By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Our most important regional story came earlier, shortly after the massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps during Israel’s first invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Given that the press was finally paying attention to Western-inspired massacres in a Second World country, I thought it was a superb opportunity to hasten our investigation into massacres in El Salvador. The fine young journalist already on the story, Greg Goldin, agreed to step on the research pedal. The result was a profound cover story that detailed a dozen vicious massacres of peasant villagers in El Salvador in a two-year period, starting with a village in which 1,200 people, mostly women and children, were murdered, with babies bayoneted. The lead culprit was the El Salvador Altacal Brigade, which had been trained and secretly led by U.S. Special Forces troops. In short, just as in Vietnam, the massacres of peasant villages believed to be sympathetic to leftist rebels were in full force again under Reagan in Central America.
The story was seized on by Central America antiwar groups and played a small role in their lobbying of Congress, which eventually limited funds to El Salvador and cut off money entirely to the Contras (which led to Iran-Contragate and drug running by the Reagan White House, another story we billboarded). At one point in the massacre-story odyssey, the deputy to Reagan’s national security adviser lied to me that his boss had no knowledge of massacres in El Salvador. “I’ll get someone at the State Department to respond to ‘that bird’ in L.A.,” he told me. “That bird” was a reference to me. The man, who from his White House perch spoke this into my ear as if I didn’t exist, had the voice pitch and general vocabulary of a thug, an icon for the level of the Reagan people.
Those are the big memories, those and our sponsorship in 1989 of Remaking L.A., a conference in which we, in our community-education capacity, brought grassroots leaders from across the city to UCLA to articulate a community vision of the future of L.A. in contrast to the big-money, top-down, Realtor- and banker-influenced “plan” that had just been issued from Mayor Tom Bradley’s office — a mayor we gave much grief despite Bradley being a favorite of the Westside liberals, who were among our base audience. Journalist Harold Meyerson, whom we hired to organize the conference, then pulled together a cover story from the conference presentations, which still stands as a unique vision from the bottom-up of a remade L.A.
These stories stand out for their journalistic impact. Still, the stream that runs more quietly through my bones remains the privilege of being a revealer, and thereby a supporter, of the human creativity, wisdom and potential for positive change in L.A. and the world, as well as of the societal areas that needed compassionate attention. That, and the voluptuous gift of all the cool writers and staffers I got to be around.
Accordingly, I have no regrets for leaving, only satisfaction that, for a while, the Zeitgeist, the bigger forces, swept through us and allowed us to create a better model for others, imperfect as our Weekly was. Eventually, I left to bring the same vision to television, though I failed — or, more accurately, the industry that promised 500 digital channels in 1992 and didn’t deliver until 2006 had failed me. Now, I do some life-mastery teaching, and work on media projects that attract my attention, including LApoverty.org and until recently RealtalkLA.com, and I dream as the Obama era begins that the mass media may finally get it right, knowing that there’s zero chance it will, because collectively we are neither evolved nor empowered enough to insist on it as a first order of business, one as important as eating.