by Sol Ster
In 1965, I was a Berkeley graduate student, on track to become a tenured radical. Instead, I dropped out and joined an obscure, liberal Catholic magazine called Ramparts, headquartered in the sleepy Bay Area suburb of Menlo Park. A little more than a year later, I wrote a story exposing the CIA’s secret penetration and financing of the National Student Association (NSA). The article helped catapult our now-radical, San Francisco–based monthly to national attention and to a catalytic role in the protest movements of the time. The mainstream press celebrated my leftist colleagues and me as heroes of American journalism. Ramparts’ rise to celebrity status seemed to herald a new era of the media’s speaking truth to power. The reality was far less luminous, and Ramparts’ legacy, which a new book celebrates, was not a positive one for the country.
I still remember the phone call I received one evening in February 1967 from an old classmate at the City College of New York. He had just picked up the next day’s New York Times at a Manhattan newsstand and noticed a front-page picture of me and fellow Ramparts editors Warren Hinckle and Robert Scheer. “It’s above the fold,” my friend exulted, and then read out the headline on the accompanying article: ramparts: gadfly to the establishment. The photograph, taken in Ramparts’ San Francisco office, was captioned planning the next expose.