America’s last newspaperman
Bruce Anderson, editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, is still angry after all these years
They don’t make ’em like Bruce Anderson anymore. For nearly four decades, Anderson has edited the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a small community newspaper published in Boonville that covers mostly Mendocino County news. Despite the remote location it serves, the Advertiser has earned a national reputation for bravely going where no other newspaper will go, in no small part due to Anderson’s scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners editorial stance. If the Advertiser is “America’s Last Newspaper,” as it claims on its masthead, then Anderson certainly qualifies as America’s last newspaperman, a name-calling, fist-fighting anachronism who readily admits he and his paper may have outlived their time.
“I think it’s certainly the last paper of its type, a community-based, left-wing paper,” Anderson said via telephone from the Boonville office. “You may have found a few around at the turn of the 20th century, but not anymore. That, in a way, makes it unique.”
Anderson, who’s pushing 70, will appear at Time Tested Books on Sunday, June 1, to read selections from The Mendocino Papers, his new book documenting the history of the county where he’s lived since 1970. During that time, the Advertiser has covered everything from an arson-for-profit scandal in the Fort Bragg area to the trial of accused murderer “Bear” Lincoln (who won acquittal after famed civil rights attorney Tony Serra read about the case in the Advertiser and took it on) to the bombing of forest activist Judi Bari in 1990.
It sounds a bit odd to hear Anderson describe his predictably unpredictable paper as left-wing—after all, his biggest detractors in recent years have been so-called progressive liberals—but he insists the label sticks.
“Maybe the left left me,” he explained. He believes the left needs to become just as unpredictable as the Advertiser. “I think that’s what the left-wing should be. It shouldn’t be in some kind of lock step with KPFA public radio or Pacifica. I find that hideous and boring and not at all liberating or even particularly informative.”
It sure ain’t the way the left used to be.
“When I was a kid, I found it liberating, maybe because I was young and stupid,” he said. “Now that I’m old and stupid, it just annoys me.”
Several years ago, Anderson pulled up stakes and attempted to start a similar newspaper in Eugene, Ore. The venture failed due to lack of capital, but it sounds like he didn’t get along too well with the local liberals, anyway. At one meeting, he held up a copy of the local alternative weekly featuring a cover story on best “pick-up” lines in a bar. The winning line was “Do you wanna fuck?”
“During my talk, I held up the paper, and I said, ‘What is this, what’s wrong with this place?’” he recalled. “'This is a liberal publication? Do they think we’re retarded or something?’”
Suddenly, the audience started booing and hissing, not at the publication, but at Anderson, because he had used the politically incorrect word ‘retarded.’
“It’s like dealing with a bunch of Stalinists,” he said of the left in general. “It’s been captured by a lot of really mediocre people who somehow confuse their personal misery with political ideas. Because they’re miserable, they must be some kind of dissident.”
He blames the decline of genuine debate on the corresponding decline in reading.
“We’re no longer a book-based culture,” he said. “More and more of the younger people are flash and dash and electronically oriented and they just don’t read well. They certainly can’t write well. If you can’t read well and write well, you’re not thinking clearly.”
All of this irritates Anderson to no end, and over the years, he’s become notorious for assaulting folks with his paper as well as his fists. He’s been in jail 14 times, four times for reasons directly associated with the paper. When asked who was the last person he punched out, he instead replies with characteristic verve with the next person he’d like to punch out—the forest activists who’ve hounded him ever since he proposed the theory that Judi Bari’s ex-husband had planted the bomb that nearly killed her.
“I call them the dwarf bully girls,” he said. “They’re all about 5 feet tall with big mouths. I’m very tempted, but they travel in packs. If I could ever get any of them alone, I would certainly risk serious time for assault.”
No, they don’t make ’em like Bruce Anderson anymore. No doubt some people will think that’s a good thing. But for those who remember how effective community newspapers can be, there’s no cause for celebration.