Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hemingway on Lee, Part II

Mark Hemingway replied yesterday on National Review Online to the Barbara Lee post. I really do want to let the Ramparts book do the talking on this point, because the context is important. But he's probably right that my main beef, at least in this instance, is with Barbara Lee's comment on the death of Betty Van Patter.

Did I make too big a deal out of the mistake in Hemingway's review? Probably. After all, the piece was a book review, and the mistake was in Lee's book. In fact, I tried to correct that error last year, when I saw the book in galleys at Book Expo America. I pointed it out to the fellow in the publisher's booth, and he took down the info, etc. Then the book appeared with the same mistake.

After I saw the galleys, I mentioned this passage to Tamara Baltar, Betty's daughter, who also worked for Ramparts (and later, Mother Jones and the Center for Investigative Reporting). It was a difficult conversation for me; I can't imagine what it was like for Tamara. That made it easier for me to assign a lot of significance to the mistake--both in Lee's book and in Hemingway's review.

The more important point is what Lee writes about the Panthers and Betty. Lee implies that the government may have committed the murder and then blamed it on the Panthers: "This kind of tactic had been seen before and was known to have been used by the government’s anti-Panther COINTELPRO group." I'm not convinced that's what happened here, and neither are Betty's former colleagues at Ramparts. But COINTELPRO's legacy makes that kind of comment more or less predictable.

And it wasn't just the FBI. The CIA was also keeping an eye on domestic groups, including Ramparts after the magazine exposed some of the agency's covert operations in Vietnam. When a CIA agent briefed his boss on his plans for screwing up the magazine, the boss reportedly replied, "Eddie, you have a spot of blood on your pinafore." Much of this illegality was exposed later by former Ramparts contributor Sy Hersh in the New York Times.

I don't think either end of the ideological spectrum has a monopoly on virtue here, but in the meantime, I'd like to do my small part to keep the facts straight. Sometimes that's hard enough, and I appreciate Hemingway's prompt correction to his review.



At 10:47 AM , Blogger Heminator said...


Thanks for being so reasonable. BTW, I meant what I said about looking forward to your book. Maybe I can review it somewhere - it seems like a really worthwhile subject.


Mark Hemingway

At 11:11 AM , Blogger Peter Richardson said...

Sounds good, Mark. I asked The New Press to send you an advance reading copy. I'm not betting the ranch on your full-throated approval, but I'm always happy to hear from the relatively small group of informed people who care about these things.

Lou Cannon once told me that early in his career, he sent out a letter to 40 people announcing his intention to write a book about Ronald Reagan and Jesse Unruh, then speaker of the California assembly. He got exactly two replies, one from William F. Buckley and the other from Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation.

BTW, there's a fair bit in the book about Buckley, who I think was interested in Ramparts for several reasons, including his Catholicism and CIA past. He may have welcomed the early version of Ramparts but certainly didn't like the turn it took under Warren Hinckle and Robert Scheer.

At 12:08 PM , Anonymous XBerserkeley said...

IF COINTELPRO did it to pin it on the Panthers, then why were they so inept in doing so, since in 35+ years since her murder, no one has been charged?

Panthers did it.

At 2:20 PM , Anonymous Bill Castanier said...

Hi Peter
I would be interested in interviewing you for Lansing City Pulse. Clearly your book will make some noise here. Bill Castanier
Lansing City Pulse


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