by Peter Collier
In the fall of 1966, when I was still unable to imagine someday having second thoughts about the radicalism I had adopted as a profession, I joined the staff of Ramparts. It was standing on the epic cusp of celebrity and influence that would soon make it the most important magazine of the 1960s. Unlike the ascetic publications of the left until then, generally little more than mimeographed anthologies of wearisome assertion and typographical error, Ramparts was a shameless hussy—a four-color glossy on heavily coated stock with witty breakthrough graphics. It defined itself as a radical version of Time, had a bite as bad as its bark, and felt sure that it could put a thumbprint on reality by funneling New Left ideas into a growing middlebrow audience suddenly willing to believe the worst about what it was now calling “The System.”
A few months after I got there, the magazine had its first mega-hit: an exposé on the CIA’s infiltration of the National Student Association. The New York Times, initiating the strange symbiosis that would make it a megaphone for Ramparts’s scoops over the next few years, turned the story into a national headline, touching off an intense journalistic treasure hunt for other nominally independent institutions, foreign and domestic, the Agency had “subverted.” We all found ourselves on the call lists of major radio and television shows. Circulation nearly doubled to 200,000 (and soon came close to doubling again), and The New Yorker certified Ramparts’s apotheosis by making it the subject of one of its modish cartoons.