• U.S.

Magazines: A Bomb in Every Issue

4 minute read

Ramparts magazine greeted the New Year with a straight left jab to the public jaw. A full-page ad in the New York Times last week featured a blowup of the January cover: a nauseous photo of a crucifixion complete with a pudgy Jesus and two U.S. infantrymen standing guard with bayonets. The magazine, which came out last week, contains what its management claims are pictures of some of the “one million children killed, wounded or burned in the war America is carrying on in Viet Nam.” It also advances another conspiracy theory on the Kennedy assassination.

In November, the magazine contended that the unrelated deaths of thirteen people vaguely connected with the events in Dallas indicated that conspirators were trying to cover up; in this issue, it argues that there were three assassins, two firing from the rear and one from the front.

That kind of shock-for-shock’s-sake has proved too much for many readers.

It has also proved too much for more than 100,000 readers to resist. At the start of 1965, Ramparts’ circulation stood at 15,000, which remakes the old point that sensationalism sells—at least for a while. Made up with zip and full of color photos, Ramparts avoids the drab look of most leftist magazines. And no other left-wing publication in the U.S. pursues shock more relentlessly or plays around more with fact. “We look at things from a moral point of view,” explains Editor Warren Hinckle III, 28.

“That’s what the new politics is all about.”

Bored with the Church. Ramparts was founded in 1962 as a liberal Roman Catholic quarterly by Edward Keating, 41, an articulate San Franciscan with a sizable inheritance. When the magazine went nowhere, Keating readily gave up religious commentary for political muckraking. “Quite frankly,” says Hinckle, “there weren’t enough Catholic laymen to write for and to buy the magazine. Besides, we got bored with just the church.”

They have not been bored since. Their avowed strategy is to plant what they call “bombs” in every issue. “We’re not just interested in sticking a story in the magazine,” says Promotion Director Jerry Mander, “but seeing that something comes of it.” Many of Ramparts’ “bombs” have been lying around undetonated for a long time. The giant conspiracy theory was really a rehash of a pastiche of rumor, coincidence and front-porch speculation assembled by a Midlothian, Texas, newspaper editor (TIME, Nov. 11).

A Ramparts “exposé” of the fact that Michigan State University had trained a CIA-infiltrated Vietnamese police force had already been published in book form elsewhere. But Ramparts had the savvy to release the article to the New York Times a day before the rest of the press knew about it. “We worked very closely with the Times,” says Mander. “The Times legitimized the story.” And the Times has legitimized other Ramparts stories that might have gone unnoticed.

Radical Gags. Unable to get much advertising because of its controversial editorial content, Ramparts lost about $500,000 last year, Hinckle says. But it runs no risk as long as it has his enthusiastic support, plus that of several other radical-leaning San Francisco businessmen and intellectuals. Ramparts pays the going rate for contributions, supports a staff of 26, many of whom are political activists as well as ardent journalists. Managing Editor Robert Scheer ran for Congress in the Democratic primary last year on a New Left platform calling for unilateral withdrawal from Viet Nam. He lost, but he gave Incumbent Jeffery Cohelan a rough fight. Keating himself ran unsuccessfully in a congressional primary in San Mateo County.

Ramparts began publishing in Menlo Park, Calif., which was, as Hinckle puts it, “a ridiculous place to publish a magazine.” So it moved to one of those topless streets in San Francisco’s New Left Bohemia. The staffers fill the magazine with clever if sophomoric humor. Public figures distasteful to Ramparts are pictured as various beasts of prey. The latest, Columnist Max Lerner, is shown as a “Common Boar” who would rather be “fed than red.”

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. To drive the point home, the magazine recruited Dr. Benjamin Spock to write an emotional preface to the article. The doctor did not go to Viet Nam. In writing the preface, all that he knew he had read in Ramparts.

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