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A history of Ramparts magazine
Metamorphosed from mildly modernising/dissident Catholic think-rag (featuring, at least once, Thomas Merton) of the period 1962-65, into ultimate radical chic provocateur (1967-75).

Ran a number of influential - and, in some instances, thoroughly misleading - pieces on the Dallas coup; the CIA; and some intermittent Chomsky.

Predictably, I thought it was rather closer to a wing of the CIA than it let on. But that's just me. See also the hugely enjoyable If You Have Lemon, Make Lemonade: An Essential Memoir of a Lunatic Decade by editor Warren Hinckle (NY: GP Putnam's Sons, 1974?).

Counterpunch, Weekend Edition, September 4-6, 2009

Remembering Ramparts: Agitator Journalism

By Ron Jacobs

Quote:Many folks oriented toward the New Left in the 1960s and early 1970s have a story or two about Ramparts magazine. I personally discovered the periodical in a bookstore magazine rack in College Park, MD in late 1969. I was with a couple friends from high school. The November antiwar protests were over. My friends were buying some books for school and I was reading MAD magazine when I noticed the Ramparts cover. It featured Yippie Jerry Rubin wearing a bandolier and waving a gun. One of the featured articles was about the Pigasus campaign for president--a pointed spoof by the Yippies and others of the US presidential campaign in 1968. When my friends were ready to go, I purchased the issue along with a copy of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf and the latest issue of the local underground Quicksilver Times. A couple days later, I found out that the older brother of another friend of mine had several issues of Ramparts. Whenever I went to his house, I caught up on my reading while listening to his rock and roll collection.

Ramparts was a unique magazine in the annals of US publishing. Flashy, irreverent and replete with quality muckraking and commentary, it represented the unaffiliated segment of the antiwar and antiracist movements of the period. Originally begun as a liberal Catholic monthly in the early 1960s, by 1966 it was well on its way to being the primary journal read by those movement's adherents. A big reason for its popularity and journalistic success was its early editorial leadership of Edward Keating and Warren Hinckle and the dynamics between the two men. Never truly financial successful, Ramparts challenged the mainstream magazine culture of Time and Life while publishing articles quoted and referred to by establishment heavies like The New York Times.

Peter Richardson, editorial director of PoliPoint Press, has recently published a history of the magazine. The only such history, A Bomb In Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America, does a worthy job of documenting the important moments in Ramparts history. He tells about its gradual shift from the liberal Catholic magazine envisioned by its founder to a radical journal championing the left wing of the antiwar movement and the Black liberation movement. Focused primarily on the years when Hinckle and Keating ran the magazine's office, Richardson describes Hinckle's fundraising adventures, his flamboyant and outrageous style, the editorial debates over certain stories and the effect some of those stories had on fundraising and their targets. He also discusses the reaction of the US government and its agencies to Ramparts stories like the 1967 piece on CIA funding of the National Student Association and other supposedly independent organizations. Richardson details the arrival of Eldridge Cleaver on the Ramparts staff, examines the magazine's role in the antiwar movement and looks at its response to the growing feminist movement of the period.

Running behind Richardson's narrative about the magazine's editorial direction is another narrative about money. Rarely if ever showing a profit, Ramparts managed to publish for thirteen years. According to Richardson, much of this was due to Hinckle's fundraising efforts. Also, according to Richardson, it was Hinckle who spent a good deal of the money. The magazine actually closed down for a couple months in the winter of 1968-1969. When it came back to life it was run by two new leftists who eventually become mad-dog rightists: David Horowitz and Peter Collier. It was this incarnation of the magazine that I was most familiar with. Indeed, my subscription ran from 1970 until the magazine's demise in 1975. Like the New Left itself, the Ramparts of this period reflected the ultra-radical sentiments of the period. It also attempted to address women's issues in a genuinely non-sexist manner. Like the Hinckle-Keating creation, Ramparts under Horowitz and Collier continued to attract topnotch writers, despite its inability to pay well or at all.

If there is a fault with Richardson's book, it would be his obsession with the relationship of the Black Panther Party to Ramparts. If anything, he over dramatizes the relationship while also overplaying it. One assumes that this is the result of his discussions with the aforementioned David Horowitz-- neocon organizer and Panther hater. This obsession tends to distract from the overall evenness of the book and lends more credibility to Horowitz than he deserves. Despite this detraction, A Bomb In Every Issue is an important addition to the history of the period known as the Sixties and a worthwhile read. It serves as a reminder of the powerful possibilities of the printed word and an inspiration to those of us who believe that journalism can be entertaining, intelligent and threaten the status quo.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at:
Paul Rigby Wrote:Metamorphosed from mildly modernising/dissident Catholic think-rag (featuring, at least once, Thomas Merton) of the period 1962-65, into ultimate radical chic provocateur (1967-75).

Ran a number of influential - and, in some instances, thoroughly misleading - pieces on the Dallas coup; the CIA; and some intermittent Chomsky.

Predictably, I thought it was rather closer to a wing of the CIA than it let on. But that's just me. See also the hugely enjoyable If You Have Lemon, Make Lemonade: An Essential Memoir of a Lunatic Decade by editor Warren Hinckle (NY: GP Putnam's Sons, 1974?).

Counterpunch, Weekend Edition, September 4-6, 2009

Remembering Ramparts: Agitator Journalism

By Ron Jacobs

Quote:Published: October 8, 2009

Ramparts stands with a handful of 20th-century American magazines — Playboy, the Harold Hayes-era Esquire, Rolling Stone, Spy and Wired — whose glory days continue to influence editors. Each of these magazines not only grabbed the zeitgeist but shaped it. If you’ve never heard of Ramparts or have only vague awareness of its significance, Peter Richardson’s compact history, “A Bomb in Every Issue,” will assure you of its place in the magazine pantheon.


How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America

By Peter Richardson

Illustrated. 247 pp. The New Press. $25.95


Excerpt: ‘A Bomb in Every Issue’ (October 7, 2009)
Dwight Garner’s Review of ‘A Bomb in Every Issue’ (October 7, 2009)

This San Francisco Bay Area magazine didn’t live long, starting in 1962 as a quarterly and expiring in 1975. Its very best pages appeared between 1966 and 1968: in that short span, it restored the lapsed institution of muckraking, put showmanship back into journalism, exposed Central Intelligence Agency excesses, helped turn Martin Luther King Jr. against the Vietnam War, gave radicalism a commercial megaphone and boosted the careers of such notable journalists as Warren *Hinckle (who gave the magazine its heart), Robert Scheer (who gave it its brain), Adam Hochschild, David Horo*witz, Peter Collier and Jann Wenner.

Like those other great magazines, Ramparts influenced competitors across the media universe. Richardson, the author of “American Prophet,” a book about Carey McWilliams of The Nation, credits Ramparts with inspiring the investigative edge of “60 Minutes” and says that when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, “it was claiming part of Ramparts’ territory.” It was the magazine Time loved to hate, calling it “slick enough to lure the unwary and bedazzled reader into accepting flimflam as fact” in a 1967 article titled “A Bomb in Every Issue.”

Schooling the mainstream media wasn’t on the agenda when the trust-funder Edward M. Keating published the first issue. The institution in his sights was the Catholic Church, which he hoped to liberalize by sponsoring a dialogue between the clergy and the laity. As liberal Catholic literary quarterlies went, it was a worthy magazine, dispensing poetry prizes and publishing Thomas Merton’s meditations on the gathering black revolution. But it wasn’t until Warren Hinckle, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, jockeyed his way from promotions director to the executive editorship in 1964 that Ramparts really became Ramparts. The transformation would prove as dramatic as if Partisan Review had gone to bed one night and woken up the next day as Guns and Ammo.

A sensationalist in both life and work, *Hinckle liked to second George M. Cohan’s maxim that whatever you do, you should “always serve it with a little dressing.” He looked like a dandy, drank the way other people breathed, sweet-talked one wealthy person after another into financing the magazine, spent their money with abandon, kept a monkey named after Henry Luce in the office, hyped every issue to the bursting point and, more often than not, produced a magazine that was worthy of that hype. He was a pirate, as everybody noted, right down to the eye patch.

Publishing breakthrough articles was only part of the formula, according to Adam Hochschild. The key, in his words, was to “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.”

Hinckle had a partner in this success, a working-class Bronx kid turned radical academic named Robert Scheer. The duo wasn’t so much Lennon and McCartney as Ringo and George. The rascal *Hinckle meshed so perfectly with the serious Scheer that Jessica Mitford, a contributor, took to calling them “Hink/Scheer.”

Ramparts’ first big story came in 1966, when Scheer revealed the C.I.A.’s partnership with Michigan State University in the training of police officers in South Vietnam and the writing of the South Vietnamese Constitution. “Before the Michigan State story, the C.I.A. rarely received negative press, much less strict oversight,” Richardson writes. Outraged, the C.I.A. retaliated with a secret investigation of Ramparts’ staff and investors in hopes of uncovering foreign influence, but it found nothing.

In 1967, the magazine struck again, uncovering the agency’s clandestine backing of the National Student Association, an organization that represented American students at international meetings. Unable to stop the scoop, the C.I.A. sought to deflate it by scheduling a press conference at which leaders of the association would confess to the connection. When Hinckle found out, he pre-empted the C.I.A. by purchasing full-page ads in The Times and The Washington Post touting his forthcoming article. The agency fought back with even more snooping — clearly illegal — as it “investigated 127 writers and researchers and 200 other Americans connected to the magazine,” Richardson writes. Readers loved it: circulation rose from 149,000 to 229,000.

Traditionally, radical journalism came packaged in the graphic equivalent of jeans and a work shirt. But the hip, slick and provocative look that the Ramparts art director, Dugald Stermer, lent the publication gave even Esquire a case of envy (it tried to hire him). For the Michigan State article, Stermer ran illustrations of all the principals dressed in M.S.U. athletic garb. An interview with Hugh Hefner was accompanied by a foldout featuring Hef. A piece about assassination conspiracies repurposed a photo of John F. Kennedy as a nearly completed jigsaw puzzle.

The magazine’s success prompted Hinckle to daydream about a media empire that would include TV and radio stations. He actually got a Sunday Ramparts newspaper off the ground in 1966, but when it folded the next year it tossed the young Jann Wenner out of work. Wenner promptly appropriated the paper’s design — with Stermer’s permission — to serve as the template for Rolling Stone.

Ramparts was very much a creature of the Bay Area’s rebellious climate. It identified with the uprisings at Berkeley, endorsed the authority-questioning ethos of the Beats (although Hinckle spurned the hippies) and drew on the region’s radical tradition. Scheer even ran for Congress in 1966, challenging an incumbent liberal Democrat in a district that included Oakland and Berkeley. (He lost.)

The magazine injected itself directly into local, radical politics with its sponsorship of the Black Panther Party. “Ramparts made celebrities of the Blank Panthers,” Richardson writes, “and their star power increased the magazine’s cachet.” Thanks to the magazine’s sponsorship of the party and Eldridge Cleaver, who became a staff writer, the Panthers were recognized around the world as revolutionaries.

The Ramparts-Panther romance, which began in 1967, looks naïve today. The magazine’s skeptical radar could penetrate government lies but failed to detect this violent organization’s essence. David Horowitz, who along with Peter Collier led the magazine after Hinckle was pushed out in 1969, laments the legitimization of the Panthers and blames them for the murder of a former Ramparts employee, Betty Van Patter, who did bookkeeping for the party.

Although Ramparts continued to break important stories that the establishment press ignored, the magazine didn’t glisten after Hinckle the impresario left. Richardson attributes the decline to a number of causes. Like all niche-creating magazines, Ramparts attracted competition that wound up stealing readers; at the same time, it abandoned part of its audience by embracing New Left orthodoxy, which “rejected anything short of revolution.” The magazine also ran out of liberal millionaire donors. Its accrued losses must have run into the tens of millions, making it unlike pantheon magazines that made money.

The lessons Ramparts taught American journalism are still being studied wherever investigative reporting is practiced. The magazine showed that the rarest asset in journalism is picking the right set of questions, usually the ones nobody else has the sense to ask. This book satisfies on every level and whets the appetite for a big, fat Ramparts anthology.

Jack Shafer writes about the media for Slate.
Paul Rigby Wrote:Metamorphosed from mildly modernising/dissident Catholic think-rag (featuring, at least once, Thomas Merton) of the period 1962-65, into ultimate radical chic provocateur (1967-75).

Ran a number of influential - and, in some instances, thoroughly misleading - pieces on the Dallas coup; the CIA; and some intermittent Chomsky.

Predictably, I thought it was rather closer to a wing of the CIA than it let on. But that's just me.

In its October 1966 edition, Ramparts dedicated its central section to a lengthy, advert-free, investigation of the JFK assassination, the David Welsh-edited In The Shadow of Dallas. In the same edition, on the worn heels of William W. Turner’s penitential memoir of FBI service – “I was a burglar, wiretapper, bugger and spy for the FBI,” a title that read rather more prosaically, one imagines, in the US than the UK - not to mention three pages of vintage Ginsberg gibberish, it served up the most famous spoof in the canon of JFK assassination literature, the review by Jacob Brackman (“a staff editor of the New Yorker magazine”) and Faye Levin (“a graduate of Radcliffe…published in the Harvard crimson”) of a non-existent book by an imaginary author: Ulov G. K. Leboeuf’s self-published tetralogy, Time of the Assassins.

As with most successful satires, the review prepared its trap with some care. It began by examining three real works - by Epstein (Legend), Weisberg (Whitewash I), and Lane (Rush to Judgment) – which the duo briskly considered before dismissing them with a judgment of some acuity. All three works, they noted, suffered from an “overweaning reluctance to point a finger.” Then it was on to Leboeuf, and a piece of sustained mockery which combined the knowingness of Monocle, that who’s who of CIA officers and literary fellow-travellers, with a buff’s eye for testimony detail, albeit of a special kind – that which the nominal opposition under review never mentioned. One paragraph has lingered with me ever since I first read it:

Quote:One eyewitness to the shooting, Merriweather Really, described the initial reaction as appearing to be an awkward, insufficiently rehearsed play. Two shots rang out in quick succession, he stated, sounding like they were coming from Kennedy’s car itself, or from one of the cars right behind. “The Vice-President slapped Andy Youngblood on the back and whooped, and the entire brigade of police and secret service men made a dash for the Knoll, almost as if,” testified Really, “they had known in advance they were going to head that way.”

Which, of course, they did:

Quote:Jack Franzen: “He noticed the men, who were presumed to be Secret Service Agents, riding in the car directly behind the President's car, unloading from the car, some with firearms in their hands, and noticed police officers and these plain clothesmen [sic] running up the grassy slope across Elm Street from his location and toward a wooded and bushy area located across Elm Street from him,” Statement to the FBI, November 24, 1963.

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