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Monday, May 31, 2002

SCREEEEEECH!!! Stop the Presses!

We’re hibernating till July

By Betsey Culp

Because the Call is such a patriotic publication, I’ve been joking, it will celebrate not only Memorial Day and the Fourth of July but all the time between. It’s true: the San Francisco Call will not publish at all – neither online nor in print – until the week of July 8.

It will not, however, be sitting by the ocean, working on its tan. Instead, it – or at any rate its publisher – will be running here and there, talking to as many people as possible, working on ways to improve the paper and its finances. The time has come to prove the SF Weekly right and make the SF Call into a real newspaper.

Since the Call left the streets, its website has expanded. Many of you have emailed or called to say you like the results. But this paper should be in print as well. It lost too many cherished, non-techie readers when it folded up its newsracks and retreated into cyberspace. As the city begins to implement its new newsrack ordinance, it’s time to figure out a way to once again put ink to newsprint and get out there where we belong.

I hope that you won’t abandon this website completely in the next few weeks. New items will occasionally appear – Keith Keener, for example, has promised to send a proper positive review of “The Sum of All Fears” once he’s actually seen the movie. (As today’s Watching City Hall notes, h. brown will post his observations on a site of his own during the interim.) I will try to keep you informed of our progress; if any earth-shaking developments occur in June, either to this paper or to the world at large, I’ll be sure to notify the people on the Call’s update list. In the meantime, your suggestions are welcome, as always. In particular, as the paper expands and reorganizes, what would you like to see, or see more of? What leaves you cold?

Patriotism, it turns out, takes many forms. Sometimes it means simply showing up. And that’s why we’ll be back.

The White House has just announced a loosening of the rules governing FBI surveillance, allowing wider monitoring of organizations and individuals with less central monitoring of local agents. The potential effects on Americans’ freedom of speech are terrifying. Or perhaps you’ve forgotten.

I haven’t.

I remember when FBI agents used to regularly stop by the office of the UC Berkeley History Department, inquiring about the activities of certain students and faculty members. The department’s administrative secretary ordered her staff not to give out any information whatsoever, but others were not so brave or so high-minded.

I remember protesting for free speech or against the Vietnam War and noticing, as a matter of course, the FBI-operated cameras pointed at the demonstrators. We used to joke about the size of our dossiers, but we also knew that the humor could easily turn sour.

If you need other witnesses, their numbers are legion. For starters, take a look at the oral histories compiled by Bud and Ruth Schultz in It Did Happen Here. For all its constitutional protection of civil liberties, the line into suppression has always been easy to cross in the United States.

Past paranoia? Perhaps. But imagine the consternation of Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, when the giant search engine Google pulled ads for her political website because of unfriendly remarks she had made about actor John Malkovich. (In a speech at Cambridge University, Malkovich had criticized critics of Israel, offering to shoot Independent reporter Robert Fisk. In response, Roddick called Malkovich a “vomitous worm.” Google and Roddick have since reluctantly reconciled, but the threat still reverberates.)

Even in the face of pressures like these, for self- and official censorship, the spirit of an independent press has been a proud part of the American heritage, since even before the stars and stripes arrayed themselves on a red, white, and blue flag. In compiling America: A Patriotic Primer, Lynne Cheney apparently had trouble finding an entry for the letter Z, making do with the wishy-washy statement, ''Z is the end of the alphabet.'' No, she didn’t close with John Peter Zenger, the most obvious choice. The Cheneys – and Ashcrofts and Bushes – of this world would prefer to ignore the existence of Zenger, the seventeenth-century newspaper publisher who helped to institute the practice of “speaking truth to power” on these shores. But we ignore his example at our own peril.

The Call will be back.