Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More on Sol Stern and Ramparts

Sol Stern's piece on Ramparts was quickly picked up by Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media and David Horowitz's staff at FrontPage. I responded to Radosh's post, Sol replied to my comment, and I answered Sol's.

I can't be sure any minds were changed, but at least I wasn't preaching to the choir. I don't think Ron Radosh had read my book, but Sol's personal experience at Ramparts and familiarity with my account forced me to defend my claims about the magazine and its legacy.

The truth is I'd much rather argue with someone like Sol than rehearse my points with an uninformed sympathizer.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sol Stern on Ramparts

Sol Stern, one of Ramparts magazine's key staff writers, just published a piece in City Journal on the magazine and its legacy. Sol either wrote or contributed to some of Ramparts' most important articles, including two on the CIA's involvement with Michigan State University and the National Student Association (NSA). He also wrote the first big piece on the Black Panthers for the New York Times Magazine. In short, his perspective on Ramparts and its achievement is a very valuable one.

In this new article, Sol argues that Ramparts' legacy "was not a positive one for the country." He recalls Warren Hinckle's improvidence and appetite for conspiracy theories, and he regrets his own role in creating "the myth of the Black Panthers as righteous rebels fighting off brutal police oppression." Sol also laments the turn the magazine took after David Horowitz and Peter Collier took over. For him, Exhibit A is the May 1970 cover, which showed the Isla Vista branch of the Bank of America in flames, the culmination of student protests at UC Santa Barbara. The caption declared that the incineration of the bank "may have done more for the environment than all the teach-ins put together."

Sol makes a number of other points, but you get the idea. He also maintains that whatever good the magazine did was for the wrong reasons. After questioning the claim in my subtitle--that Ramparts magazine changed America--Sol concedes the point but characterizes that change as "baleful."

Sol's article suggests that my book is unclear about the nature of that change, but I spell it out clearly in the final chapter. Ramparts magazine changed America by reviving the muckraking tradition, by triggering the first attempts to rein in the CIA, and by promoting the civil rights, anti-war, and Black Power movements.

I agree with Sol (and Bob Scheer) that the left's contempt for Cold War liberals was, on balance, counterproductive. Many Ramparts folks I interviewed were ambivalent at best about the Panthers, and most agreed that the Ho-Coll years, when the Bank of America cover appeared, were not the magazine's heyday. But even if we grant Sol's misgivings about the magazine's specific contributions and motives, I think the scale still tilts toward a positive effect on the nation's media, governance, and society.

Consider, for example, the case of Dr. Martin Luther King. While Ronald Reagan was receiving standing ovations for his opposition to fair housing legislation, Ramparts was a staunch ally of Dr. King. When King decided to oppose the war after reading "The Children of Vietnam" in Ramparts, he submitted the text of his famous Riverside Church speech to the magazine, which ran it the next month. Predictably, the mainstream media criticized King for coming out against the war, which even LBJ knew was unwinnable. As Ramparts staffer Bill Turner asked me rhetorically, "When you look back on it, where else would those articles appear? The Saturday Evening Post?"

Consider, too, the case of the CIA. When Ramparts exposed the agency's links to Michigan State University and the NSA, readers were shocked, but that indicates how little Americans knew about the agency's more nefarious activities. The CIA responded by launching an illicit investigation of the magazine and then widening that investigation to include other publications. When Sy Hersh exposed that surveillance in the New York Times, Congress set up its first oversight committees. We soon learned about a wide range of CIA and FBI mischief, including COINTELPRO (to investigate Dr. King and others) and the CIA's recruitment of American mobsters to whack Castro.

i would argue that Ramparts was on the right side of history in both cases. Or would we rather live in a country where the government illegally spies on its civic leaders and journalists, allows landlords to rent only to whites, and decimates countries like Vietnam when that serves some geopolitical purpose?

If those questions hit a little too close to home, maybe that's because they aren't merely academic.

This has become a long post, so I'll leave it here for now. But I encourage you to read Sol's piece and see what you think.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Alice McGrath's Memorial in Ventura

I missed Alice McGrath's memorial party in Ventura, but my daughter Ashley, who met Alice last year, said it was very inspiring. The turnout was predictably great, with heavy representation from the legal community, which held her in great respect for her work dating back to the Sleepy Lagoon trial in the 1940s. That's when she met Carey McWilliams, who changed her life.

I met Alice while working on the McWilliams bio, and I saw her often after that. What a pistol. I'm so glad I met her, and though I'm sad she's gone, I'm thrilled that her life was celebrated by (many of) the people whose lives she touched.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Ramparts Chat on KALW's "Your Call"

I'm listening to my interview with Rose Aguilar on KALW's "Your Call." We taped it last month before Rose left for a long vacation in New Zealand. I never caught the air date, but several friends let me know they heard it on Thursday.

What a pleasure to have a long talk with someone as prepared and receptive as Rose. She does a fantastic job on that show, which introduced me to many other fine programs on KALW, including "Left, Right, and Center," "Counterspin," and "Le Show." I hope her batteries are fully recharged when she returns.

Full disclosure: I acquired and edited Rose's book, Red Highways, for PoliPointPress.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Socialist Review on Ramparts Book

Patrick Ward offers an assessment of A Bomb in Every Issue in the January issue of Socialist Review. Ward has his criticisms, but the overall judgment is very gratifying--especially in light of other favorable reviews from conservative periodicals. In that sense, the Ramparts story seems to transcend the blunt categories we usually bandy about in political discussions.

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The Nation and the FBI

I've been talking a lot about Ramparts and its CIA saga, but I'm glad Richard Lingeman has returned our attention to an earlier row between the FBI and The Nation. Lingeman's article, "The File's Tale," shows how the FBI responded to Fred Cook's investigation of the bureau in 1958. Not pretty.

In fact, The Nation under Carey McWilliams shared many of Ramparts' virtues, but their styles were quite different. If Ramparts was a thoroughbred, The Nation was a workhorse, churning out its weekly on a modest budget to a smaller audience. McWilliams was incapable of Warren Hinckle's extravagance, but he turned a journal of opinion into a forum for investigative journalism and shepherded the magazine through the McCarthy era, its most difficult period.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Peter Collier Review in The New Criterion

I was delighted to see Peter Collier's review of the Ramparts book in The New Criterion. Few people were in a better position to see the magazine steadily and whole. Peter started as an editor after working for Bob Scheer's 1966 congressional campaign and stayed on through 1972, when he and David Horowitz were running Ramparts.

Like David, Peter has repudiated the magazine and its politics. Actually, he has flayed them energetically for decades now. So it was no surprise that he thought I was too sympathetic to Ramparts' principals and achievements. To make that charge stick, he had to flatten out my perspective a bit--perhaps knowingly, since he cites material from the book that would disturb even a hardcore leftist.

Peter gave the book good marks on accuracy, but I had to laugh when he mentioned a Ramparts hoax I was unaware of. And this after I mocked the flatfooted media types who fell for the magazine's Warren Commission send-up. More evidence that humility is often the best intellectual posture.

You'll also find some fine phrase-making in Peter's review, including a reference to Warren Hinkle's "heroic Irish liver."

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Friday, January 01, 2010

MoJo Book Picks

Another good day for the Ramparts book: Mother Jones picked it as a top book of 2009, and "CounterSpin" rebroadcast our interview, this time with D.D. Guttenplan's discussion of I.F. Stone.