Pin It

Country Rogue 

Mendocino publisher Bruce Anderson is smart, sophisticated, and savage

Wednesday, Jul 17 1996
Comments
Bear Lincoln was an American Indian cause celebre almost made to order for Bruce Anderson's newspaper. A deadly shootout had erupted on the Round Valley Indian Reservation in Mendocino County on the night of April 14, 1995, and after the gunfire ceased, both a sheriff's deputy and a reservation Indian lay dead. The surviving Indian on the scene, Eugene "Bear" Lincoln, had fled, pursued by authorities' allegations that he had shot the deputy.

Bruce Anderson immediately set his famously, some say infamously, radical paper on the story. The Anderson Valley Advertiser was soon reporting allegations that investigating deputies had roughed up Bear Lincoln's family, pointing guns at the heads of children, manhandling several women, and pushing a grandmother to the ground. And the newspaper reported something else -- one of the deputies involved had changed his account of the fatal shooting. The Advertiser began to speculate that Bear Lincoln might be innocent, the victim of a police ambush.

Eventually, four months after the shooting, Bear Lincoln turned himself in. He had a newspaper on his side -- a newspaper that wielded influence well beyond its meager circulation. Bruce Anderson, the editor and publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, or AVA, as it is known, was a man Bear Lincoln could trust, one who was sympathetic to the plight of an oppressed Native American. From his jail cell in Ukiah, Bear Lincoln wrote a letter to Anderson describing the fatal night and what he considered to be his mistreatment at the hands of the American justice system. Bruce Anderson published that letter in January of 1996.

The authorities came after Anderson within weeks. Late last May, the publisher was jailed after he refused a court order to turn over the original of the Bear Lincoln letter to the Mendocino District Attorney's Office, which wanted to use it as evidence in Lincoln's upcoming capital murder trial. "You hold the keys to your cell," Superior Court Judge James Luther told Anderson, before the publisher was led away in handcuffs.

Had this happened to a member of the mainstream press, the journalistic community might have raised a hue and cry. Instead, the response was essentially, "There he goes again." Bruce Anderson, for more than a decade now the most combative newspaper editor in the West, had been busted yet again.

Those expecting a Roman circus were not disappointed by Anderson. "As we celebrate Memorial Day," Aderson declared, "a draft dodger by the name of Luther is putting a former Marine in jail who's trying to defend the First Amendment." His jailing, Anderson claimed, was payback for his criticism of District Attorney Susan Massini's office and her prosecutorial policies. Noting that he was to be placed in solitary confinement, separate from the other inmates as a civil prisoner, Anderson joked to reporters: "I was at least hoping for an opportunity to explore my sexuality, and apparently even that last pleasure is being denied me."

Anderson said he wouldn't lift a finger to help the DA convict Bear Lincoln, and he vowed never to turn over the letter. He said he was willing to rot in jail for the rest of the year, if necessary, to defend his principles. He asked for long Russian novels to read in the slammer.

Yet just 12 days later, after surrendering the letter to the court, Anderson walked free. As evidence, the letter was useless to the DA -- it had been computer-generated, not handwritten, and so was not provably Bear Lincoln's. So, Anderson said, he had made his point, creating a little bit of theater in the process. Just to get the media focusing on Bear Lincoln's case, he said, pronouncing the showdown "a victory."

When Norman Maclean, in A River Runs Through It, described a western newspaperman as being "one of the last small-town editors in the classic school of personal invective," he could well have been describing Bruce Anderson. Heroic, villainous, or just plain crazy -- depending on whom you ask -- Anderson is both hated and cherished in the pastoral redwood valley where he lives, and in hip radical enclaves such as San Francisco, Greenwich Village, and Madison, Wis., where his tiny newspaper is eagerly read. To supporters -- such as Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn, who flatly calls the AVA "the best newspaper in America" -- Anderson is a necessary antidote to pallid corporate journalism. To his detractors, including politicians he has driven crazy, he is the Antichrist. Only rarely do words fail him -- such as the time he punched out the county school superintendent at a public meeting. An inveterate prankster, he once faked an interview with a congressman from his district, to hilarious results, quoting the lawmaker as calling his constituents "know-nothing[s]" only interested in getting high on pot. A lady in the valley has sued him twice, once for calling her a prostitute and another time for describing her as "a professional poor person."

"I've always had authority problems," says the 56-year-old Anderson, a cheerful, bearded, bearlike man who could easily pass for a choke-setter in the woods, or one of those old-time Wobblies who strike-breakers used to string up from the bridges. A self-described "lefty" and professional contrarian, he is anything but doctrinaire. Fiercely anti-establishment, Bruce Anderson believes that if you wield any kind of influence at all, you are fair game for his biting, satirical, and extraordinarily literate newspaper.

The Anderson Valley Advertiser is a feast for readers and one of journalism's true curiosities. The front page bears a motto from Lenin: "Be as radical as reality." The AVA comes out every Wednesday and sells for 75 cents. It carries no photos and few advertisements, yet Anderson has little trouble filling up each issue's dozen pages with stories printed in tiny nine-point type. Anderson reports, writes, or edits fully a third of the copy and delivers the newspaper himself. His wife, Ling, is the office manager, and a stable of underpaid regular contributors works out of the home office in the tiny town of Boonville. These include Mark Scaramella, a retired Air Force captain who functions as both staff writer and typesetter, and star reporter Mark Heimann, a former logger and truck driver, who finances his journalism through part-time carpentry.

About The Author

Michael Checchio

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular