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Ken McCarthy - UNCENSORED
A catalog of Brasscheck's pro bono Internet projects
Q: Let's talk about some of your "pro bono" work.
A: The term "pro bono" which means "for the good" is good way to describe it because without a doubt these have been among the most enjoyable projects I've ever worked on.
Q: The theme of your pro bono work has been human rights.
A: Yes, that and unpopular causes. Underdog situations where an under-represented people are getting a raw deal usually from some combination of the media, government, and big business interests.
Q: Ah, the unholy trinity.
A: Yes, well put. And the more of this kind of work I do, the more amazed I am at how unjust our society is. God help you if you find yourself the wrong color, the wrong economic group, or taking the "wrong" position on a debate. The unholy trinity will eat you alive.
Q: Tell us about your work on behalf of Wei Jingsheng.
A: I've benefitted enormously from the study of Chinese culture over my lifetime and I've always wanted to do something to give back. Wei was one of the courageous young people who called for democracy in the People's Republic of China 20 years ago. For this, he was thrown in prison where he was until very recently.
Q: He was released?
A: Yes this year, after nearly 20 years of enduring the most inhuman conditions imaginable. Beatings, psychological torture, vicious stuff. I don't know how he held on.
In the spring, Random House published a collection of his prison writings entitled the "Courage to Stand Alone" and we jumped at the chance to use the Internet to help promote it for them and draw attention to his plight.
Now that Wei's been released we're tracking the response he's receiving from the so called "free press" of the industrialized world. The US press, in its usual contemptible way, is ignoring his story for economic reasons. The media owners don't want to offend China and lose out on any potential goodies. The New York Times writer actually went so far as to comment at Wei's first public appearance after he'd just been released from prison (11/22/97) that he looked like he needed a haircut. Imagine trivializing someone like Wei with a snide remark like that.
Q: You also host the official George Seldes Archive.
A: Yes. This is a most interesting case. Seldes published a newsletter in the 1940's called In fact. It had over 150,000 paid subscribers which even today would be huge subscriber base for a newsletter. He was the first, back in 1941, to publish about the dangers of additives in cigarettes and the corruption of Congress and the scientific community by the tobacco industry. 1941. Over 50 years ago. He laid it all out.
He also did very detailed research on the role Standard Oil, General Motors, Ford, Chase Manhattan, and DuPont played in building the Nazi war machine before and, in some cases, even during the war.
Q: Chase had offices in Occupied France?
A: Yes, they did. The Nazis had "a friend at Chase", to take a line from one of their old ad campaigns. Anyway, J. Edgar Hoover, being the venal, mob-connected scumbag that he was, took a strong dislike to the independence of Seldes' mind and in conjunction with the US Post Office and the military drove Seldes out of business. If you were in the armed forces and were a subscriber, you got called to the local military intelligence office for a warning. Post Offices passed along the name of subscribers to the FBI and FBI agents would actually show up at subscribers' doors and warn them about the "subversive" nature of Seldes' writings. In a few years time, the subscriber base dwindled to the point Seldes couldn't maintain, so that was the death of In fact.
Q: I never heard of him before you told me about him.
A: Yes, but Ralph Nader did. He was a young subscriber. And so was Daniel Elsberg, the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Viet Nam War. Nat Hentoff was a young subscriber too as was the former editor of The Nation. I forget his name. And, of course, I.F. Stone, a name most educated people recognize, literally picked up after Seldes was bumped off.
Oh and then there's Studs Turkle and Howard Zinn. They both attribute their interest in politics and writing to Seldes' influece. I actually have their statements on video. Seldes was a giant and that his memory would have been all but erased by the conventional media had it not been for my friend Rick Goldsmith's movie speaks volumes about what kind of media system we have in the US.
Q: So you host the archive of his work.
A: Yes, along with film maker Rick Goldsmith. Rick won an academy award nomination for his film about Seldes "Tell the Truth and Run" and we are the central online clearinghouse for Seldes scholars and fans. We have the blessing of his heirs.
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Q: Seldes was a ferocious critic of the corporate owned press.
A: Actually, that's not quite right. He simply reported the facts of the situation and it appeared to be ferocious criticism. If you say Hitler sent millions of Jews to their deaths is that ferocious criticism or a simple statement of fact? You see my point. The problem of the US news industry being controlled by a handful of interlocking corporations was already old news by the 1930s when Seldes wrote his book "Lords of the Press." We have some great excerpts online. Great stuff about Hearst, for example, who in my opinion was one of the closest things the US has had to a Hitler in terms of the sheer amount of misery he caused.
Q: That's a pretty strong statement.
A: Well, all I can say is read the chapter and see how people on the 1930's reacted to the venom his papers spewed. His papers were so odious, so corrupt, so dishonest that they inspired the first, and as far as I know the only, spontaneous nationwide consumer boycott of a news service. I think it was the historian Charles Beard who called the Hearst papers "the cesspool of American journalism."
This is a guy, after all, who accurately, bragged about using his papers to start a war. He worked with DuPont to stir up a panic about marijuana in the 1930s and succeeded in getting hemp cultivation outlawed in the US. Why? To protect the value of his timber and wood pulp plants. His papers also beat the drum of hatred against Japan and Japanese-Americans for decades and I'm convinced the illegal internment of Japanese citizens during World War II and even the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been possible had it not been for him.
Q: I've never heard that theory before.
A: All acts of cruelty and brutality start with de-humanization of the victim. You can't have one without the other. Hearst created the psychological climate that made these acts of barbarity against the Japanese possible. Why, you ask? The Hearst fortune is rooted in mining. Hearst could not bear the idea of the Japanese getting to Manchuria and Siberia before he and his friends did. So he wanted us, the US that is, to clip their wings. It was that simple.
Hearst was also behind much the anti-Mexican sentiment in this country for the same reason. In fact, at one point, his thugs, you can't call them journalists, issued false reports that a Japanese army posing as farmers was staging in Baja Mexico for an invasion of California. It's almost funny until you think of the kids that had the flesh burned off their bones when Truman dropped the bomb on Japan.
A catalog of Brasscheck's pro bono Internet projects
Q: I guess you're not a fan of the Examiner.
A: Oh please, don't get me started. On June 3, 1997, a huge article appeared in the first section of the New York Times slamming former San Jose Mercury writer Gary Webb for, quite accurately it turns out, documenting the CIA's involvement in the importation and distribution of cocaine into the United States in the 1980s, thus helping kickstart the crack epidemic. Featured in the Times article slamming Webb, right in the first few paragraphs, was a story about how Sharon Rosenhause, managing editor in charge of news for the Examiner, was so incensed by Webb's "lack of professionalism" that she was officially petitioning the Northern California Journalism Association to pull the award Webb won for the Contra-Cocaine series.
Q: Which brings us to San Francisco's 49er stadium election fraud.
A. Ah, yes. How perceptive you are. That very same day while Rosenhause was busy coordinating her smear of Gary Webb with her colleagues at the Times, the biggest, most blatant election fraud in San Francisco's recent history took place right in front of her nose and it was never reported.
Q: And covering this story has been another one of your pro bono projects.
A: Yes. Over 200 pages worth of documents and eye witness testimony.The owners of the local papers have a vested interest in the 49er stadium going forward for reasons which are obvious. The Hearsts and the DeYoung's and the people they've intermarried with over the years still own huge sections of San Francisco. They want the citizens to spend their tax dollars developing Candlestick Point in order to raise the value of their huge holdings south of downtown.
Anyway, VIP, a foundation in Virginia that fights election fraud around the country saw our evidence and came out here and helped sue to overturn the election. In true San Francisco style - this is after all the city where the man who murdered a mayor got off with the "twinkie defense" - the judge said in essence: "You know, you've got some good evidence here, but I'm going to throw the case out on a technicality and not even hear it."
But meanwhile the FBI is investigating the housing department people who opened secret polling places for the pro-stadium campaign. They're also looking into the cocaine dealing of a group called TURF which the 49ers hired to "get out the vote" in Bayview. Good friends of Mayor Willie Brown by the way. Brown was the main cheerleader for the stadium. And why not? He's an attorney for the real estate division of Union Pacific which stands to make gazillions if the land at Candlestick Point gets developed.
Note: Apparently while the Examiner is scrupulously careful about never mentioning the names of Ken McCarthy, Peter Byrne or other independent Bay Area reporters, they do read their work. Two weeks after this interview was posted to the web, the Examiner ran a too little, too late expose on the land deals surrounding the baseball stadium.
Q: So the local papers have ignored the story.
A: Pretty much completely. They let out bits and pieces at odd times, but they're scrupulously careful not to jeopardize the financial interests of their owners and advertisers. It's an old American tradition actually.
Upton Sinclair did a beautiful job of documenting how the US newspaper industry works back in 1919 with his book the "Brass Check." The people who own the US news media are so corrupt and inherently dishonest it's appalling. Average, uninformed people sense it. They know the news is unreliable. They know that most journalists are lacking in integrity, but they don't know the why of it and how it all works. It's easy. Money.
You don't print news that offends the owners, the owner's friends, advertisers or potential advertisers and on the other side of the coin, you slant the news to favor them. You act like their PR agency. It's hard for the average person, who is basically fair minded and trained to trust authority, to imagine such bald dishonesty, but every impartial person who's every looked into the facts comes to the same conclusion.
Q: We never see these analyses.
A: Nor are you likely too. Is NBC going to cover the fact that their owner General Electric forbids them from being critical of rampant corruption in the nuclear industry? No. It's a very neat system. Or at least it was until the Internet came along.
Note: As if on cue, ten days after this interview as posted, General Electric announced a large investment in C/Net.
A catalog of Brasscheck.com's pro bono Internet projects
Q: So you have hope?
A. You've got to have hope. But really, the Internet has already kicked some serious ass. Look at the tobacco situation. The breaking point was when long buried industry documents were put on the Internet. Ask the prosecutors. That was the turning point. Once the dishonesty of the tobacco industry, a murderous bunch of thugs if there ever was one, was revealed to the public, the hunt was on. What kind of back room deals will be cut to perpetuate the business of addicting young people to a health destroying habit is anybody's guess, but these bad boys are bleeding a bit and I like it. I'm not sure it would have happened had the Internet not existed.
Q: Tell me a little about Critical Mass.
A: A very interesting case. On July 25, 1997, for the first time in my life, I rode a bike on the streets of San Francisco. I did it with Critical Mass. There were 10,000 of us. The news said so, then they reduced it to 5,000 the next day.
I was in Justin Herman Plaza at 5 PM long before the ride began and I saw the event take shape from the beginning. The riders were a peaceful, unambitious. thoroughly disorganized bunch. They wanted to ride and have some fun. Families with small kids. Old people. Lots of people in their 20s. The full range of humanity was represented. The newspeople were another story. I heard a Channel 4 on her cellular phone calling in absolutely bogus reports of "splinter groups" and "angry crowds" at 5:30 PM. This was long before the ride even got started!
The part of the ride I was on was absolutely peaceful except for one ass hole named Kevin McCarthy - no relation thank God - who stood in the middle of Market Street and tried to block riders for the news cameras. Did I mention he's a San Francisco judge? Anyway, when I got home, the radio was reporting mayhem. You'd think the Mongols had hit town and were burning the place to the ground. I got back on my bike and rode back downtown. I couldn't find any trouble, though I did find about 100 or so absolutely peaceful and normal looking people penned in and under arrest on Sansome Street.
If you go back and read the papers and watch the TV clips from that night, the riders were blamed with everything short of murder. The truth, which we dug out at great effort and expense, turned out to be quite different. And, in fact, mysteriously, in spite of all the hype, of the scores of people arrested, the DA failed to get a single conviction. Though you can't blame him for not trying.
Basically, the event had been peaceful for years. The same police captain, Dennis Martel, had been in charge of it and he and about 30 cops, many on bikes themselves, kept the monthly ride moving and mostly trouble-free. Then, a week before the July ride, the SFPD did some riot squad training. Helmets and the long bats. No reason, they just suddenly expected "trouble."
In the middle of the July ride, command was switched from Martel to a guy named Deputy Chief Dick Holder - that's his real name, I swear. Dick Holder. Well, Dick Holder, who was arrested for soliciting an undercover officer posing as a prostitute in Oakland not long ago, is an old, old friend of Willie Brown. Also, very interesting, is that Dick Holder's son, who is also an SFPD cop, and a relatively junior one, was given his own command post that night. Very unusual.
Q: How do you know all this stuff?
A: It's all on the police radio transcripts. It's called investigative reporting. The whole disgraceful episode is absolutely transparent to anyone who cares to look into it.
Q: Which I assume did not include the local news media.
A: Bingo, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. They played a crucial role in this, but I'll get to that in a minute.
Here's where it gets ugly. Very, very ugly. Around 7:30 PM, after the TV and radio had done everything they could to paint the riders as a mob of out-of-control hoodlums, the police cut off Market at 5th Street. Suddenly several hundred riders came to a stop, got off their bikes, and stood around peacefully waiting for the congestion ahead to clear. We've got all this on video and still camera by the way. Not to mention scores of witnesses including an executive of a major SF company who saw the whole thing from his office window.
Well, after everyone stopped and stood around for a few minutes. Dick Holder's boys, ten squads of them (100 people), came up Fifth from Mission and tore into the crowd swinging riot bats. No warning. No order to disperse. If you were in their way, you got smashed. The executive I referred to earlier reported he saw two of them come up behind a young woman, pick up her and her bicycle, and throw her into the air onto the hard pavement.
Q: Is that the picture you have on the web site?
A: No. That's another young woman who was attacked. That was a guy named Lt Sanford. He knocked this woman down and put her in a neck lock with his knee and the full weight of his body pressing her neck into the ground. Very cute. It's a way to break a person's neck. I know. I've studied martial arts since I was 18. I've shown that picture to all kinds of people. One Army Ranger alum I showed it to wanted to go straight to Sanford's home and kick his ass. It was an inexcusably brutal and dangerous hold and completely uncalled for.
Q: Wasn't there a photographer who got caught up in it?
A: Yeah. This was very weird. When I heard this story, I knew that something was up. There's this commercial photographer Bennet Hall. He has his studio right on Powell near Market where the cyclists were beat up. Before the rough stuff started, he heard the bikes going by so he grabs the tools of his trade, a camera and telephoto lens worth $4,000, and goes out to take some shots. He's a very well known photographer of San Francisco street scenes.
The cops start hassling this girl. Really provoking her. Verbally abusing her for no reason. And Hall starts shooting away - from the curb. Then one of the cops walks right into him and says: "Hey, you hit me with your camera!" and drags Halls off the curb and throws him up against a police car. Hall is surprised, but keeps his cool. Meanwhile, the boss on the scene was on his cell phone - not his radio, which is significant - calling in for instructions about what to do with this guy with the professional camera gear.
Now a crowd, which included a ton of pedestrians and tourists who have nothing to do with all this, forms and starts chanting: "Let him go." You see, the Powell/Market Street intersection where this happened is the single most heavily foot trafficked area in all of Northern California. It's where the most popular cable car turnaround is and it's just a few steps south of Union Square.
So a lot of people saw this crap going on and they weren't buying it, God bless them. The cops on the scene take Hall's camera from him. Now realize, Hall hasn't been charged with anything, but they're taking his camera away from him. Why?
They throw it in the back of one of the squad cars. Then a bizarre thing happens. A young woman who we later find out is a bit, shall we say, unbalanced emotionally, grabs the camera out of the squad car and throws it the crowd and says: "Take it to the Chronicle."
Q: How ironic.
A: You don't know the half of it. Wait. It gets worse.
So this guy walks into all this. Eugene Hill, about 45 or so, a computer guy who has absolutely nothing to do with Critical Mass. He just got off work and he's heading out for a night out - and the camera comes rolling right to his feet. He picks it up. Now the whole crowd is yelling at him: "Take it to the Chronicle. Take it to the Chronicle." (The Chronicle is on Fifth and Market just a block away.)
He thinks something terrible has just happened, so he starts to "run" with it to the Chronicle. A cop, I forget his name - I'm sorry. The bastard deserves some publicity - comes right up behind him and kicks him squarely in the middle of the back knocking him to the ground.
You know why the cop was able to get in such a good shot?
Q: No why?
A: Hill can't run. He had polio as a child and his muscles never fully developed. After he hit the ground, they surrounded him and started kicking and clubbing him. Then they yanked him up, handcuffed him, pepper sprayed him, and start clubbing him again.
Q: People saw this?
A: Sure did. And were ready to come to court to testify which is probably why the DA dropped all charges against him nine months later.
Q: What charges?
A: Oh, resisting arrest. Assault on a police officer.
A: Oh yeah, this is the good part. The arresting officer claimed that after Hill was on the ground, he grabbed the ankle of a police officer causing the officer to fall to the ground. First, of all, Eugene Hill can't wrestle an old lady and win. Second, it's damn near impossible from a lying position to upend someone by grabbing their ankle. Maybe King Kong can do it, but no human being I know.
But the DA pressed charges against Eugene Hill, Bennett Hall, and the girl who was put in the neck breaking lock until April the following year. And they were all facing the serious charge of assaulting a police officer.
Q: How do you know Bennett Hall's version of events is true?
A: I'm glad you asked. We put out the word on the Internet for people who were there with cameras to come forward with their pictures. And they did. There were dozens of people with cameras in the crowd. And we've got the Bennett Hall incident from all kinds of angles and in all time frames. The police on the scene were lying. Period. End of story.
Either that or they are the most bizarre cops in the world. They claimed Hall attacked them with his camera. His $4,000 camera. The one he makes a living from. But in the photos, you see Hall talking calmly with the police with the "weapon" in hand well after he supposedly "assaulted" them. I mean, can you imagine anybody being hit on the head with a heavy camera engaged in a calm discussion with his assailant just seconds later? It's impossible. And again, there were a legion of witnesses, many of whom we found via the Internet, who were ready to come forward.
Q: So the Internet was instrumental in getting the facts straight.
A: Absolutely. We used it to get eye witness testimony. We used it to get video and photos. We used it to help coordinate legal help for the people who were arrested. Remember, this was a pretty much random group of people. No one knew anybody else. When the cops went though the crowd smashing people, everyone scattered. The Internet and only the Internet, through the web site we built, could put the pieces back together.
Q: Couldn't the local news have done the same by asking people to come forward with evidence?
A: The news media was there! On one of the home videos we got, we have a clear shot of a senior photographer from the Chronicle right in the middle of the scene shooting away. Iverson I think his name is.
Q: What happened to those pictures?
A: I can tell you what didn't happen. They never appeared in the newspaper. And when we called him repeatedly to ask about them, he never returned our calls.
A: Wow, indeed. Especially when you realize that night and for weeks afterwards, the papers claimed the cyclists spontaneously rioted and attacked police! Now I ask you, what unarmed person in their right mind is going to attack a group of bat-wielding, helmeted cops? It never happened.
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Q: What do you think was behind it all?
A: Well, at first the whole thing was so bizarre, it was almost easier to believe the press. In fact, a lot people who were actually on the ride believed that all the stuff that was falsely reported must have happened on some part of the ride they didn't see.
Initially, I thought that Willie Brown ordered the attacks because the cyclists booed him when he came to Justin Herman Square to speak. But you can't equip and deploy 100 riot cops that fast without some kind of planning. And, when we analyzed the news leading up to the ride, we found little throwaway remarks that showed the riot cops were being readied for this ride at least a week in advance. So it couldn't have been the booing - or just the booing - though that may have played a role in the viciousness of the attacks.
Then some people came up with the theory that Bay Area cyclist groups had successfully led opposition to some of Brown's pet projects. For example, Brown was well along towards destroying the downtown bus terminal so his buddies could get the lot for an office building site and cyclist groups were among the most vocal in opposition to that . By July a lot of people were rallying around the cyclists' call for a more liveable city. The Chronicle even had a pro-Critical Mass editorial in late spring. And then 10,000 people showed up for the July ride. That's a lot of people voting with their feet, so to speak, and they were clearly not fans of Brown or his obvious chicanery.
Q: But you rejected that theory ultimately.
A: Yeah, because something far more simple and plausible came along. And I got it from watching the Chronicle. The Chron is the media property of an extended family of old time San Franciscans who still control a tremendous amount of real estate in the city, much of it downtown. A local historian filled me in on this fact. It's pretty well obscured. Anyway, in addition to controlling the Chronicle, they also own Channel Four.
Now, guess which newspaper and television station came out of the blue with a full scale attack on the Critical Mass ride? Basically, the Chronicle poured the gas and Channel Four lit the fire. Everyone else just followed along like dopes though KGO and Bernie Ward also deserve a special award for creative hatemongering. You don't have to take my word for it. Just go down to the library or get on the Chron's web site and read the coverage.
For years, Critical Mass is a total non-issue. It doesn't even rate a blip on the radar screen. Then right after the June ride - an entirely peaceful and successful ride across the Golden Gate Bridge - it's suddenly total war against Critical Mass. All month leading to the July ride, the Chronicle is going on and on about what a huge problem Critical Mass has become. Then they find some nut, a guy who operates the Big Foot/UFO Museum in North Beach, and quotes him saying that he's received "death threats" from Critical Mass extremists. They described his as "an urban planning specialist." I kid you not. Right in the newspaper, the biggest circulation newspaper in Northern California. Home of the super-sophisticated digeratti. The most puerile, inane and dishonest reporting imaginable.
Again, the whole thing would be laughable if it didn't lead to a man with polio laying on the ground being kicked and clubbed by some thugs in police uniforms.
Q: So why did the Chronicle do it? Why did they work with the mayor and the police to demonize the ride?
A: They didn't work with the mayor and the police. The people who control the Chronicle and own huge portions of downtown told the mayor and police: "This is how it's going to be. This monthly ride is killing the Friday night business of our biggest advertisers, the downtown department stores. We own the land a lot of these stores are built on and our leases include a percentage of sales so it's costing us money twice. You're going to put an end to this bicycle ride now, before it gets any more expensive for us."
Remember what I said earlier about Hearst and the Japanese. First you demonize, then you attack. In this case, the demonizing and the riot police training went on at roughly the same time and it all came to a climax July 25. The news media did their job. The bad cops on the force - the good ones stayed away - did theirs. And Brown did his. Critical Mass was painted with a big, black brush as a bunch of bad, lawless people. And, sadly, as I predicted, the number of serious bicycle accidents spiked in the next 30 days. Two cyclists actually died the following month. A huge statistical aberration.
Q: You predicted that?
A: Yup. In writing. A few days after the ride. You don't need to be psychic. Whenever the news media attacks a group the way they attacked cyclists after the July ride, people in that group will have accidents. They'll be the subject of attacks. During the Iraq War, the homes and businesses of Arabs all over the US were vandalized and crimes against Arab-American people skyrocketed. Also, after a heavyweight championship, with millions focused on two people beating each other to a pulp, the national homicide rate spikes for a bit. You can set your clock by it. It's Sociology 101. People are very suggestible.
Q: You went into the death of one of the cyclists in extraordinary depth.
A: Yeah, and it yielded in microcosm a perfect example of the kind of depravity I've been talking about. Dishonest newspapers, morally bankrupt cops, corrupt public figures - all in the service of whoever gives them the most money.
A young bicycle messenger was hit and killed by an unlicensed driver working for Decaux. The original news report from the afternoon Examiner was pretty fair and accurate. But by the next day when the Chronicle came out, the story had been completely changed. Absolutely false material was inserted that just coincidentally reduced the legal and PR liability of Decaux. You need to read my report to get the full enormity of what they did.
Q: Why would the Chron protect Decaux?
A: Decaux has been accused in city's all around the world of bribery and corruption of public officials. They took Willie Brown and Gavin Newsome on an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris. Brown was put up in a $3,000 per night suite.
When they get back, Newsome, who was Parking Commissioner, signs off on Decaux's "street furniture" contract with the city. And Brown, who remember is supposed to be the mayor of San Francisco, went to Sacramento to lobby on Decaux's behalf. You see, Decaux wanted to put up its billboards on Market Street which is under the authority of the state highway system. There are laws against having billboards as close to the roadway as Decaux wanted them. A trivial, little thing called public safety.
Anyway, thanks to Brown, Decaux got its incredibly lucrative billboard deal and they gave the local papers brand new dispensers for their "product." They may have made actual payoffs to the Chron. Who knows? After all, with just a $500 "grant" to the Examiner, Jim Jones of Jonestown fame was able to get the paper on his side when he was running an obvious criminal enterprise in San Francisco. That was right before he took his group to South America.
Q: Whoa! Where do you get this?
A: The payoff is well documented. In fact, the 20th anniversary of Jonestown is coming up and you'd be surprised how many good friends Jones had in San Francisco and how many of them actively covered for him. Willie Brown, Art Agnos, the then Chief of Police, the local head of the Bar, Jerry Brown, who was governor at the time. We have photos, letters they wrote on Jones' behalf, the testimony of family members of victims who pleaded to have Jones investigated when he was in San Francisco. It's all extremely well documented. And it's going up on the web.
Q: Another project?
A: Yeah, but the investigative work is already done. It's just some coding and scanning. A journalist from Chicago Sun-Times came to San Francisco right after the massacre and got into the People's Temple files before Jerry Brown ordered them to be removed to Sacramento.
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Q: You're kidding! My head is spinning.
A: What's the big surprise? These people are for sale to the highest bidder. Jones delivered cash and scores of campaign workers to help these scumbags get elected. What did they care that he was abusing children and stealing the social security checks of his elderly church members? All this went on here in San Francisco by the way. Jones didn't go down to the Guyana jungle and just suddenly flip out. The San Francisco pols liked the money and the votes he delivered and just left it at that. Jones was a respected member of the local political community. He was totally mainstream.
Q: And he gave money to the papers?
A: Absolutely. Grants for to support "investigative reporting." Jones knew every trick in the book. Usually big companies use that method to pay off newspapers. Like the Pew Charitable Trust. It's oil money. They recently paid the Chronicle to do a series of "special reports" on the traffic problem in the Bay Area. The conclusion of this exhaustive study? Car traffic is a problem, but there's nothing that can be done so we'll just have to live with it and keep spending our public transportation money on more roads for private cars. What a convenient conclusion, eh?
Q: You ran into some personal trouble over your Critical Mass reporting, didn't you?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: Do you want to tell us about it?
A: Do I have to?
Q: Only if you want to.
A: Well, you have to understand, I'm essentially a scientist. I observe, I make hypotheses, I experiment, and I draw conclusions based on facts. I did it when I worked on Wall Street in the 80's designing trading systems for investment banks. I did it when I helped develop new postproduction methods for film making that made it possible for indies to make films they otherwise would never have been able to afford to finish. I did it here in SF when I worked in the very early years of the multimedia industry (1990-92) and then was a leader in the very early years of Internet industry (1993-94). I've never sought out personal publicity and God knows I've never gotten any. I'm a work focused guy. Start a job, finish it, and then move onto the next thing that looks interesting. That's my pleasure. I'm not interested in much else.
Q: So why did you get involved in local politics?
A: I was doing an experiment to see how useful the Internet could be in supplementing local news reporting. Back in 1995, I sponsored the first conference ever held on the subject of local web publishing. My naive idea at the time was that the web could provide people with more information about their communities so they could make better decisions about how their communities are run.
It never occurred to me that local media systems are set up specifically to restrict and distort information on behalf of local businesses and the politicians they control. I actually thought the election fraud web site would be a supplement to the local media's reporting on the subject. It took me a while to grasp that they were part of the fraud themselves and were materially benefitting from it. So then the study became, exactly how crooked is this system? And I can tell you, as someone who has focused on the subject with laser beam intensity for a year, there is no end to its depravity. It is not only as bad as people feel it is, it is actually quite a bit worse.
Q: So what about your Critical Mass troubles?
A: Well, I joined the Critical Mass discussion group mailing list July 25, the night after the ride, to try to find out what the heck had really happened and start collecting eye witness accounts. My original thought was that I'd put them all in an organized archive and people could read the other side of the story. 150 pages and dozens of photographs later, it turned into something quite bigger.
There was one person named Stacey McCahan who made frequent posts to the list who was also being frequently quoted in the press saying things like: "The riders blew it. Critical Mass is dead." I learned that she had taken upon herself the role of "official negotiator" for the riders, much to the riders' consternation because she had absolutely no authority to negotiate on their behalf. But she did anyway and she and the mayor's office worked out a route which they attempted to impose on the July ride. You have to understand the route for this ride is determined by a democratic vote of the riders. Has been since day one five years ago. And there are absolutely no laws that restrict people riding together in large groups in bikes on city streets any more than there are laws prohibiting cars from doing so.
So she negotiated a forced route and then when the ride blew up let herself be quoted saying the problems were caused by the riders and the ride is "over." Just what the mayor and his handlers wanted to hear.
Q: And just the party line you were questioning.
A: Absolutely. I was not buying any of it and I was issuing daily reports to the discussion group that were exactly contrary to what the press, the police, and the mayor's office were saying.
McCahan then made an amazing post. She admitted that she had not been on the ride at all, but had instead stayed in the Plaza with the police, the media, and a member of the mayor's press office. Then she said that she had heard an officer in charge admit that they had abandoned the escort for the ride. In other words, without warning or notice, the SFPD deliberately dropped the traditional safety escort for the ride, abandoning 10,000 people on bikes in downtown rush hour traffic.
Q: Amazing! If I remember correctly, you had posted that as a theory as to why the July ride created such huge traffic jams.
A: I had suspected this might have been possible, but I couldn't imagine a police force being so incompetent or malicious as to do it deliberately. It was beyond me. But here was someone claiming she heard it straight from the horse's mouth. A month later, at a police press conference, thanks to a persistent citizen's questions, they admitted it, but of course, that was a month later.
So I wrote Stacey McCahan a brief e-mail and asked if she could tell me more. That I was gathering eye witness accounts from that night and putting them on the web.
No answer. So I wrote her again. Then I get back a terse reply: "Who are you?" This is strange, I thought. Everyone else I've written has been happy that someone has taken it upon themselves to organize a record.This person who is on the TV and in the newspapers every day talking about how the riders "blew it" is sitting on some absolutely crucial information and doesn't seem to want to talk about it. I'm certainly not seeing the fact the police dropped the escort in the local papers.
Q: I didn't either.
A: Nor are you ever going to see it even though, like I said, the police admitted what they did at a press conference a month later to a full house of SF media people. No reaction. This fact has never appeared in a San Francisco newspaper.
I privately wrote someone on the list who had been corresponding with me asking if he knew McCahan and why he thought she might be acting this way. This asshole, his name is Walter Oetzel, edited my private message to him and posted it to the public list without asking for or getting my permission. My comments apparently threw McCahan into a rage because she then started an online smear campaign against me posting messages to the list with headlines like "Ken McCarthy is a liar" and accusing me of harassing her.
I sent her a grand total of three brief, professionally worded e-mails about a public matter that she had made numerous public statements about. That was it. I never called her or contacted her. I didn't even know her. Now, suddenly as a result of her smears, I'm getting hate mail from people who assume what she is saying is true. And overnight, people on the discussion group stop providing me with information and other people start attacking everything I posted. Again, these are people I didn't know from Adam. Luckily, I had made so many positive contacts before she poisoned the well that in the end it made no difference to the final outcome, but it did slow my research down and make it considerably more difficult.
Then a few months later, I learned that all these posts were archived on the web and that someone had been going out of their way to submit the worst ones "Ken McCarthy is a liar" and so on, to all the major search engines. I found this out when I did a routine search of my name on HotBot and the very first article that came up had the headline "Ken McCarthy is liar."
A: Yeah. Very nice.
That was it. McCahan was on the payroll at Arthur Andersen when she was working with the mayor's office on the July route. They subsidized her to attend those meetings. They provided her with a desk, telephone, and e-mail account to conduct that business. The press called her at her job for comments. Her employers, who have huge contracts with the city, never complained about any of this activity. They encouraged it. And in fact, her slurs against me were all stamped with an @arthurandersen.com return address.
So I decided to sue Arthur Andersen and McCahan for libel. I subpoenaed Andersen's e-mail records. At the trial, Andersen didn't even bother to send anyone to represent them. They completely blew off the subpoena and the judge let them get away with it. You try that some time and see how far you get.
McCahan did show up. I was given about 5 minutes to tell my story. The judge gave McCahan upwards of a half hour to explain herself. She couldn't because what she did was indefensible and the judge found in my favor and awarded me with a $5,000 judgement.
Q: But that wasn't the end of it.
A: No. McCahan appealed. She showed up with this slug named Karl Olson. He failed to make the cut at the downtown law firm he had worked at and was struggling in private practice. I mean look at the case he took. Pathetic. This little small claims appeal was going to be his big case of the year.
So he fabricated a story and started shopping it around to the local media casting himself in the role of defender of the Constitution. To their credit, Wired. news blew him off, but C/Net bought it hook, line and sinker. He claimed that McCahan's comments occurred during a "flame war " in a "chat room" and that she's entitled to say anything she wants to online because there are no laws on the Internet and anyway, she's protected by the First Amendment. Great legal theory, huh?
C/Net bought his story uncritically and published it in a three part series. They showed absolutely no interest in the fact that McCahan was an operative of the mayor's office or that she attacked me just as I was publishing evidence of the mayor's misconduct. Somehow that part of the story was not relevant. Over 30 of my subscribers individually wrote C/Net's management asking why C/Net covered the story of the appeal so inaccurately and yet never covered the fact that my web site was instrumental in gathering the evidence and organizing the legal resources that got over 100 innocent people acquitted from charges.
Q: Did C/Net reply?
A: Nope. Not to me and I wrote a very polite letter to every person in management there. Not even the courtesy of a reply. They were also completely unconcerned with the fact that they'd essentially printed Olson's press release verbatim without checking any of his statements.
Q: For example...
A: The postings did not occur in a chat room. That's an obvious lie. They were posted to a permanently archived discussion list. This a universe apart from a chat room. In a chat room, postings disappear right after the screen scrolls a bit. If McCahan's comments had been made in a chat room, I wouldn't have wasted my time.
The next deliberate lie was to claim that McCahan's comments were in the context of a personal "flame war," in other words, an ongoing dispute with accusations flying on both sides. We demolished this in court because after all, there is textual evidence for all this and it's very clear. All you have to do is read the posts. But C/Net persisted in presenting Olson's version of events and scrupulously avoided anything that would explain McCahan's very obvious motivations for smearing me.
Q: Why do you think they did that?
A: Just pure sloth. They didn't care to take the time to get it right. Halsey Minor, C/Net's founder, has been quoted as saying that C/Net is an ad vehicle with content to attract viewers, period. That they don't aspire to any particular journalistic standards. I've got to admire his honestly. At least he comes right out and says what he is. I just wish they'd stamp that statement on all their news stories because the story was picked up by news agencies all over the Net. Gannett funds this thing called the Freedom Forum and they carried an even less accurate of the story, presenting it as a great triumph of the First Amendment.
Note: A few days after this post, it was announced that C/Net is on its way to becoming another General Electric media property.
Q: So you lost the appeal.
A: Yes I did. It was amazing. None of the experts on Internet law could believe it. Olson's performance in court was pathetic. We caught McCahan in over one dozen lies. Olson presented some private e-mail I had sent to Walter Oetzel and tried to con the judge that it had been posted to the discussion group by me. The whole thing was absurd. Olson and McCahan left the court room with their tails between their legs. They were pathetic.
Q: But the judge found for her.
A: Yep and ordered me to pay her $200 or so towards her court costs. I spoke with the small claims advisor at the court about it afterwards. He said it was incredibly rare for one judge to award $5,000 and another to not only overturn a case but also, in effect, punish the plaintiff for bringing it.
Q: Doesn't make much sense.
A: Then Olson runs to all the papers, the EFF, the Freedom Forum and everyone else who would listen and tells them about his triumph on behalf of the First Amendment. Only one problem: Olson's brief and his arguments in court focused not on the First Amendment, but on his claim that I was a public figure and therefore not entitled to the same protection against libel that private figures get from the law.
The case he used was one where two activists sued UC Berkeley for telling the media that they were "violent criminals" when in fact they were not. The activists won and then Berkeley appealed and said:"Hey. These guys operated a card table and handed out flyers. They're public figures." And the judge in that case said: "Yeah, you're right. And if they're public figures, they have to prove deliberate malice." Not just the fact that the act was committed, but that is was premeditated specifically with the purpose of causing harm and that the statement was known in advance to be false. That's a pretty tall mountain to climb. The activists lost their award - and do did I.
That was Karl Olson's work. The champion of free speech. What a joke.
A catalog of Brasscheck's pro bono Internet projects
But meanwhile, right now as we speak, the Examiner has duplicated McCahan's most offensive post on their web site so now there are two "Ken McCarthy is a liar" articles that come up when you search my name. Last time I checked they are #3 and #4 on Alta Vista. The way McCahan posted the article, putting my name in the subject line and mentioning it throughout the text, causes the search engines to list the article prominently when anyone searches for me.
Q: How do you feel about all this?
A: Probably the same way anyone would feel. However, it has inspired me to press on. There will be a complete documentation of the role Willie Brown and company played in the Jonestown massacre coming to the web this November. How the San Francisco political and media elites boosted Jim Jones, covered for him when he was accused of wrong doing, and then made the evidence of their complicity go away. It's kind of the ultimate statement about the nature of the people who run San Francisco. With that up there for people to study, all the other stuff, the election fraud, the use of police to attack innocent people and so on, becomes easy to understand and accept.
Q: So what's next?
A: So far, I've gotten to see Wall Street from the inside; I've learned everything there is to know about the technical details of making feature films; I've contributed to the birth of a new medium, the Internet and tested its limits; and I got a first hand, in depth look at what's behind the news we read in the paper and see on TV. In other words, I've developed a pretty good understanding of the nuts and bolts of how our society functions.
Q: And what are your conclusions?
A: I keep thinking of something that Peter Byrne told me. Peter is San Francisco's finest investigative reporter and, of course, he can't get published, so in true George Seldes style he publishes his own newsletter, the San Francisco Investigator. Peter said that based on his research, which is extensive, the city of San Francisco could offer twice the services with half the taxes if we could just cut the theft, the corruption, the subsidies and hidden grants to big business, and the protected incompetents.
Think about it. Schools without books, kids without proper food, frail elderly without someone to look after them, none of this is necessary. All the result of theft. And the reality of the system that permits this grand larceny is deliberately covered up by the owners of news media who benefit directly and indirectly from it. It's the way it works on the national level with the Pentagon and defense contractors bleeding the country dry and it's the way it works on the local level with the lesser leaches.
A: So what do we do?
Q: We need a new In fact, an In fact on the Internet with 10,000 local affiliates. People want to know the truth. My Critical Mass web site got over 20,000 visitors. That's visitors, not hits. Imagine if researchers of like mind were to organize and create a central clearinghouse of this kind of material on the Internet. In time, an audience would form and with a big enough audience there would be ways to make the project self-sustaining.
A: Is that your next goal?
Q: I've got some personal things to take care of right now. A friend of mine was badly hurt in a motorcycle accident and the insurance company he's been paying premiums to all these years has decided to cancel his "lifetime" policy. And you know what? Thanks to our courts and laws, they're getting away with it. His wife needs a huge amount of money to fight these bastards and raising that money is what I will be focused on for the next year.
When this is over, if someone wants to write me a huge check to get the ball rolling on a 21st century version of In fact, I guarantee a huge bang for the buck. All the work I've done this year was, as the lawyers say, "pro bono" and carved out of a pretty busy work schedule. Imagine what could be done with single mindedness and no distractions. There are lots of people doing work like I did this year and there'd be a lot more if they had some hope of reaching an audience. Given people's interest in hearing the truth and other people's in telling it, we could probably give C/Net and all the other pseudo-news services a serious run for their money. Why not?
A catalog of Brasscheck's pro bono Internet projects