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Remembering Ramparts

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If you used to read Ramparts, raise your hand. You probably would enjoy A Bomb in Every Issue, Peter Richardson's biography of Ramparts magazine. If you hated Ramparts, don't bother; this book will probably raise your blood pressure. If you never read Ramparts, read this book, because it tells the story of this crusading magazine and its writers, from its origins as a Catholic literary quarterly through its evolution into a powerful voice of the New Left. Ramparts published Che Guevara and Eldridge Cleaver, revealed the CIA's backing of the National Student Association during the Cold War, and broke the story of our use of Napalm on Vietnamese children that turned Martin Luther King, Jr. against the war.

Ramparts was reviled and attacked, adored and admired, and became "must reading" on both sides of the political spectrum. It gave birth to a generation of crusading writers and journalists (including Noam Chomsky, César Chávez, Seymour Hersh, Angela Davis, and Susan Sontag). Time magazine scoffed its articles, and the CIA spied on its staff. These were the heady 1960's and Ramparts writers were rock stars in some circles and villains in others.

Why does this matter? Because it reminds us that a group of brilliant and committed journalists sought out the truth, re-invented investigative journalism before Watergate, and published important government documents long before the Pentagon Papers. They had no Establishment backing and were hounded by their detractors, but they survived for nearly 15 years and changed the landscape of American journalism.

That kind of risk-taking hard-driving journalism is expensive and time-consuming, and it needs the backing of fearless owners and editors. Money and guts are not so easy to find into today's journalistic climate, so this book reminds us of the important role in our democracy that non-establishment news media can play. I think the Internet and the nonprofits that support investigative journalists may be of help. And if Congress passes the journalists shield law that includes protection for bloggers and free-lance writers, we could see a resurgence of independent gonzo journalism, created by a new generation in the new media. I think it's already beginning. Understanding the legacy of Ramparts might give such a movement a sense of its own roots.

Confession: The New Press published A Bomb in Every Issue. It's a not-for-profit publisher dedicated to publishing books in the public interest. I chair its Board of Directors, and I will from time to time write about books that might interest HuffPost readers.