Country Rogue

Mendocino publisher Bruce Anderson is smart, sophisticated, and savage

The most infamous punch-up took place at a public meeting of the Mendocino County School Board in April 1988. As Anderson tells it, he floored his old nemesis, School Board Superintendent Jim Spence, with a blow that sent him flying over a table. For this display of temper, Anderson spent 35 days in the Mendocino County Jail. Inside, Anderson organized the other prisoners into signing a writ over jail conditions and overcrowding and the upshot was that the county had to build a new facility.

Anderson's critics will tell you that being a character isn't the same as having it. There are those who have accused him of manufacturing quotes and spreading hearsay and misinformation. Charles Peterson, 5th District Mendocino County supervisor, says Anderson's confrontational journalism and petty hectoring chase good people away from the Democratic process. Peterson says that while the AVA might be popular in certain circles in San Francisco and Greenwich Village, it is not taken very seriously in the Anderson Valley. District Attorney Susan Massini, who denies the vendetta charges Anderson leveled during his arrest for the Bear Lincoln letters, says Anderson "has an interesting philosophy that anyone in a position of power needs to be chastised." The line on Anderson, from many of his critics, is that he doesn't trouble himself with the facts because he already knows the truth -- his politics have spared him the effort of investigation or thought.

Alexander Cockburn thinks this is a bad rap. The Nation columnist says Anderson is "a great respecter of truth" and compares him to Jonathan Swift. "He's a satirist and a very good reporter," says Cockburn. "He's a guy who understands that reality has to be engaged in a variety of techniques. I don't think Bruce lies at all -- he makes the truth live up to itself."

Ben Bagdikian, a former dean of U.C. Berkeley's School of Journalism, says that although Anderson provides a refreshing alternative to establishmentarian journalism, "you get the feeling he relishes a great fight even if it doesn't involve a great issue. He likes to be outrageous. That can be healthy -- but it can also get you into all kinds of trouble and silliness."

Such may be the case with Bear Lincoln. Anderson's jailing for contempt was hardly a defining First Amendment moment. Sure, he contends he helped Bear Lincoln by focusing the media's attention on the case, which comes up for trial on Aug. 26. He also says that the letter he turned over posed no threat to Bear. But the fact is that he surrendered the missive only a matter of days after declaring that he would spend the rest of the year in the slam.

Perhaps fatigue is setting in. Anderson acknowledges that he sometimes wearies of Boonville and the struggle of meeting each week's deadline. Not too long ago, he put the newspaper up for sale and thought about moving north to Eureka. But his plans fell through -- not even his enemies would come up with the cash to buy him out of the valley.

It is hard to imagine what the Anderson Valley Advertiser would be without Bruce Anderson. Of course, love him or hate him, readers won't have to worry about that for at least the time being. He is working hard on the next edition and hustling to promote The Letters of Wanda Tinasky. And if Thomas Pynchon should ever surface and cop to being Wanda Tinasky, Anderson says he is prepared to split his share of the book royalties with him.

"I think we're on the same page," he says.
They'd better be, of course, because Anderson might not have that many places to turn in a pinch. After all, Lenin's quip about reality is joined on the AVA's front page by an aphorism from Joseph Pulitzer that might someday come back to haunt the publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser: "Newspapers should have no friends."

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