Author details magazine, MSU´s role in counterculture
by Bill Castanier
In April 1966, Michigan State University's campus was hardly awash in
radical thought. The football team had won a share of the national
title the previous fall, and students were looking forward to
chanting "Kill Bubba Kill" next football season. President John
Hannah got his first taste of the future when a panty raid and food
fights in Brody Complex erupted into a full-fledged student riot.
The times, they were a changin', and a slick, counterculture
publication called Ramparts was right in the middle of the mix. The
magazine's April 1966 cover featured a rendering of Madame Nhu,
sisterin-law to assassinated Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem and de
facto first lady, outfitted with a faux MSU cheerleading outfit and
pennant. The headline blared, "The University on the Make or how MSU
helped arm Madame Nhu."
The MSU cover story, which revealed the university's long-term
relationship with the CIA, was just one of many journalistic bombs
the national magazine dropped in its short history and transformation
from a sleepy Catholic literary journal in 1962 to a radical rag by 1964.
Peter Richardson, author of "A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short
Unruly life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America," said Ramparts not
only made an immediate impact with its muckraking journalism, it also
left a legacy with former staffers, who started magazines like
Rolling Stone and Mother Jones.
Richardson, who is the editorial director of PoliPoint Press in
California, became interested in the magazine while researching a
book on Carey McWilliams, former editor of The Nation and Hunter S.
Thompson's early mentor. "I would run into former writers and editors
of Ramparts as I was researching the book, and I wondered if there
were any books on Ramparts," Richardson said. "I was a little too
young to be a part of the culture, but I was born into that scene,
and it became a personal stake for me."
After discovering no such book existed, he dove into the rich,
unusual history of the magazine that, in its time, ran interviews
with Che Guevara and counted Eldridge Cleaver, Cesar Chavez, Angela
Davis and Noam Chomsky as contributing editors. In his book,
Richardson follows the magazine from a Catholic journal with a
circulation of about 10,000 to its San Francisco heyday, when it
boasted a circulation of nearly 300,000 and became a must read for
both hipsters and the CIA.
Richardson also makes the case that the MSU story helped launch the
magazine into the stratosphere. "It supercharged the magazine's
circulation and changed its direction," he said.
Noted rock artist Paul Davis did the illustrations for the article in
the typically dramatic Ramparts' style. In addition to the Nhu cover,
inside pages featured overthe-top portrayals of other major players,
including John Hannah as a football coach with a whistle stuck in his
mouth and Vietnam Project operative Wesley Fishel in a football uniform.
The article tells the gripping tale of how Fishel, an assistant
professor at MSU in the 1950s, developed a longstanding relationship
with Diem, who became the CIA-backed president of the Republic of
Vietnam. Fishel and Diem met in 1950, and when Diem ascended to the
presidency in 1955, that friendship morphed into what was called the
"Vietnam Project," which led to MSU receiving $25 million to train
police, militia and secret police, while supplying arms to the
The article was written primarily by Robert Scheer, who discovered
the CIA relationship while digging around in a university research
library. It wasn't the best-kept secret of the Vietnam War era.
Stanley K . Sheinbaum, who at one time was coordinator of the Vietnam
Project at MSU, helped Scheer blow the whistle. Sheinbaum wrote an
introduction to the Ramparts' piece, condemning himself, his fellow
professors and the university for their roles in the project.
With writers like Scheer and Tom Hayden, Ramparts became part and
parcel of the '60s revolutionary fervor. Leading the pack was
executive editor Warren Hinckle, the impresario and fundraiser for
the cash-strapped magazine. With Scheer supplying the scoops, Hinckle
brought Ramparts to the attention of not only the Left, but also the
CIA and mainstream media, which was left in its dust. One of
Hinckle's tricks was to run fullpage ads in The New York Times,
boasting Ramparts' successes and preempting CIA disinformation.
Richardson also is careful to point out the foibles of the magazine,
which ran some pretty sexist and homophobic articles. Ramparts'
demise may have come from profligate spending and other media
stepping up to the plate; it wasn't long after the magazine filed for
bankruptcy in 1969 that The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers.
Richardson's book has helped fill in the history of a special
contributor to the movement mystique. The author said he was
surprised most by how deeply Ramparts' influence ran. "Martin Luther
King decided to protest the war in Vietnam, against the advice of his
advisers, after seeing 'The Children of Vietnam' photographs in a
January 1967 Ramparts," he said.
The graphic photos of war-dead children also spurred Time magazine to
decry Ramparts for sensationalism in the article "A Bomb in Every
Issue." Time also claimed Ramparts' article on MSU had already been
published in book form, which, conveniently for Scheer, no one noticed.
´A Bomb in Every Issue´
By Peter Richardson 272 Pages. The New Press