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S.F. CHRONICLE ON JIM JONES: "WE GOT BURNED." 4/29/01 by Brasscheck © 2001


The mass suicides and murders In Jonestown, Guyana, were the most widely followed event of 1978, with a remarkable 98% of Americans saying they heard or read about the tragic occurrence. Few events, in fact, in the entire 43-year history of the Gallup Poll have been known to such a high proportion of the U.S. public."

As regular readers know, I rarely miss an opportunity to remind subscribers of the fact that Jim Jones
received deep and widespread support from the San Francisco establishment. I've documented this is
broad strokes here:

Click.  Brasscheck's coverage of Jonestown.

Click. The Jonestown Children

Jones' supporters in San Francisco. Click.

About some of the 287 children who were murdered in Jonestown and the coverup. Click.

Now, for the first time ever and seemingly out of the blue, nearly 25 years after the fact, a senior member of the Chronicle "family" has just published a limited admission that, indeed, the Chronicle did not do its job when it failed to report on the Jim Jones' criminal enterprise which operated in broad daylight in
San Francisco in the 1970s.

As you read William German's mea cupla below, keep in mind the following statement of support Jones
received from a leading member of the family that owned the Chronicle during the heyday of Jones' "church" in San Francisco:

"Called less formally PT, the church is best known and highly regarded for its social works, which
include housing and feeding senior citizens and medical convalescents, maintaining a home for retarded boys, rehabilitating youthful drug users. . ." - Charles deYoung Thieriot, Publisher of the Chronicle.

Editor Emeritus German's opinion piece below is too little (absurdly so) and too late.

But there is a deep mystery in all this.

Why, when this story has been so thoroughly spun as to permanently obscure the facts, does he and the
paper's owners step up and claim even so much as an editorial "failure in judgment"? Why this late
date re-framing? 

Maybe something new on this is coming down the pike. If so. It's about time. We'll see.

Here's the piece. It's worth reading: Click to read entire article.. 



We learned our lesson nearly 25 years ago: Never shrug off a big story.

We did, we got burned badly, and we may never forget. The story that got away
was the one that lifted the lid on the Rev. Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. The
Chronicle could have published the evidence that brought Jones to final
judgment. Instead, it was handed to a nearby magazine. Over the years, bits
and pieces of the shameful details have oozed out, but that hardly dilutes
the pain.

Flashback to early 1977, sixth year of the Jones church's move to San Francisco. Rev. Jones' public image was at its height as "a dedicated champion of the underprivileged." The city's political establishment held him in highest regard. Mayor George Moscone made him chairman of the Housing Authority. Herb Caen checked leaders of the Temple neighborhood and was told, ''Jim Jones is a terrific guy, a man the ghetto people can believe in." Influential politician Willie Brown said, "San Francisco should have 10 more Jim Joneses." The press sometimes mentioned dissension in the church, but most stories told of good deeds by Jones. Some dissidents took their complaints to City Hall, where they got little official attention.

They did, however, catch the eye of Chronicle City Hall reporter Marshall Kilduff. Kilduff went to his supervisor with a proposal to investigate the complaints. The supervisor -- long since departed -- turned Kilduff down. Everything that needed to be written about Jones had already been written, he said. Kilduff, a journalist who even now doesn't give up easily, asked for and received permission to take his idea to New West magazine, as long as he worked on his own time.

The rest is open history. Rosalie Muller Wright, New West's with-it editor, embraced Kilduff's story with open arms. The New West revelations stirred up a few others and the case against Jones was clear -- fraud, sexual misconduct, medical fakery and general megalomania. Rather than face his accusers, Jones and nearly a thousand followers fled to the suicidal horror of Jonestown, Guyana. End of Chronicle lesson. But a troubling, parochial thought persists: Could a banner headline in the local newspaper have turned off more of these unfortunates before Jones led them to the Kool-Aid?

E-mail Chronicle Editor Emeritus William German at

A few points about German's language:

1. "...we got burned badly."  - 240 children were tortured and murdered and the Chronicle wants you to see the paper as one of the victims. Obscene.

2. German refers to the many people who complained about Jones as *dissidents* As my web site shows, those who attempted to inform the public about Jones included family members of the then still living victims, city health and child care workers who were aware of the abuse, local religious leaders and others
including a candidate for mayor.

3. The blame for the paper's failure to report on Jones is placed on a "supervisor... long since departed" Yet,
Charles deYoung Thieriot, publisher of the Chronicle, was an outspoken advocate on Jones' behalf.

4. "...nearly a thousand followers fled (to Guyana)" - Not quite. Even the State Department, which conducted
a pre-massacre investigation into Jonestown, raised the issue of the CHILDREN. What were they doing there? Who did they belong to? Where were their parents? Where were their passports? Who cleared them to leave the US?

The children didn't "flee" San Francisco. They were abducted. Many were put in the hands of Jones' organization by the State of California. (Church records were ordered removed from the People's Temple within days after the massacre by then Governor and Jim Jones fan Jerry Brown. They have never been seen since.)
 
5. "But a troubling, parochial thought persists: Could a banner headline in the local newspaper have turned
off more of these unfortunates before Jones led them to the Kool-Aid?"

I think the word "disingenuous" was created for people like Mr. German. The Chronicle, in its long and well documented history, has never hesitated to use its pages to attack enemies and support friends.

And yes, banner headlines from the parochial "local" paper (the most widely read one in Northern California) would have made a difference.

Finally, as a court in Guyana determined, there were only three suicides in Jonestown. The rest were victims of "murder most foul." The death by Kool-Aid story is largely a myth, one that, like so many improbable stories, did its job with the help of a compliant news media.


LET STARS SHINE ON YOUR PAGES
by William German © 4/27/01 San Francisco Chronicle

If there's something in this to be glad about, it's that it probably can't happen again here.

What is happening is a low-volume brouhaha at the Washington Post that shows signs of spreading elsewhere. The first I heard of it was in a column by Michael Getler, the Post's fearless ombudsman. Getler was distressed that in the past month three exclusive articles by Post staff writers did not appear in the Post, but were published elsewhere.

Each article was of major importance. Each had to do with politics or life in the nation's capital. Yet each appeared, not in the capital's largest daily newspaper, but in three different national magazines. The writers were all star Post reporters and all were given leaves of absence to pursue journalism in a broader marketplace.

Getler, the ombudsman, applauded the generosity of the Post's traditional leave policy for reporters to write books. Both the newspaper and its readers, he feels, benefit from "the added understanding" a reporter gains from "a book experience." But in this age of multimedia newsrooms, he warns against the temptation to elevate star journalists to even more glitzy stardom. This may be good, he says, for the company's other operations -- TV, the Internet or entertainment -- but it can take away from "what is most important, tomorrow's newspaper."

The Post does not seem to mind that Getler is often at odds with the paper's direction. In the end, the Post has its way, and probably will again this time. As for the rest of the multimedia world, the enthusiasm for high- profile staff exposure will continue as long as journalism and entertainment remain wedded.

For the moment, The Chronicle appears immune to the Washington Post syndrome. Yesterday, I got an almost guarantee from one of our honcho editors. "How," I asked, "would you answer a reporter who said to you, 'The New Yorker wants me to write them a 10,000-word story about the Mission District. May I have a month off to do it?' "

"Hell no," the honcho replied. "If someone has a story worth 10,000 words, we want it in The Chronicle."

That answer didn't surprise me. We learned our lesson nearly 25 years ago: Never shrug off a big story. We did, we got burned badly, and we may never forget.

The story that got away was the one that lifted the lid on the Rev. Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. The Chronicle could have published the evidence that brought Jones to final judgment. Instead, it was handed to a nearby magazine.

Over the years, bits and pieces of the shameful details have oozed out, but that hardly dilutes the pain. Flashback to early 1977, sixth year of the Jones church's move to San Francisco. Rev. Jones' public image was at its height as "a dedicated champion of the underprivileged."

The city's political establishment held him in highest regard. Mayor George Moscone made him chairman of the Housing Authority. Herb Caen checked leaders of the Temple neighborhood and was told, ''Jim Jones is a terrific guy, a man the ghetto people can believe in." Influential politician Willie Brown said, "San Francisco should have 10 more Jim Joneses."

The press sometimes mentioned dissension in the church, but most stories told of good deeds by Jones. Some dissidents took their complaints to City Hall, where they got little official attention. They did, however, catch the eye of Chronicle City Hall reporter Marshall Kilduff.

Kilduff went to his supervisor with a proposal to investigate the complaints. The supervisor -- long since departed -- turned Kilduff down. Everything that needed to be written about Jones had already been written, he said.

Kilduff, a journalist who even now doesn't give up easily, asked for and received permission to take his idea to New West magazine, as long as he worked on his own time. The rest is open history.

Rosalie Muller Wright, New West's with-it editor, embraced Kilduff's story with open arms. The New West revelations stirred up a few others and the case against Jones was clear -- fraud, sexual misconduct, medical fakery and general megalomania. Rather than face his accusers, Jones and nearly a thousand followers fled to the suicidal horror of Jonestown, Guyana.

End of Chronicle lesson. But a troubling, parochial thought persists: Could a banner headline in the local newspaper have turned off more of these unfortunates before Jones led them to the Kool-Aid?

E-mail Chronicle Editor Emeritus William German at @cf,el


MORE LINKS RE: JONESTOWN:

JONESTOWN.COM Click.

Bo Gritz and Jonestown Click.

U.S. keeps 5,000 pages of documents classified re: Jonestown. Click.