the magazine’s major article on the phenomenon, “A Social History of the Hippies.” In that March 1967 piece, Hinckle described the scene and its main players, but he also argued that the Beats, the hippies’ immediate precursors, personified two dissonant political strains: fascism (as embodied by Jack Kerouac) and resistance (as embodied by Allen Ginsberg). That analysis led to a surprising conclusion:

The danger in the hippie movement is more than overcrowded streets and possible hunger riots this summer. If more and more youngsters begin to share the hippie posture of unrelenting quietism, the future of activist, serious politics is bound to be affected. The hippies have shown that it can be pleasant to drop out of the arduous task of attempting to steer a difficult, unrewarding society. But when that is done, you leave the driving to the Hell’s Angels.

Hinckle’s article so enraged Ralph Gleason, a Ramparts contributing editor and Chronicle music critic, that he promptly resigned from the magazine. Jessica Mitford noted Gleason’s displeasure, which he aired at a meeting of the editorial board:

He was not consulted about the Hippie article, which was full of inaccuracies. He was originally supposed to write this article, but Hink III went ahead without his knowledge, first thing he knew about it was when it was in print. In February, he wrote a furious letter of resignation and demanded that this letter should be printed in the mag. He got no acknowledgment, nobody contacted him at all, it was never printed. … There was much more along this line, and a good deal of son-of-a-bitching etc. I asked Ralph if he would come to a meeting with Hink/Scheer, he wasn’t sure but certainly not if it were held at Ramparts’ office, he’d never set foot in that place again. He was, in a word, simply furious with the lot of them.

Wiping his hands of Ramparts, Gleason turned his attention to another venture. While attending a concert in Longshoreman’s Hall featuring Jefferson Airplane, Gleason met Jann Wenner, a 19-year-old rock columnist for the University of California newspaper. After leaving Berkeley, Wenner traveled to London and was living in a New York suburb when Gleason wrote to him about a position at The Sunday Ramparts, the spin-off newspaper Hinckle started in 1966. Wenner returned to the Bay Area and worked on the paper’s entertainment section. There he met his future wife, Jane Schindelheim, a receptionist at Ramparts.

Wenner tried to interest Hinckle in the Bay Area’s burgeoning counterculture, but his efforts were fruitless. “They were oblivious to the cultural changes in San Francisco,” Wenner recalled. “Warren ridiculed it, and Scheer had no use for it. Dugald [Stermer] got it. He respected the artists and musicians. But I didn’t have much to do with Warren, and I didn’t get along with Scheer, who asked me to get his coffee.”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

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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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