Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Photo of Lloyd Francis, Howard Ford at The Daily Review by Photographer Saul Bromberger, 1985. Reporter Chris Arellano inside office.

Published news story by Editor-in-Chief Lurene Helzer for Chabot College Spectator, June 7, 1985, “After Jonestown: Photojournalist Leaves Legacy; Former Chabot Students Win Awards”. Story concerns student journalists Howard Ford and Lloyd Francis Jr. 

They’d won in 1985 scholarships created in the memory of San Francisco Examiner Photojournalist Greg Robinson/others killed during the Jonestown Massacre of 1978. 

Altogether, 918 died through either murder with poison or – in a few cases -- suicide. Examiner Photojournalist Greg Robinson was murdered. Northern California Congressman Leo Ryan also was murdered:

A trio of Spectator reporters had gotten credentials to get in the Democratic National Convention, among them Howard Ford.

Howard was excited and as soon as he stepped into the busy San Francisco streets, he started to visualize the images before him.

But even though Howard reacted in the political uproars spilling out of the streets as a baby would seeing its first ray of sunshine, he was a veteran of the characteristically offbeat style of San Francisco activism. His 1972 press pass that said “NIXON” proved it. The tattered card now hung next to his convention credentials like an old friend.

“Move it. Get out of my way!” barked Howard to the female companion and fellow conventioneer walking next to him. “I see a picture!”

Usually an ultra-reserved person, Howard’s obsession with photography was the only time his stormy interior would emerge. Understanding this part of Howard, this partner forgave him immediately for being so snappy. After all, it might make a good story one day.

Lloyd was, in the meantime, risking his limbs mingling through slam dancers in the Rock Against Reagan rally in front of Moscone Center where the convention was being held. After getting tired of seeing punks trying to swallow each others’ flying spitwads, he decided it was time to get a few good shots from the stage. Before going up, he saw a man being thrown off the stage. Without thinking that the same could happen to him, he snapped the shot of the descending man and hopped up onto the stage.

Several hours later when the day’s festivities had drawn to a close, Lloyd met up with his friends at a restaurant. Never mind that he had nearly been arrested, never mind he nearly got pulverized by the rambunctious crowd and paid no attention to the fact that his friends were wondering if he would come out of it alive.

“So how did you get up on the stage, anyway, Lloyd?” asked Howard.

Lloyd clanked his spoon against his coffee cup and said, “I just told them ‘UPI asshole!”

“That’s journalist lingo meaning, ‘Get the hell out of my face.’”

Howard Ford and Lloyd Francis Jr. are former Chabot College journalism students who recently won scholarships created in the memory of the journalists killed in the Jonestown massacre. Howard’s scholarship, the Greg Robinson Memorial Scholarship, is the largest photojournalism scholarship in America and is as interesting and compelling as those exceptional students who win it.

The scholarship is awarded to students of San Francisco State who have at least a 3.0 average, are majoring in journalism, and have passed a competition which includes a portfolio review and written essay. There are seven judges, a combination of three reporters from the San Francisco Examiner and professors from San Francisco State. But although the honor of winning the scholarship was uplifting, the recipients remember the honor came about because of a curse called Jim Jones.

Jones Exposed

In 1972, Jim Jones was operating the People’s Temple in San Francisco. Although a San Francisco Examiner story written by John Burks, now a journalism advisor at SF State, exposed Jones as a phony “faith healer,” the city government seemed to accept him as an upstanding member of the community.

Jones was appointed to the San Francisco Housing Commission by the late mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, in 1976. According to Examiner reporter Tim Reiterman, who was covering the People’s Temple at the time, some people believed that Jones played an important role in Moscone’s election in 1975 by supplying people to hand out leaflets and attend rallies.

Reiterman added, however, that the mayor’s office was under the misapprehension that a thousand People’s Temple members were registered to vote. In actuality, there were only 50 members of the temple who were registered San Francisco voters. Even more perplexing was Jones’ own political affiliation. Jones was a registered Republican in Ukiah, California, but in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, where the other two of the three temples were located, Jones portrayed himself as a “liberal Democrat,” said Reiterman.

Jones’ portrayal of a liberal was so convincing that he was once considered for a statewide appointment by former California Governor Jerry Brown. Before long, though, Jones would leave San Francisco as a discredited and vengeful man.

A Fresh Approach

When Lloyd and Howard talk about photography, people listen.

Most of the listening is done by members of The Spectator news staff who are looking for better ways to capture images on film. The two often come in to their old newsroom to talk about the horrors of a four-year institution to wide-eyed beginning journalism students. They talk about the dedication it takes to “make it” as a journalist.

Aside from being master intimidators, though, Lloyd and Howard have gained the respect of their advisor at San Francisco State, John Burks.

“It’s interesting that Howard, in the world of photojournalism, is doing some radical news photography. He’s either going to make a name for himself or find himself unemployable. It winds up as a style of photography that old school photographers don’t respond to very well. His stuff is so fresh and different, that it’s interesting six months later. That’s the real strength of Howard’s work. There’s times I would have died to have work like Howard’s,” said Burks.

“And with Lloyd, he always has a very direct shot. You feel as if you’re there with him (at the news event). You don’t get that distant approach.”

Robinson Killed

San Francisco Examiner reporter Tim Reiterman had been following the activities of Jim Jones on and off for 18 months by the time November of 1978 rolled around. He and photographer Greg Robinson, an Examiner employee who was known by colleagues as a dedicated journalist who had a special love for his craft, were preparing for a trip to Guyana on November 13 with Congressman Leo J. Ryan, who would be making a fact finding mission.

Reiterman remembered meeting Robinson around the office, but up until the point of the Jonestown assignment, they had not been close friends.

But Reiterman and Robinson developed a quick bond as they went over the newspaper clippings and briefings prior to the trip.

“Our first conversations were about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple,” Reiterman said.

Robinson loved traveling. Up to this time, though, Robinson had only had one reasonably dangerous assignment, covering the fight over Indian fishing rights in Washington State. Robinson wondered whether he would come back with any salable photos from Jonestown, since his photos from the previous trip had been rejected.

The trip made by Robinson, Reiterman and some other journalists was anything but relaxed. When they finally got on the road in a truck bound for Jonestown, Robinson and Reiterman shook hands, thankful that they traveled as far as they did.

That night was spent in Mike and Son’s Weekend Disco, Reiterman said half laughing. The journalists covering the event were the only patrons. There Robinson and Reiterman passed the hours away developing a close camaraderie over beer and rum. Along with the other reporters, they told stories and jokes, perhaps to ease the tension of wondering what would happen the next day.

“The first day of the visit was relatively nothing compared to the second day. The second day was extremely stormy, literally and in terms of the mood. A number of church members had decided to leave with the delegation and Greg had photographed the bitter goodbyes before piling on the truck to leave Jonestown,” said Reiterman.

As the press crew was about to leave, Congressman Leo Ryan was seen staggering down the road.

Ryan was attacked and in the resulting struggle, had his assailant’s blood splattered lightly on his shirt.

Before the first shots were fired near the plane on the airstrip near Port Kaituma, Reiterman remembers saying to Greg Robinson, “I think there might be some trouble. Watch yourself.”

“Moments later the first shots started and everyone scattered looking for cover. I didn’t see what happened to Greg in those next seconds. I was diving for cover behind the wheel of the plane. I was hit in the arm and wrist. I reacted to getting shot and got out of there as fast as I could.”

Reiterman and the other surviving members of the delegations took cover in the jungle, giving crude treatments for wounds. When Reiterman reemerged from the hide-out, he found Robinson’s dead body and next to it, his camera equipment.

“The last frame on his camera I’ve never quite been able to figure out. It’s kind of angled. It’s the end of the jungle and the beginning of the sky…it could be that. People speculate on what it is.”

“Do or Die”

Lloyd, who was awarded with a 250 dollar scholarship from the San Francisco/Oakland chapter of The Newspaper Guild, also in memory of Robinson, frequently sells his work to United Press International when there’s a news event within his reach. Sometimes, though, Lloyd finds photography ruthlessly challenging.

“I get very frustrated with what I’m doing sometimes. It’s hard to communicate ideas without words. I want t the viewer to look at the picture and know what’s going on without asking questions. I want my photos to have a signature without me signing it,” said Lloyd.

Howard, who will take over as photo editor of the San Francisco State magazine, Prism, this fall, will undoubtedly try to introduce his journalistic philosophy to his staff.

“I use tilted horizons a lot in my work. Not because I’m fond of tilted horizons, but because it’s often necessary to do that in order to include all of the important information. It’s like when you’re writing your lead for a news story – the reader needs to know the classic who, what, where, when, and why. The foundation of good journalism is to be complete. But photojournalists are expected to be incomplete,” said Howard.

Burks describes his two enterprising students as the “do or die” types. This description seems to make the scholarship almost tailor-made for them. Because aside from the skill involved, there is that element of dedication in Lloyd and Howard that Reiterman and Robinson used to the fullest extent. Another thing they share is the sense of photographers being brothers and sisters in the same darkroom.

“Even though this will help me tremendously, I really wish that Greg had lived,” said Howard of the photojournalist he never knew, but came to admire.


This 1985 story reminds me of those killed at Jonestown, but also of Journalist Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal, who was also brutally murdered in the course of his reporting work. 

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Photo of Lurene Gisee, August of 2007.

Unpublished essay by Lurene Gisee, September 2, 2006, “How to Recognize Bad Political Speech.” There were several drafts of this essay, at least one from October of 2004. I made another in 2007, but found it rambling.

The 2012 version below is my final because I corrected an error in the first paragraph. It’s hard to know for certain when I first drafted earlier forms, but probably before 2002.

Essentially, it’s an essay about the wealth of conspiracy theories popular with the left, especially around election times. I submitted this to the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section, editing it slightly for the 700 word requested limit, but they declined.

When I view this essay today, I still think it is unpublishable because it lacks examples, details. It was written with an eye on politics in the U.S. but could be applied elsewhere. Many repulsive lies are told within authoritarian societies outside the U.S., spoon-fed to nearby populations, and believed today. These lies are so common they are like spit on the sidewalks of the non-democratic world. I don't want to give them more traction by citing them all here. I would prefer to stimulate questions about where 2009's theories are circulated. Let people figure for themselves.

For instance, think of 2009 Iran. Think of the many Islamic dictatorships near Iran. Think of personalities like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Or go back two decades. If you want to see examples of lies the American left nursed during the Cold War, think of the stories you sometimes heard about the old Soviet Union.

Some fell for such stories. Here is a small section of an interview with Eldridge Cleaver, who was with the Black Panther Party in 1966. He went seeking paradise in the communist world between 1968 and 1975.

The interview was done by editors Lynn Scarlett and Bill Kauffman of Reason Magazine in February of 1986. Cleaver reports what he truly saw in the Communist world of the late 1960s:

"You know, the communists teach you that the dictatorship is a transient phase—that once capitalism is eliminated, then the state will wither away and you will have freedom. Well, when you look at those governments up close and see how they treat their own people, you can't believe in that. You see that people are using that preachment of the withering away of the state as their excuse to justify their own dictatorial power."

Why is this of use today?

You can easily let Cleaver's 1986 words in quotes above help you recognize, through comparison, the savage duplicity of militant Islam in 2009, and acknowledge what dictatorial Islam wants its cheerleaders to believe.

Think of Palestinians especially because, since Cleaver went to Russia and Cuba in the late 1960s and returned to the U.S. a changed and disillusioned man, no population has been forced to digest and accept as many conspiracy theories as Palestinians have since the rise of the PLO and Hamas; falsehoods regarding Israel and the U.S. are nearly all they get from the Arab masses in surrounding dictatorships as their political schooling, as explaination about their own regimes. They blame their lack of progress on Jews, overwhelmingly.

There's quite a lot of conspiracy nonsense about Jews in the United States and Europe, too. But in America and Europe, people who believe such things are people who were never quite right with the laws and decisions of their societies in the first place.

All that aside, though, the structures of thought necessary in dictatorships are similar, whether it's Communism, Fascism or Militant Islam. This vague essay reminds me of it all.

How to Recognize Bad Political Speech
By Lurene Gisee

Few positions, especially in politics, can be absolutely proved. As a voter, journalist or politician, your aim is to acknowledge and then point out weak veins of a theory. As a politician, journalist or historian, you want to watch the public turn the weak theory around, see it backward, see it sideways, and ultimately, see right through it. The commentator who is able to do this honestly from the start deserves attention.

The consequence of a widely accepted falsehood is an uneducated public and, in some cases, a tragic election result.

We’re talking about something more than controversial rhetoric. The last few years seem to have produced an assortment of conspiracy theories. What does that term mean? We should at least argue about it since so many Americans say they’re displeased with the results of the last election.

A conspiracy theory is an explanation of events, circumstances surrounding events, or history through one or more groundless suppositions. These theories make allegations and presume the existence of cooperative agreements between two or more individuals or groups. Such theories are intended to encourage suspicion and deep animosity within a population toward two or more individuals, or toward countries and ethnicities.

Conspiracy theories use your innocent unfamiliarity with a topic like a car uses gasoline. They spring up in the aftermath of tragedy, when it’s time for the traumatized citizen to piece together some feeble understanding.

Why should we care? We should care about conspiracy theories because, ultimately, false explanations for complex events erode public power. Conspiracy theories chip away at the confidence we have in information. Down the line, theories can influence populations at the ballot box and -- even more importantly – make the failure to act through the ballot box the sad result of an election. It’s one of the hazardous holes that suddenly trip a liberal democracy.

It’s difficult to criticize conspiracy theories without pause. You’re in sacred territory from the moment you get involved. Conspiracy criers use the banner of Free Speech to harp upon political failures of the past. Such harping is noticeable because it’s done long past the point of utility. To the conspiracy theorist, each presidential term is a new slant on Watergate, or McCarthyism, or Segregation – take your pick.

Of course, they are portraying themselves as upholders of enlightenment, which is a profoundly easy thing to concoct decades after a political scandal or controversy has passed.

Conspiracy theorists are in some ways deliberate in their approach; they go to geographically sympathetic populations from the start – often populations which are politically weak. That is where they know they’ll get tentative, but receptive ears. They are mindful of local cultures, and know full well the tastes, taboos, laws and sufferings therein to exploit.

While there is no foolproof guide, here are at least a few ways to recognize such political manipulation:

1. Theories almost always either manipulate the audience’s ignorance of obscure topics, or reshape a historical event as a platter on which to serve fresh rubbish. Conspiracy theories are easier to maintain amongst the very poor or uneducated, partially because the theories there are moved with less resistance, and more readily through word-of-mouth.

2. Conspiracy theories seek far-off societies, distant in time or geographical space; Far-off lands can be fashioned for nearly any use in a story. The public’s unfamiliarity with foreign cultures helps, too. Many Americans, for instance, innocently but mistakenly believe Brazilians speak Spanish, when it’s actually Portuguese they understand. In another common error, many of us mistakenly characterize Iranians as Arabs, but they are not. Moslems they are, but Arabs they’re not.

3. Theories often adopt a self-serving story line that builds credibility for an ideology or population. For example: Propagandists for the Soviet Union commonly circulated theories that could have been titled something like, “How the U.S. Economic Depression of the 1930s Really Happened.” Needless to say, communism was positioned as the system that would have saved the United States from economic woe.

4. There is usually either a total victim highlighted garishly, or a greedy, criminally motivated antagonist of some sort, portrayed amid a kind of political odor. Theories almost always target wealthy or elite sections of a society.

5. If you look closely, theories often contain contradictory elements in their very structures, statements that can’t be right if other facts in the same theory are true.

6. Theories almost always depend upon relatively closed social, business or governmental groups that are outside normal public scrutiny or view; theft or deception in high offices is a crucial ingredient in conspiricism. This means bankers’ committees, national intelligence agencies, and ethnic or religious groups, to cite just a few.

7. Intellectuals are sometimes heavily represented in the maintenance of credibility for a theory. We can see books being mentioned as props more than ever. Also, the mechanics of movement for the theories have modernized. We can use the World Wide Web now. We can see hit-pieces against ethnic groups and countries that contain graphs, charts, art and historical timelines. Today, we see photographs, pamphlets and journals giving ink to the most ridiculous political conspiracy theories we’ve seen since the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. In those days, theories were embarrassingly ubiquitous, and deepened the hurt of an already traumatized population.

8. Things will seem to fit that, in reality, have nothing to do with the subject being discussed. The fact that a shirt worn by a murderer appears to fit the accused proves nothing. We need a lot more than that to form an assertative statement in public, especially for political decisions.

9. Be on guard for any statement that dumps an entire ethnicity or nationality behind a banner or political belief. Blacks, Asians, Jews, Indians, French. Also, we see different professions targeted, like some financial professions, scientific specialties. The fact is, you can seldom find agreement on any subject in a room full of people belonging to a particular ethnicity, profession or culture. This is common sense, really. But it’s easy to forget simple things, isn’t it?

In conclusion, slanderous theories sink into obscurity when the true details are produced and calmly presented in an intelligible, summarized and well-publicized format. As long as the audience is not made to feel that its intelligence is being insulted, or that its fanciful suspicions are being ignored, there is a good chance of seeing such theories brought up for public discussion. Then, they can either be disproved, or appreciated for whatever truth they contain.

Especially with politics, much of what a spectator needs to know is the motive of the speaker.

Conspiracy theories inevitably bank on the stewing prejudices of a society – notions floating within the constituency that cannot be decently claimed by it. The anonymous nature of theories fortifies their longevity and durability; it is their greatest strength. No one claims the theory officially, and few accept it palpably.

Theories lean heavily on the guilt of the audience, giving the audience a participatory, emotional relationship to the theory. That’s why they work, over and over again. Be especially wary if holes in the body of evidence are given “content,” and subsequently dressed up as “fact.” Such things are words born in vacuity; they never knew content.

It might be dismally true that when individuals openly admit the most repulsive of theories to the public square, the theory itself turns to plain vulgarity, and the society has been fooled into pursuing its own decay. We need to be aware of ourselves.

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