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Does ‘never trust anyone over 30’ mean CL is now the establishment?

John Sugg
Photo credit: Jim Stawniak
John Sugg CL Columnist

The old joke about paranoia — that it’s insane to believe someone, usually the government, is not out to get you — should be emblazoned on the masthead of every alternative newspaper in America.

Creative Loafing is celebrating its 30th birthday. And that’s a significant milestone if you want to get hide-in-the-closet paranoid.

When Debby Eason founded the Loaf in 1972 on a shoestring budget — nah, forget that cliche, a shoestring would have been orgy-caliber luxury for the paper — the pop culture mantra was: Never trust anyone over 30.

There was good reason for that jittery fear of graybeards. Old guys had dumped us butt-crack deep in a pile of shit called the Vietnam War. We suspected, and would later find out it was true, that the nation had been deceived. The lives of 50,000 servicemen and women (not to mention millions of Vietnamese) had been wasted and our motives for being in Southeast Asia were cynical, corrupt and, in today’s wonk parlance, evil.

If that wasn’t enough reason for a case of gut-churning paranoia, there was the FBI’s COINTELPRO assault on democracy. The agency had sought to crush protest, undermine constitutional rights, and it probably was responsible for more than a few deaths of black and anti-war activists.

Meanwhile, the CIA had an illegal program to “penetrate” and discredit the dissident press — 500 or so “underground” papers that were forebears of journals such as CL.

Nonetheless, the free press survived, fighting not only the jackbooted spooks but the mainstream media, which, with the help of government, were consolidating and driving hard toward one-voice-per-city monopolies (and, now, one or two hegemonies over all the world’s information).

So, the big question facing the 400,000 or so hip, cultured, avant-garde readers who pick up CL each week is: Can you trust an alternative newspaper over 30?

Frankly, I don’t know. So, let’s talk about Venezuela.

About two months ago, there was a quick coup and counter-coup in that Latin American country. You’re excused if you don’t know that. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which recently inaugurated a weekly section called “Atlanta and the World,” hardly noticed. (Perhaps the editors live on a different world where much of the gas for their Beemers doesn’t come from Venezuela?) Only a few well-hidden words crept into “briefs” and short items until nine days after the turmoil when the AJC conceded what most of the world had long known — those who plotted the overthrow of democratically elected President Hugo Chavez had been doing pre-coup huddling with the Bushies.

The administration lauded the military takeover (before it self-destructed in three days), and the major media followed suit — until foreign reports of Washington’s complicity and the moral bankruptcy of cheering the coup could no longer be ignored.

The AJC was far from the worst among U.S. newspapers. The nation’s guidon for the press, the New York Times, vigorously head-bobbed in unison with Bush’s minions in praising the overthrow of democracy.

Why do I relate this? So that I don’t have to rely solely on the “What did Bush know and when did he know it?” thing to make my point:

Whatever your opinion of alternative papers, you know you can’t trust the mainstream press.

The media have been totally corrupted by 9-11 — not that they need much additional pandering to make “totally” the correct choice in words. The disclosures about Bush in recent days involve facts readily available months ago. More frightening is what we still don’t know and what the press lords aren’t likely to tell us for fear of irritating W’s junta.

There’s some history here. Like with Venezuela and 9-11, the press was feloniously negligent with Vietnam. In 1954, the major U.S. media parroted the line that our puppet, Ngo Dihn Diem, was a true-blue nationalist leader. Two years later, the American papers applauded our scuttling of free elections in Vietnam (let’s destroy democracy to save democracy). The press didn’t challenge the transparent hoax that “justified” our onslaught, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. And as the war raged in the rice paddies, the big league reporters hung out in Saigon bars waiting for official government releases proclaiming that victory and peace were nigh.

Even former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, the war criminal mastermind behind much of the Vietnam atrocity, gloats in his memoirs over the complacency of the press.

As Nixon’s thugs were trying to crush the popular anti-war and civil rights movements, the “underground” cum “alternative” press survived and flourished. Ramparts, a national pub, disclosed how one of LBJ’s primo backers, Brown & Root Inc. construction company, had helped push America into the Asian war — and then copped one of the biggest construction contracts in the history of the world, building military bases in Vietnam. (And, yes, Brown & Root is a subsidiary of Halliburton, where Bush’s boss, Dick Cheney, served as CEO. Perhaps that will help explain the administration’s current bellicosity.)

It was the now-honored but then-non-mainstream reporter, Sy Hersh, who uncovered the My Lai massacre (while Colin Powell was earning his brass trying to hush the story). Hersh could only get the early reports printed via the fringe media.

If it hadn’t been for the aggressive journalism of the Village Voice, Ramparts, the Berkeley Barb — and here in Atlanta, the Great Speckled Bird, many sins would have escaped the spotlight.

In truth, the alternative press, much more reminiscent of Tom Paine’s pamphleteering than of corporate publishing, stood up against racism, militarism, imperialism and the corporate undermining of American values — while the mainstream press slumbered. Indeed, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were late-comers in uncovering the real news.

And that brings us to the birth of CL.

Debby and Chick Eason founded the paper after going to a lecture and finding almost no one else in the audience. Atlanta’s daily papers “didn’t give a damn about promoting culture,” Debby Eason told me. The Easons started the Loaf as a culture guide — not a political potboiler such as the Bird, which folded in the mid-’70s. This isn’t a CL history, but it’s noteworthy that Eason says, “We didn’t even know we were ‘alternative,’ and we certainly had no idea of what we’d become.”

What the Loaf became, over the decades, is much more of a gutsy newspaper. That’s the style of Debby Eason’s son, Ben, who now skippers this outfit. Meanwhile, the Age of Aquarius underground journals added CL-style cultural and events information to their menu. We all ended up meeting somewhere in the middle between muckraking and music menus. Transcending what we publish is how we look at and write about the world — we’re irreverent, edgy, in-your-face and, quite often, egregiously immature.

Most of that is good. But there are disturbing ripples in our pond. The nation’s 120 or so alternatives all, well, look alike. We’re almost formula publications, with the same features, same layout, same shameful reliance on exploitative sex ads.

We vigorously trash the mainstream media (my favorite pastime), but we seldom look in the mirror. We have strategic plans and management consultants. We’re no longer the progeny of angry young men and women out to change society — we’re cash cows for companies looking for 20 percent and 30 percent profit margins.

In a word, we’re corporate.

Not all of that’s bad. Having enough money to pay your bills doesn’t mean you have to be crummy.

The question is what comes next. We live in an Orwellian world of eternal war, where we have to eliminate our freedoms to preserve freedom. All the symptoms of true evil in the 1960s have, like Dracula, risen from the grave. The religious ayatollah and gun nut who now is attorney general, John Ashcroft, gleefully re-opened the feds’ closet of police-state horrors last week. Bush is plotting wars even the generals don’t want. Our quality of life is going down the tube (or stuck on I-75). The rich are getting real rich and the poor are invisible. And the media have dumbed themselves down to the point of imbecility.

We need an alternative press. As Debby Eason has long forecast, I, too, believe newspapers are history — the age of newsprint will end in the next generation. But the press will continue, undoubtedly in an electronic form (unless, of course, Bush’s nuke toys go “bang” and we’re back to chiseling stories on flat rocks).

Maybe now the alternative press will stand and achieve its true greatness, revealing what the powerful don’t want revealed — or, as the saying goes, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

Or, maybe we become soft and flabby and too worried about getting max dollars out of the prostitution ads in the back of the paper. If that’s the case, I hope there’s firebrand in some Atlanta high school already plotting the next generation of underground journalism.

Senior Editor John Sugg — whose motto is: Sex ads pay my salary, so what the hell is wrong with them? — can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at john.sugg@creativeloafing com.

Mea culpa: Last week I wrote that The Miami Herald had no reporters covering Miami’s government when the city became insolvent. The newspaper had one reporter assigned to Miami city hall.??