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Mendocino County Today: Monday, April 14, 2014

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WELL, SHUT MY MOUTH. I'd spotted the headline in this morning's Press Democrat, “Marijuana's thirst depleting North Coast watersheds,” a story by Glenda Anderson, and had just commented to The Major, “I'll bet Glenda doesn't mention the wine industry's illegal water diversions,” when darned if Glenda didn't mention a $33,800 fine to a Russian River Watershed grape grower last year, leaving out the name of the offender, which was Milovina, but a mention that pot growers aren't the only people drying up local streams. The rest of the story was also quite good and fact-based into the bargain. Among those facts, 24 North Coast salmon-bearing streams are assumed to have gone dry because of pot grower diversions and the number of plants being cultivated in our area is up every year. Based just on the number of plants uprooted by the cops, millions of gallons of water are sucked up annually by marijuana farmers; each mature plant requires between six and fifteen gallons a day.

THE ANNUAL POT RAIDS by multi-agency police teams seem to keep prices high enough to attract ever more producers, although we understand prices have dropped well below a thousand a pound and at least some producers are sitting on last year's bud for lack of buyers.

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HalLingALSO in the Sunday Press Democrat, an obituary for Hal Ling, whose daughter, Nancy Ling Perry, became infamous as a member of the murderous crank-left guerrilla group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, kidnapper of Patty Hearst. Ling-Perry died in the group's nationally televised, one-sided shoot-out with the LAPD. Ling's Furniture was a fixture on Santa Rosa's 4th Street for many years.

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LOOKS LIKE the South Coast has voted to approve an increased parcel tax to keep Gualala's mini-hospital, the Coast Clinic, open on weekends. A two-thirds majority had to vote yes, and by golly with only a few votes not yet counted better than 69% did indeed say yes. Officially called the Coast Life Support District, the district runs from Irish Beach in Mendocino County to Fort Ross in Sonoma County. (I think we had the Mendo boundary at Elk, but stand corrected.)

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FROM LEAH GARCHIK'S column in Friday's SF Chronicle: “Nanook of the North Bay, coming upon a phone booth in Boonville, also came upon the sign inside, offering free calls linked to a variety of items on anyone's needs list: Chase Bank, Need Cash, Now Easy Quick Loans, Need Help Finding a Job, Need a Credit Card, Check the Weather, Wells Fargo, Social Security. Also Receive God's Blessings Get Daily Prayer — but you may have to be inside that booth for the reception.”

RedwoodDriveInYUP. ANDERSON VALLEY'S last phone booth outside the Redwood Drive-In boasts all of the above neatly printed on a yellow, book size page pasted, decal-like adjacent to the phone.

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IN OTHER MENDO NEWS from the Chronicle, we find: “Earth Day in Mendocino becomes a weeklong ‘Where the Earth Is First’ festival, including mini-festivals at wineries and other venues throughout the county. Visitors can learn about being green through a car show (sic), biodynamic farm (huh?) tours, a seminar on frogs' role in the eco-system…

TO SEE a frog anywhere in Mendocino County you've got to go deep into the hills or somehow far from the proliferating, chemically-dependent vineyards whose pesticide and herbicide practices have just about finished poor old Froggy off. Well, the vineyards plus unregulated capitalism generally, whose globally warmed poisons thin-skinned Froggy can't fight off. Used to be the rain brought millions of pre-school frogs out onto the roads, so many of them you'd have to pull over to avoid squishing them. No more. All gone.

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by Tiffany Revelle

A Willits woman facing charges that she allowed a young child to be sexually molested nine years ago by her then-boyfriend claims she was herself abused by the same man, who also faces charges in the case.

Griswould, VanBeZooyen
Griswould, VanBeZooyen

Jacqueline Vanbezooyen, 48, and her two Santa Rosa defense attorneys were in Mendocino County Superior Court Wednesday to set future court dates and to request an order protecting her from co-defendant Charles Griswould, who also was present.

“We are alleging that Ms. Vanbezooyen is also a victim in this case, that Mr. Griswould threatened, harassed and intimidated her,” Jessica Zimmer, one of her defense attorneys, told the court of the reason she was asking for a protective order.

Vanbezooyen was arrested last month and faces two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child and a single count of child endangerment.

Daniel Beck, who appeared in court with Zimmer on Vanbezooyen’s behalf, said the restraining order is needed because Griswould sits near Vanbezooyen when they appear in court. Both were held at the Mendocino County Jail and were transported to court together, where they sat at opposite ends of a row of inmate seating.

Judge Ann Moorman denied the motion for a restraining order, saying the request was a civil matter. Beck said he and Zimmer plan to pursue the protective order in civil court.

The defense also asked the court to release Vanbezooyen, a former daycare provider, while her case proceeds through the courts.

Highlighting some issues she has with that motion, prosecutor Heidi Larson of the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office said Vanbezooyen had been “employed by a daycare in Redway, California, up to the day of her arrest, using a different last name.”

Zimmer said that was the first she’d heard of the claim. Moorman offered to postpone the hearing, saying Vanbezooyen’s alleged “working under a false name” would be “most concerning to me.”

Zimmer said the idea that her client had used a fake name was “somewhat erroneous,” explaining that Vanbezooyen had used “one of her former married names.”

“It is still sort of a deceitful act,” Moorman said.

Moorman agreed to continue the motion for Vanbezooyen’s release until later this month. Her bail remains at $400,000 in the meantime.

“We don’t think she is a flight risk and she should be released,” Beck said outside the courtroom.

The court will also hear a motion to split the case in two so that the defendants can proceed separately through court.

Vanbezooyen allegedly facilitated the sexual abuse of a family member who was younger than 11 between 2005 and 2006 by allowing the Utah man she was dating at the time, Griswould, to sexually abuse her family member while Vanbezooyen performed sex acts on him, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office stated previously.

Vanbezooyen was previously ordered to have no contact with the minor and to stay away from a Yuba City address while her case goes through court.

A preliminary hearing scheduled for next week was canceled at the request of Griswould’s defense attorney. The prelim is the prosecution’s chance to show a judge enough evidence to bind the defendants over for trial.

Griswould was arrested in Utah and extradited to Mendocino County to face two charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child. Andrew Higgins of the Mendocino County Public Defender’s Office represents him and asked to continue the prelim to allow him time to review the evidence.

(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

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TroyTulowitzkiI SAW a bad thing at the ballpark yesterday. It was the Saturday afternoon game between the Giants and the Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki, the great slugging shortstop, struck out swinging at a low fastball, but the Giant's catcher, Hector Sanchez, couldn't trap the pitch and it rolled, fairly slowly, all the way to the backstop as Sanchez hustled after it. Sanchez picked up the ball and looked to first base where he assumed he'd have to throw out Tulowitzki. But Tulowitzki hadn't moved off the plate. He'd simply stood there until the surprised-looking Sanchez walked up to him and tagged him out. Tulowitzki then took a long time removing his batting glove, and finally ambled on out to his shortstop job, which pays him $10 million this year. Even the most regal of stars on a swinging third strike lope off in a leisurely jog in the direction of first base. The real ballplayers, those who play the game right, guys like Hunter Pence, run down the line as fast as they can because they know anything can happen — a wild throw to first, an error on the throw by the first baseman, the catcher tripping over a bat… In this game, Denver only led by the run that they eventually won the game with, 1-0. Tulowitzki's little Me First show could, conceivably, have cost Denver the game. I almost said Tulo's egotism set a bad example, but children see so much bad behavior just walking to the ballpark, only the ones really into the game were likely to cry out, “Hey, Pop. I thought you were supposed to run to first on a passed ball third strike.” To us big kids Tulowitzki's little show means he makes so much money he's untouchable, the rules don't apply to him, that Denver's new manager, the former major leaguer Walt Weiss (who never dogged it) can't say anything to him, can't fine him, can't discipline him in any way. But Tulowitzki is a perfect metaphor for the times. People in the One Percent income bracket, whether in sports or the suites, are above the rules, above the game even.

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ANOTHER NINER DISASTER: Niners linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport after claiming he had a bomb during a security screening, airport police said.

Smith in locker room after game; after being booked for DUI
Smith in locker room after game; after being booked for DUI

Smith, 24, made the threat after he was randomly selected for a second screening at about 2pm as he went through the Transportation Security Agency checkpoint for Terminal 1.

“The suspect then became belligerent and uncooperative with the process and with the TSA agent, making a comment indicating that he was in possession of a bomb before proceeding toward the gate area,” Sgt. Karla Ortiz said in a statement.

Smith was transported to the Los Angeles Police Department where he was booked for felony false report of a bomb threat. The arrest was the latest in a string of arrests including the most recent on Sept. 20 on a charge of driving under the influence. He was arrested on the same charge in January 2012.

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by Brandon Brodt

When they arrived two blocks down Nob Hill and the top floor of their Joice Alley apartment that smelled of fresh white paint, it was 1967 and the young son they nicknamed “Tiger” was four years old. Tiger would often wait for his father at his familiar route home to the young family's apartment on Sacramento. Around 6 o’clock every evening, mother and son would wait outside to sit on the wall and watch for his dad. Soon he would appear, in button-down collared shirt and dark trousers, wool blazer slung over his shoulder. On the way to the top, he was greeted by the statue of a bowing Virgin Mary and the flowers left by passersby grateful for her eternally watchful presence.

Mom worked at the romanesque, columned edifice on California Street built after the great quake on top of the Stockton Tunnel, Metropolitan Life's national headquarters where she was one of only two Filipino employees among the hundreds employed there. Nearby, a block farther up the cable car line at the top of California, you could slip in under the welcoming neon at the Tonga Room and the glowing red of K,S,F, and O. the legendary pioneer San Francisco radio station.

KSFO carried the Giants and 49er games and was home to a host of colorful, local San Francisco deejays who brought a sophisticated wit to the air with their free-format dialogue and innovative early radio programming.

Charles, my father, would make a stop at the bar where he befriended the bartender. “Hello Ernie, I’ll have a glass of red wine. “

“Hello Chuck, how’s Josie? ” the bartender would ask.

“Doing well, you should come over to see our new baby girl."

The bartender’s name was Ernie, he was a native San Franciscan and a bachelor. Charles bent Ernie's ear on many an occasion before he made his way down the hill to our flat at Sacramento and Stockton. Ernie would meet his wife through Charles, and eventually, Ernie would inspire Charles to take a bartending course, which Charles did at the American bartending school downtown.

San Francisco was a hard-drinking town in 1967. There was always a need for bartenders. Ernie himself had noticed the large black letters of the school in the glass window above the sidewalk on Sixth Street (skid row was still on 3rd) and enrolled on the spot. Soon he was writing out cocktail recipes on index cards to help him remember how to make the gin fizzes, sours, and fancy tourist drinks like mai tais. The serious drinkers stuck to their shots and beer. He put his new skills to use by helping out with at a few banquets at the Hotel, donning a dark jacket and tie behind the bar.

When Ernie came over to our apartment to visit and see our new baby girl, he met Cora who had just immigrated and was staying with her aunt near the Cow Palace. The bartender and the new American struck up a conversation and were soon dating, and they married the next year, settling in a townhouse near Japantown.

Tiger’s dad continued to visit Ernie at the Tonga Room. The dining area was a wonder of Polynesian faux-art. Carved wooden heads and miscellaneous totems graced the entrance to the large indoor lagoon around which comfortable wicker chairs and tables were placed for lounging fantasists. Hurricane lamps and heavy ropes wrapped around wooden posts were the main décor, reminiscent of a remote dock in some backwater Asian port. A simulated rainstorm commenced every few minutes. The house band, clad in Hawaiian shirts and strumming ukuleles, rhythm guitars and crooning jazz and romantic favorites would float into the center of the pool on their raft-like stage. The craze for all things tiki was also in full-swing down the street at Tiki Bob’s, Trader Vic’s, and bars across the Bay. Upstairs in the Fairmont Hotel's famous Venetian Room, Andy Williams, Mel “the Velvet Fog” Torme, and Ella Fitzgerald were frequent performers.

KSFO was the Bay Area's go-to sports station with its Giants games and 49er broadcasts. (This was pre-Raiders, pre-A's, pre-popular Warrior's basketball.) Mornings, the great Don Sherwood presided. When Sherwood was unable to answer the morning bell, which was often given his late nights, the wry Carter B. Smith would fill in. Jim Lange, host of TV’s Dating Game show, was a fan favorite, and would host ladies' luncheons at the Columbus Avenue Cloud. On a dare, Carter B once walked from Stinson Beach to the Ferry building across the Golden Gate in a competition with Sherwood. Evenings, you didn’t want to miss the humor of Gene Simmons, or the cool dialogue of Al “Jazzbo” Collins. A professional men’s choir of men was recruited to perform an entire romantic ballad for the station i.d. and sign-offs. “when darkness settles on the city…”, as well as the signature SF Giants rallying song. “When the Giants come to town, it’s bye, bye baby. Even when the chips are down, its bye bye baby, … at Candlestick Park, root for the home team, and light the spark.” This was the sound track of my early youth, and how vivid it was compared to the blanded down, impersonal, dj's of today.

Mostly, KJAZ was the radio station heard in the living room stereo at my house. The cool, quintessential modern jazz station set the mood in my home, competing with the evening operas and symphonies my uncle preferred that he played on an yellowing, old plastic set in the back bedroom under a cloud of cigarette smoke. The low-wattage KJAZ had its repeater up on Russian Hill, just blocks away from our place on Sacramento Street. My dad, as he grew older, stopped listening to jazz, preferring classical music instead. He said the jazz music became “too hot” for him, “reminds me of a time of youthful mistakes,” he said.

Serious and energetic local artists were rolled out each night by smooth-talking deejays unconstrained by producers yelling at them to speed it up. They talked about the shows at local music clubs, the Top of the Mark, the Venetian Room, Berkeley Square, the Playboy Club, and the innumerable bars and "lounges" of the city where live music was played.

“This is KJAZ, Alameda with dinner jazz…” The cool personalities of the late night hosts seemed perfectly suited to the sophistication of San Francisco, a city unique in the world with a whole people willing to share its magic.

As a little kid, I befriended a couple of kids from young families that were living in the same Sacramento Street building, a standard wooden Frisco structure with four floors of identical two-bedroom apartment, a wooden staircase out back connecting each floor. There are still thousands of them in San Francisco. There was a big, magical garden out back that stretched up the hill from Stockton to Joice Alley. It was filled with old palms, ferns, well-manicured garden paths and flowers, and probably went back to the 19th century. The Andersons were upstairs from us. Their shy young son, who grew up and went to Harvard, roamed the garden above an abandoned gas station at the Chinatown mouth of the Stockton Tunnel where a famous San Francisco socialite, Matt Kelly lived in a bungalow behind the abandoned service station. We could see the large bouquets of fresh flowers on his kitchen table and we marveled at an elegance we didn't know existed.

There was also rambunctious, handsome boy named Aaron, whose father Jeffrey, an architect, cued up Dylan records in his apartment most every night. Another girl, a blond-haired, energetic first-grader named Lisa, whose mom was the Nude Girl On A Swing at a North Beach nightclub, lived there as well, and her parents would invite us along to picnics on nice days Ocean Beach, where we ate bologna sandwiches with mayo and lettuce on white bread and juicy pears at a safe distance from the surf.

The cable cars rumbled us to sleep every night as they made their way to the car barn at Mason Street. Kids would throw a penny on the tracks for the joy of seeing it flattened. If you were anywhere near the route on Powell street or Washington, and we were a block away, you could hear the humming of the cable running underground that pulled the little cars "halfway to the stars." Students could be seen hopping on the cars on the way to school, running and jumping on or off the sideboards. They would pass their student punch card, good for 10 rides, to the conductor in his green uniform, sometimes with the help of the other passengers in between if the conductor could not reach you.

Tiger attended the Commodore Stockton School down the block on Clay Street. He and his friends marveled at the back alleys crammed with herb shops featuring jars of medicinal snakes and other mysterious ingredients. Benevolent societies and Buddhist temples burned sweet incense and were adorned with flowers, and housewives shopped for fresh duck and moon cakes in open air produce stands. Butcher shops were everywhere. They featured pig snouts, live crab/carp, squid and prawns, and peking roast ducks hung neck-down in windows along Grant street, Stockton, all the way to Columbus Avenue where Chinatown ended and Little Italy began. Columbus represented the ancient demarcation line for the Chinese community, who were prevented from settling anywhere farther north or east.

Sixty thousand Chinese were confined to 10 square blocks of old San Francisco, and some apartments held twenty persons sharing the same bath. Many school children would attend Chinese school after their three o’clock dismissal from the elementary grades of the public schools where they learned Mandarin, calligraphy and Chinese culture. Chinese movies were on offer not far away, sappy romances and violent martial arts movies were featured together at the SUN SING on Grant. It employed a unique advertising method, broadcasting movie soundtracks on loudspeakers.


Every available storefront on these hills were crammed with merchants, sewing shops, laundries, bakeries, restaurants advertising the purely American dish “chop suey." There were gambling dens you could hear from the street in the clicking of dominoes and mah jong tiles.

The crowded streets of our geographically small neighborhood held many dark secrets, but the ghosts of early San Francisco were of little concern to youngsters. More than a century earlier, early Cantonese immigrants, mostly men, had fled the opium war and famine. To the Chinese, the city was once known as ”Gam Saan,” the Golden Mountain. American Brigadier Captain John B. Montgomery arrived in 1846 on the ship” Portsmouth”, the name given to the town square, the future center of Chinatown and main plaza of the old city. The Gold Rush census listed four thousand Chinese men and only seven women. Chinese associations or “Tongs” also established themselves in Chinatown for mutual protection, but eventual rivalries degenerated into gang war, assassinations, extortion rings, the opium trade, and the importation of prostitutes. There was lots to fight over.

Waverly Place, a block from my house, was the focal point of a seven-year turn-of–the-century gang war that claimed 60 lives until tong leader Little Pete was assassinated as he walked out of a barbershop. As children, we knew Waverly Place as the location of our favorite local playground, the troop three cub scout meetings, the swimming pool and the day care center at the YMCA across the street.

Chinese New Year brought excitement and the "pop, pop, pop" of random firecrackers, red paper envelopes, lion dancers, and the annual parade. As an after school project, the kids produced a 20 foot mural of Chinatown that was proudly displayed at the “Y” after their teacher offered it as a contribution to the New Year festivities. In the early days the parade still pushed up narrow Grant avenue, every inch of the sidewalk occupied from curb to shop window, with barely a foot or two between the parade and the spectators. Tiger was once separated from his mother in the dense New Year’s crowd, and after a terrible interval of anxiety and confusion, the crying child was returned to the family apartment just above the Stockton Tunnel. A friendly motorcycle cop had brought me home.

We'd often walk to the Bay from our creaking flats at Joice and Sacramento just down the hill from the glamorous Fairmont Hotel. We ran in and out of the many gift shops lining Grant Avenue, all of them crammed with bizarre space toys, tea sets, kung fu posters, jade, silk brush paintings, coral and pearls. The whole area was paradise for a kid with its constant firecrackers, red paper signs, lion dancers and the atonal refrains of Chinese opera combining with the firecrackers to create the sound track.

After the 1906 earthquake, the Chinese rebuilt their village quickly before supervisors could relocate them to another part of the city, adding a unique tourist-attractive “chinoiserie” touch to their buildings. Many Chinese who had not acquired citizenship or permanent resident status took advantage of the earthquake by claiming that their records had burned in the fire that consumed the old city hall.

We attended Sunday school across the street from our apartment building. My father was not profoundly religious, but he had been confirmed at the German Lutheran church run by his grandfather on Chicago’s south side. My mother was and is Catholic, and both parents believed in the value of a moral education and a knowledge of the Bible. We would cross the street to the old brick Presbyterian church at the corner of Joice and Sacramento built out red brick predating the quake. We'd run up the steps and push open the large wooden doors to be greeted with a smile by the kindly minister who always wore a brown suit and sported a hip goatee.

“Good to see you kids this morning! Go on downstairs, your teachers are waiting for you.” The three children from across the street would scramble down to the lower level where high schoolers would read to them from colorful bibles or take them on walks to other churches, temples, and parks. In the fall, the church put on a big weekend carnival complete with a dunk tank, games, and freshly baked goods.

My father was forever encouraging our education in other ways as well. In addition to the multiplication tables he posted on the icebox and special math books for the kids, he collected all manner of reading material; an encyclopedia that came by mail and a book of the month. "We'll get the whole history of civilization delivered monthly," my father announced upon the arrival of the first tome. It was the history of Mesopotamia, and soon the entire collection in their colorful jackets rested on the plywood shelves my father built in the living room above his big desk scattered with papers.

My best friend, Jerry Wong, lived in a crowded Washington Street tenement just below Stockton Street. He was also a schoolmate. He slept among two sets of bunk beds in a crowded studio with a small kitchen with little room for storage with his family's things stacked in every available floorspace.

Our usual outings encompassed visits to schoolmates, or the local shops, if we were lucky enough to have collected some loose change or a dollar bill from our parents. We might buy candy at the drug stores, or visit the model shops, aquariums, the Palace movie theater for the 25¢ children's matinees, the sliding penguin show, Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not, the Wax Museum, curio shops, the North Beach library and playground, the spring carnival at Cameron House. In the fall we visited the haunted house at the community center across from the cable car barn on Mason Street. The fast-food joints drew them in as they strolled down Columbus. The tic-toc burger joint with the giant clock logo sold salty paper bags of fries for a quarter. If we had a dollar, we could share the 99-cent two-piece chicken dinner with biscuit, instant mashed potatoes and gravy.

In the summers, we were lucky enough to be taken on a variety of outings to every corner of town courtesy of our local school. The afterschool program expanded in the summer to an all day format, and for a few dollars a month we enjoyed weekly field trips to the best local parks and amusements. A tall and energetic after-school teacher named Richard led the children on field trips and guided us through our daily activities of arts and crafts and reading, painting brilliant colored posters on easels even played kickball and tag on the asphalt with them. We skated at the Legg’s ice rink on Eleventh and Market, played and drew pictures of flowers at the Japanese Tea Garden and the arboretum, viewed the constellations at the Planetarium, saw sharks at the Steinhart, lions at the zoo, rode tour boats through the faux jungle of Africa USA, boarded the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier, enjoyed the Funhouse at the beach, and watched the penguins slip and slide at their show on Beach Street. We saw a symphony at the War Memorial, and dramatic theater at the stage on Geary. Stern Grove picnics, children’s playground, the Randall museum, the cable car barn, the world of oil, and Willie Mays at Candlestick Park.

Has there ever been a children's playground to match San Francisco in 1967?

My favorite outings though, were hiking in the woods on Mount Tamalpais a few miles north with my neighbor friend Aaron in his family's VW bus. We would run to the corner near their apartments to the large parking lot on Waverly, where Aaron’s dad Jeffrey kept his van, and rumble up the steep Sacramento Street on down to North Beach and out to the Marina and over the Golden Gate Bridge. I can still see the fog lifting off Richardson Bay. We played in the back without seat belts, or read books as we passed through Sausalito, then Tam Valley up to Muir Woods. From there, one time, we wound up in Stinson Beach late in the day and had to catch a coach going back over the mountain. A few years later, I would race and fall over the trails and mud of the mountain in the annual Dipsea Race, leaping up hundreds of steps on the narrow trail from downtown Mill Valley over the hill to Stinson.

But when Tiger was nine, he was saddened to see his San Francisco friends move north, Jeffery and Aaron to Mendocino with Bruce and his family in the great exodus from a city suddenly gone terribly violent and not good for young families.

Soon, almost the entire block where we'd all lived was demolished. Gone were the charming old narrow flats that sagged proudly on Sacramento with their bay windows and musty carpeted stairways and long hallways and old-world, built-in cabinets that lead to the well-manicured back gardens. Gone was the old service station on the vacant lot of Stockton Street where we played hide-and-seek. The parking lot and the open spaces out back on Joice where we played ball and wandered among piles of old bricks from the quake, and swung on tall trees with rope swings, became a dull, flat cement apartment complex.

Soon Tiger’s dad had moved us to the other side of Russian Hill. Tiger had had to hop the Hyde Street cable car for a few weeks to get back and forth to his Chinatown school. But big changes were in store for him and his family as well at the small catholic school down the hill from their new flat on Broadway. They could not have known that the old church, on the slope between Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights, was breathing its last… Change was everywhere.

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by Norman Solomon

The most renowned media critics are usually superficial and craven. That's because — as one of the greatest in the 20th century, George Seldes, put it — "the most sacred cow of the press is the press itself."

No institutions are more image-conscious than big media outlets. The people running them know the crucial importance of spin, and they'll be damned if they're going to promote media criticism that undermines their own pretenses.

To reach the broad public, critics of the media establishment need amplification from . . . the media establishment. And that rarely happens unless the critique is shallow.

The exceptions can be valuable. The New York Times publishes articles by a "public editor" — an independent contractor whose "opinions and conclusions are her own" — and the person now in that role, Margaret Sullivan, provides some cogent scrutiny of the newspaper's coverage.

But on the whole, the media critics boosted by big media — inward-facing ombudspersons and outward-facing journalists on a media beat — have been conformists who don't step outside the shadows cast by the institutions paying their salaries. And they're not inclined to question the corporate prerogatives of other media firms; people in glass skyscrapers don't throw weighty stones.

A year ago, the Washington Post, then still under the ownership of the Graham family, abolished the ombudsperson job at the newspaper after four decades of filling the position with a rotating succession of seasoned — and conformist — journalists. The change was a new twist in a downward spiral, but it wasn't much of a loss for readers.

The Post's first ombudsman, who took the job in 1970, went on to many years of management roles for the Washington Post Company and then returned to being the ombudsman in the late 1980s. During his second act, he wrote columns denouncing the Newspaper Guild union that was in conflict with the company — while he praised the firm's management.

In sharp contrast, the best media critics are truly independent. And so, they're rarely seen or heard via large media outlets.

The death of Doug Ireland six months ago brought back vivid memories. Ireland was a first-rate media critic as well as a deft reporter, astute progressive strategist, path-breaking gay activist and incisive political analyst. Last fall, after he died, one moving tribute after another emerged.

Ireland's work as a critic of US news media shined fierce light on realities of propaganda systems in our midst. He was part of a precious continuum of media criticism from the political left over the last century. It's a de facto tradition worth pondering, to grasp its historic vitality — and relevance in 2014.

A hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair made a pioneering jump that many others were to emulate in later decades. He was a writer who became an activist — including a media activist — as he realized that words on pages and volumes of books would not be enough to overcome the brutal greed of the era's robber barons.

As a witness to atrocities against working people and their families, Sinclair launched a nonstop battle against the press lords and their most powerful wire service, the Associated Press. Sinclair's 1919 book "The Brass Check" — self-published and widely read — was a manifesto against the entire capitalist media system of the day. If the prisoners of starvation and exploitation were to arise, they needed to overcome the weaponry of lies, distortions and omissions.

GeorgeSeldesInto the footsteps of Upton Sinclair walked someone who came to media activism not as a novelist but as a journalist. The young reporter George Seldes had covered World War I for the Chicago Tribune and later became the paper's Berlin bureau chief. Beginning in 1921, Seldes covered the nascent Soviet Union for two years before his stories about suppression of non-Bolshevik revolutionaries got him kicked out of the country.

Seldes went on to Italy, but after two years made a harrowing escape — in imminent danger because of his tough reporting on the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who detested independent journalism as much as Vladimir Lenin did.

After clashing with repression overseas, Seldes also chafed at capitalist restrictions that tilted the content of the Tribune to suit its wealthy owner, Col. Robert McCormick. By the 1930s, Seldes was out on his own, writing books like "Lords of the Press," "Facts and Fascism," "Can These Things Be!" and "Never Tire of Protesting." And in 1940 he founded the first regularly published magazine of media criticism.

InFactFor a full decade, Seldes' weekly In Fact, printed in newsletter format, blazed trails that turned up the heat on corrupt practices of the US press. Directly challenging the power of rich owners and advertisers, Seldes denounced the media oligarchy as it oversaw coverage that aided fascist momentum in Europe, avaricious factory owners at home, war profiteering, the cigarette industry and other nefarious enterprises.

Relentless and principled, George Seldes and his wife Helen — from their kitchen table — built In Fact to a circulation of 175,000 copies. But the advent of McCarthyism, assisted by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, brought a campaign of harassment and intimidation against subscribers that forced closure of the publication in 1950.

A torch passed to another stubbornly independent journalist, I.F. Stone. While not explicitly engaged in media criticism, I.F. Stone's Weekly, founded in 1953, largely picked up where In Fact left off.

Stone's blunt assessments informed his work. "Every government is run by liars, and nothing they say should be believed," he said. Such skepticism pursued truth — and the democratic goal of the truly informed consent of the governed. Stone kept busy debunking key deceptions that major media outlets were propagating.

Like so many others, I came to see huge discrepancies between the realities I observed on the ground and the coverage that existed — or didn't exist — in mainline corporate news media. My own path led me to become a media critic during the 1980s, after more than a decade of involvement in journalism mixed with activism.

Later, I learned about the passionate work of media criticism by Upton Sinclair, George Seldes and I.F. Stone. I grew to identify with their struggles as writers drawn into fighting the corporate media of their eras.

TTT&RI was fortunate enough to meet George Seldes. On a warm spring day in 1988, I drove through New England countryside with Martin A. Lee, then editor of the magazine Extra!, published by the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), which remains today's vibrant successor to In Fact. We were headed to visit Seldes, then 97 years old and living by himself in a house in a small Vermont town.

For six hours, Seldes graciously hosted us while sharing vivid recollections of his journalistic career. He had remarkably sharp memories of firsthand reporting on pivotal world events as distant as the close of the First World War. On a table in one room was a huge pair of scissors atop a pile of clippings; he was still cutting articles out of newspapers. "There are too many to file," he said. "I can hardly keep up with them."

As Martin and I later wrote (in our book "Unreliable Sources"), "Seldes remained an American individualist in the best sense, combining an unpretentious, fiercely independent, intellectual ethic with an unwavering commitment to social justice. For us he was a living inspiration, someone who had supreme confidence in the power of ideas and the capacity of people to see through the hypocrisy of politicians and media pundits. Seldes never stopped believing that the essence of a democratic society is an enlightened, well-informed citizenry."

Such a tenacious belief is what makes media criticism — and truly independent journalism — vital to the future of our world.

(Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." Information about the documentary based on the book is at:

One Comment

  1. Bill Pilgrim April 14, 2014

    I’m surprised Solomon didn’t mention Alex Cockburn, whose critiques of mainstream media were razor sharp and often ironically funny. But then, A.C.’s sometimes biting critiques of the so-called alternative media embittered many lefties.

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