"by gabrielle coagriff
The recent tragedy in Guyana received
the full attention of the print and
broadcast media. Charles Seib, syndicated columnist and media observer, said
it best: "Never was the ability of television to destroy the insulation of distance
more dramatically demonstrated. Because
of the remarkable performance of NBC's
Robert Brown, who kept his camera operating until he was gunned down, we saw
the airport massacre a matter of hours after it happened—and in full color.
"Barely had the television and newspaper assaults on our senses abated when
Time and Newsweek hit us with their
dreadful color pictures, more horrible in a
way than the television pictures because
they wouldn't go away." Newsweek devoted 26 pages to the story to Time's
nine. The following week Time edged out
Newsweek five to two.
Seib poses an interesting question.
"Would it have turned out differently if
reporters and camermen had not accompanied Rep. Leo Ryan . . . ? Was it the
presence of the press that drove the paranoiac Jim Jones to his final madness? It is
a legitimate question but an unanswerable
one. Often the presence of reporters and
cameras can be a deterrent to violent or
With the country still reeling, the race
was on between publishers to get their
paperback books into print. Within 72
hours, Charles A. Krause, a survivor of
the airstrip murders, had signed with
Berkley. Krause, wounded in the arm,
was aided by fellow Washington Post
staffers in his Guyana Massacre-the eyewitness account by the reporter who saw
it all happen. CBS has bought the rights
to his book for a documentary. From his
hospital bed, Ron Javers, of the San Francisco Chronicle, worked on The Suicide
Cult-the Inside Story of the People's
Temple Sect and the Massacre in Guyana,
published by Bantam. Javers was also
wounded at the airstrip. Both paperbacks
hit the stands within two weeks of the
And that was just the beginning. According to Newsweek, James Reston Jr.
was commissioned by Time Books to
write a documentary novel on Jonestown.
Grosset & Dunlap engaged Gregory Rose,
a writer for New York magazine, for an
in-depth account, and G. P. Putnam's
Sons signed up three California writers
for a hardcover on cult leader Jim Jones.
This kind of exploitation, while unseemly in its haste, can to some extent be
justified. It is a record for society to ponder. But for some comments on the tragedy, there was no justification.
Take Ronald Reagan. In an AP interview in Bonn, West Germany. Reagan said
that Jim Jones appeared to attract more
Democrats than Republicans. "I'll try not
to be happy in saying this," Reagan said.
"He supported a number of political figures but seemed to be more involved with
the Democratic Party. I haven't seen anyone in the Republican Party having been
helped by him or seeking his help."
Apparently Reagan was not aware that
Jones was involved in California Republican politics for several years. The Los
Angeles Times (December 17) says that
"from 1968 through 1972, Jones put his
followers to work for former President
Richard Nixon and other Republican candidates with the same fervor he later gave
Democrats in San Francisco." Jones was
described by Marge Boynton, former
chair of the Mendocino County Republican party, as a staunch Republican (in
1972) who was "very solidly for Nixon."
Not to be outdone, ultra-conservative
Rep. Clay Smothers (D-Dallas) compared
the mothers of Jonestown, administering
cyanide to their babies, to the thousands
of abortions that are performed every
year. Smothers, speaking at a Family
Rights rally in Fort Worth, said liberals
hold blacks in a "Jimmy-Jones-like grip."
(This is the same Smothers who led the
ERA recission attempt in the Texas house
last session. When asked why he, as a
black, did not support women in their
equal rights struggle, his reply was "I've
got enough rights to choke a goat.")
And evangelist Billy Graham had the
last word. In Singapore to open a crusade,
Graham blamed the deaths in Jonestown
on the devil. "The whole thing is a perversion, Jones' perversion of religion, the
work of Satan. Satanic forces caused the
deaths of so many in Guyana."
Texas Monthly is inordinately proud
of its covers. Their December issue
not only has a cover and a cover
story, but a story about the cover. The
cover story is "So You Want to be Chairman of Exxon?" The cover shows a man
in a business suit with a Tony-the-Tiger
mask, his foot planted on the back of his
vanquished rival, and a woman, displaying
the obligatory TM cleavage, clutching his
"The Exxon cover discussions began
seriously enough," writes Gregory Curtis
in The Inside Story.' ". . . Gradually, the
meeting followed its normal course toward hysteria and culminated in the idea
that we would have in big type next to a
Dolly Parton look-alike the legend WANT
TO BE THE CHAIRMAN OF EXXON?
RULE ONE: DON'T LOOK LIKE THIS.
That idea stuck until our hysteria died
down. That took about four days."
Given TM's breast fixation, a Dolly
Parton-type cover would seem a natural.
After all, their newsstand sales rise when
the necklines on the cover plunge. But
there is an interesting correlation between
Dolly Parton's success and being chairman of Exxon; one that the TM staff, in
their "hysteria," seem to have missed.
The article talks about "men . . . who
share . . . enough drive and hunger to
have done what is necessary to get to the
top." They do it by setting their goals
early and not rocking the corporate boat,
or threatening anyone, on the way up.
Parton has followed the same rules. It's a
calculated trade off. She has purposely
exaggerated her sexuality to the point of
caricature so that she does not intimidate
other women; nor is she a threat to men,
who can ridicule her and at the same time
indulge their sexual fantasies. It works,
and like Exxon executives, she is willing
to pay the price.
That price is illustrated almost daily in
the Houston media with jokes and look-
alike contests. Among the worst offenders are the radio DJ's. Typical of the
genre is Gary Harmon, morning rush-hour
DJ on KAUM FM radio. "I understand
Dolly has a new single out—her bra strap
broke," was a recent sample, followed a
few minutes later by "We have a secretary
who is very popular. Instead of just standing under the mistletoe, she goes straight
out and waits in the bushes."
November's Houston City Magazine
featured a six-page "trip down
mammary lane" with a Dolly Parton
look-alike contest—three quarters of it
pictures, large pictures. The author claims
the winner "looked no more like Dolly
Parton than your uncle does, but her bust
took up all the space from neck to waist
on her under-five-foot frame."
On the other hand, that same issue of
City had a fine article by Babette Fraser on
Houston City Controller Kathy Whitmire.
The cover, an illustration of Whitmire as
Wonder Woman by Kirsten Soderlind,
was marred only by the copy beneath it:
"Houston's best French bread, biggest
bosoms and toughest boxers."
Sometimes humorous, often controversial, always intelligent and stimulating, Nikki Van Hightower's daily
commentary on KTRH radio attracted a
wide community audience. The station,
however, took them off the air claiming it
needed "more advertising time." "Why
didn't they bump something else?" one
perceptive caller asked during Van Hightower's two-hour call-in show. You may
not be able to hear Van Hightower's
commentaries on radio, but you will be
able to read them—with this issue they
debut in Breakthrough (see Page 3).
Cartoonist and playwright, Jules Feif-
fer, has given us permission to reprint
his cartoons. So look for them as a
regular feature in Breakthrough (Page 2
this issue). Feiffer is also one of our subscribers.
Rumblings from the news room at the
Houston Post. Sources say the editorial department there is furious with
the latest decree from their boss, Oveta
Culp Hobby. At a specially-called meeting
a couple of weeks ago, they were informed
that not only would reporters and editors
not get hefty pay raises in line with recent increases at the Houston Chronicle,
but regular, annual raises would be limited to a patriotic seven percent. (Historically, editorial salaries in Houston have
been far below those of other big city
In the wake of increases at the Chronicle ($50 to $100 per week) Post staffers
were stunned, since they had expected a
To add insult to injury, the Chronicle
has almost doubled its Christmas bonuses,
from one week's pay plus $25 to two
weeks plus $25. The Chronicle also pays
an annual bonus of five percent. Post
staffers get one annual bonus, paid at
Christmas, of about four percent (two
Other departments of the newspaper
were notified by memo—only the city
desk staff were told en masse, an interesting departure from the usual business
practice of breaking bad news one-to-one.
At this time, there is only one news-
HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH DECEMBER/JANUARY 1979