by Warren Hinckle (AVA, September 6, 2000)
Give a clown your finger and he will take your whole hand. —John Heywood, 1546
“The Parts Left Out of the Patty Hearst Trial” is a piquant essay in Paul Krassner's new collection of counterculture writings. It raises from the grave of forgetfulness the long symbiosis between the San Francisco Examiner and the Hearst family and the FBI and far-right intelligence operations that have been the red meat of the Examiner. It was also the strong if under-reported undercurrent in heiress Patty Hearst's sensational San Francisco bank robbery trial in 1976.
Krassner's reprise of contemporary history is a must-read for the growing crowd of spectators watching for the titanic collision of newspaper cultures in the forced-march merger of the Examiner and Chronicle.
The contrast between the two newspapers is of interest since the Hearst Examiner will be on top in the mating with the more liberal Chronicle, and the Examiner's editorial lifeline to the hard right of law enforcement has continued to this day — witness executive editor (Mr. Sharon Stone) Phil Bronstein Examiner's serial attacks on liberal District Attorney Terrence Hallinan which began in the first year of his first term which were spoofed in the paper by the hate-the-pot-smokers-and-old-hippies-too faction of the SFPD which has so long played editorial footsie with the Examiner.
Krassner's retrospective in his new book, Sex, Drugs & The Twinkie Murders (Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend, Washington) does the service of restating for the historical record the manifest irony that the SLA (the self-styled Symbionese Liberation Army which kidnapped Patty Hearst and allegedly brainwashed her into becoming a fellow terrorist for a time) was the creation of a double agent for the FBI, an organization with whom the Hearst loyalty was at that time as close as Kleenex in a box.
It also underscores the dismal professional performance of both the Examiner and Chronicle in covering not only the complex background of the Patty Hearst abduction but the other seminal events of 70s San Francisco — the People's Temple local corruption which led to its eventual self-suicidal destruction in Guyana and the City Hall Assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk by Dan White.
SLA founder Donald DeFreeze, aka “Cinque,” was known to be a police informer for the Los Angeles Police Department’s notorious Public Disorder Intelligence Unit in the late 60s. His SLA was somehow caught up in, or infiltrated by, FBI-nicks, feeding or used by the CIA’s “CHAOS” operation in the 70s which created havoc in the black and white left through provocateuring and disinformation operations. According to reports Krassner cites which did not surface at the trial, Patty Hearst, rebelling against her family’s extreme conservative views, had met people in the SLA circle while in school at Berkeley and may even — as had been suggested at her trial — been planning her own benevolent kidnapping to free herself from ties to her nerdy boyfriend, Steven Weed.
In any event things went terribly wrong — at the best the SLA was a state-sponsored Frankenstein turned against its masters — and Patty Hearst ended up on trial in San Francisco for robbing the Hibernia Bank which was owned by the family of her best friend Trish Tobin (a family with no small ties to the Chronicle establishment).
The rude irony of law enforcement agencies so close to the Hearst family being in however a twisted manner involved in the ultimate kidnapping of Patricia Hearst was underscored by the revelation during the trial (in a 1976 story in Sundaz, a Santa Cruz weekly) that Patricia's mom, Catherine Hearst (who Krassner reminds us said that she'd rather see her daughter dead than join the “Communists”) had donated substantial funds to a shadowy, spy-on-the-labor-movement operation called Research West, for which confessed political burglar Jerry Ducote regularly stole leftie records. (Ducote confessed this to me in a cop bar in San Francisco, and when I didn’t believe him, Ducote convinced me by pulling out of his ratty briefcase copies of documents he had stolen from Ramparts when I edited it in the late 1960s — including copies of my bar tabs).
The files of Research West were later disclosed to be packed with documents procured from offices of United Farm Workers supporters by black-bag break-in burglars operating with a green light from local law enforcement who shared their gold with the FBI and Research West — which was on a yearly retainer to the Examiner to provide information on the left.
The Hearst family and the Examiner's connections to the constitutionally-compromised law enforcement activities figured into, but were left out of the trial of, the Patty Hearst case. Krassner — who seems to believe that Patty Hearst was genuinely brainwashed — notes that she might have spent no time in jail (President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence and was the point man in a recent Hearst Corporation push to get Bill Clinton to give soccer-mom-slash-bit-movie-star Patty a full pardon) if she had kept with her original choice of attorneys, the great radical defense attorney Vincent Hallinan and his family including then defense lawyer (now SF district attorney) K.O. Hallinan, who advised her to talk to no one, “especially psychiatrists,” about the SLA period. But the Hearsts wanted an establishment lawyer and she ended up with F. Lee Bailey — and time in durance vile.
The ignominious role of both newspapers in these seminal San Francisco events of the 70s has been largely forgotten. The Chronicle had the goods on the devil-in-the-flesh Rev. Jim Jones' People's Temple — in the mid 70s the darling of SF’s liberal politicians, which was but a front for rape, murder, extortion, robbery and voter fraud, to name but a few crimes permitted and committed in the name of the Lord — but was too chicken to print it. (The Examiner's religious columnist, the Rev. Lester Kinsolving, also was on to the Temple's act but his columns were deep-sixed by the Examiner when the People's Temple picketed.) Only when the seeds of the suppressed Chronicle story were printed in a Southern California based magazine, New West, did Jim Jones flee with his flock to Guyana and feed poisoned koolaid to 900 of his faithful.
The Chronicle further undistinguished itself in its coverage of the 1976 City Hall assassinations. It cowardly ordered an abject retraction of a Charles McCabe column about Dan White's mean relationship with blacks on his high school basketball team because the lawyers for White — a confessed killer — had written objecting that the portrayal of their assassin-client might be libelous. (In full disclosure that is so popular in journalistic circles nowadays I should reveal that the Chronicle, for which I was then working, held for two months a column of mine about the congratulatory behavior by many Frisco cops to Dan White after the killings which lent credence to a political, rather than the defense's “Twinkie-over-sugared crack-up” explanation for the assassinations. The Chronicle finally printed the column the day after the lenient jury verdict.)
It should be further noted for all full disclosure freaks that the Fang family, the publishers of the free circulation San Francisco Independent (for which I have written a column since I left the Examiner in 1990 when Will Hearst yanked a column of mine opposing the Gulf War — which Hearst favored — out of the paper) will take over publication of the afternoon Examiner in November and move it to morning publication — eyeball to eyeball with the Hearst Chronicle. This sale, which involves a three-year subsidy of $66 million from the Hearsts in lieu of a Joint Operating Agreement (monopoly free dollars), has been described by such organs of opinion as the San Francisco Bay Guardian (a paper recently described by the New York Press as “self-parodically leftist”) as a somehow shady way for the Hearst Corporation to get the money-losing (without the JOA subsidies) Examiner off their hands so the Department of Justice in the Federal City let them buy the larger Chronicle for $660 million. There is more than your average irony in a Chinese family publishing the Examiner since Hearst’s first paper got its circulation legs in the 19th Century on “Chinese-must-go” editorial hysterics.
The neglected history that Krassner's book reprises raises new questions as to how the merger of the classically FBI-symp Examiner and tepidly chicken-liberal Chronicle will work out. Look at the history and the players, and you will be looking for some sort of massive editorial road kill.
Addendum: Allow me to correct a colossal editorial error in the new “Friday” neighborhood news section of the Chronicle last week which stated in a large headline that the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library annual Book Sale would be at Fort Mason last weekend. Wrong. The date is this weekend (September 9-10), and the throngs who turned up at Fort Mason because of the Chronicle's almost horrifyingly misleading error were both alternatingly frustrated and furious. But then, the Chronicle does not have that much experience in covering neighborhood news. Call the Library Foundation at 415/437-4857 for accurate details — do not call 415/777-1111. That’s the Chronicle.