Robert Scheer – Above the Fold: The Story of a Renegade Journalist
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
If you’re old enough to remember the free speech movement at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, the anti-war demonstrations that came later or the confrontation over People’s Park on Telegraph Avenue when Gov. Ronald Reagan called out the National Guard, then the name Robert Scheer and Ramparts magazine probably sound familiar. For a later age group, President Jimmy Carter’s admission to Playboy magazine that he had “lust in his heart” might also ring a bell as an embarrassing admission for a Southern Christian politician to make in a skin mag. The journalist who captured that and chronicled much more was none other than Robert Scheer, who went on to interview many more presidents, including Reagan, and wrote for many national magazines and then oddly enough went on to spend three decades writing for the much more conservative Los Angeles Times.
Scheer was a renegade journalist who will to go after the truth wherever it leads and regardless of which party affiliation his target belonged. His one time KCRW program “left, right and center” might have summed up his core philosophy, but for many years he was the progressive voice at the L.A. Times when there weren’t many others there.
He ran for Congress in 1966 and was soundly defeated. He cofounded the radical Ramparts, one of the first alternative news and analysis publications of the anti-Vietnam War era and was arrested at the demonstration at People’s Park. All of this before he emerged as a nationally recognized journalist.
Later, he had no qualms about working at the LA Times but he asked, “Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?” He wasn’t going to give up his independent perspective because of the then-publishers, the Chandler family, didn’t agree with him. He had a good run there saying that, “It lasted up to the point that the Chandlers sold out to the [Chicago] Tribune and I started writing against the Telecommunication Act” or was it the second Iraq war? He says he offered his resignation several times but they only accepted it once, “After the Tribune took over.”
During his years writing he also witnessed the concentration of the media from dozens of major daily newspapers to a concentration of just a few media conglomerates that now control more than 80 percent of all the news. “And now,’’ he says, “Google and Facebook who disrupted the [print] media control some 60 percent of all the advertising.”
Scheer went on to talk about Adam Smith, the 18th-century philosopher renowned as the father of modern economics and a major proponent of laissez-faire economic policies, “He would never have defended a system that put this much power in the hands of so few. These few now control the entire market,” he said.
And just what does he tell his students these days? “My job as a journalist is to find out who is getting screwed and who is doing the screwing.”
Scheer, who at 83 teaches at USC, is editor in chief of Truthdig.com and does a weekly podcast, Scheer Intelligence on KCRW, will be on hand for the screening and a panel discussion to follow this Southern California premiere.
Robert Scheer: Above the Fold, a new feature- length documentary about this maverick journalist Robert Scheer, will close the 8th Annual San Pedro International Film Festival on Oct. 6 at the Warner Grand Theatre.