Bronstein shrugged. What could he say? He hadn't worked for the Ex in those days. And anyway, this evening was devoted to the memory of Greg Robinson, a very good Examiner photographer shot to death at age 27 by Peoples Temple members while covering the story.
All these years later, Robinson's family still is very much in mourning. They had traveled up from Burbank for the evening, and one by one, they spoke movingly of their loss. Robinson's dad angrily lashed out at cults; he was easily the evening's most passionate speaker. Robinson's sister spoke to Greg's powerful photo exhibit upstairs -- on display through Dec. 11 -- and of her brother's ongoing legacy: the Greg Robinson Scholarship, awarded to photojournalism majors in San Francisco State's journalism department, Greg's alma mater.
(Self-disclosure: I teach journalism at S.F. State, and can testify that the Robinson awards have fueled the dreams and careers of some terrific young photographers for the past couple of decades. This, for me, is the happiest outcome of the madness in the jungle.)
Not so happy a prospect is the aforementioned picketing scheduled for the 18th, outside the Examiner. I asked demonstration organizer Kathleen Kinsolving, daughter of former Examiner Religion Editor Lester Kinsolving, what she hopes to accomplish. "It's time we tell the whole world, for God's sake, about the Examiner's gutless cover-up," she said, "and how the paper could have stopped Jones in Ukiah. The Examiner had a responsibility to break the Peoples Temple's back."
Fair enough, but what result did she think this re-enactment of the Peoples Temple picket line of 26 years ago would produce -- an apology from the Examiner? "That would be nice," she responded.
What Would William Randolph Hearst Think?
I reached her father at his home in Vienna, Va. Les Kinsolving is still every bit as courtly, charming, and bitchy as I had remembered him from a quarter-century ago. He remains extremely angry at the Examiner, and suspicious of its motives. He'd read the Examiner series on Jonestown, which contained "not one solitary mention" of Kinsolving's pioneering coverage of the Peoples Temple for the Examiner. "Now I know Larry Hatfield, an honorable man, a fine reporter, and I know he must have been forbidden to mention my name."
Kinsolving, 71, now an evening talk show host in Baltimore, characterized the Examiner's 1972 squelching of his Peoples Temple articles thus: "Disregard of a newspaper's obligation to tell the whole truth is lying."
Kinsolving languidly stretched out that last word: "lllllyyyiiiinnnggg."
"And I can assure you of this: If [the late Examiner founder and publisher] William Randolph Hearst had been alive, he'd never have let the Peoples Temple story rest until justice had been served. You know, don't you, that we could have exposed Jones and stopped him before any of this carnage occurred."
"It's Never Been the Same Since, Really"
Phil Tracy, who teamed with Chronicle then-reporter (now editorial writer) Marshall Kilduff to produce the in-vestigative blockbuster for New West Magazine that blew Jim Jones out of town, takes a semidetached view of the anniversary.
Much of what you think you know about Jones first surfaced in the tirelessly and meticulously reported 1977 New West Tracy/Kilduff collaboration.
"It was the only story I ever wrote where we published only 20 percent of what we had," said Tracy. "There was a lot more stuff -- all sorts of weird sex stuff and possible murders, maybe five or six killings before Jonestown -- stuff we hadn't quite nailed down and didn't go with.
"But anyhow, it did the job. All the papers and TV stations jumped on it, and the Temple went from this completely inward-looking group of people to a place where the TV cameras are coming around and Temple members are being interviewed. And I thought Jones wouldn't be able to control them. Y'know -- everybody wants to see themselves on TV, so they'll watch, and they'll see what the rest of the world thinks of them, and the whole Temple will just collapse."
It didn't work out that way. Jones packed up his congregation and fled to the jungle where, eventually, they nearly all perished.
Each of us feels the weight of Jonestown differently. Tracy, a big, gentle guy, has worked for the San Francisco Study Center, a nonprofit that performs media work for other nonprofits, for years. That's his way of living up to his journalistic responsibilities, as he sees them.
"That Peoples Temple story," said Tracy, "that was the last serious journalism, the last investigative work -- call it whatever -- that I've done. I've written other stuff, but not the heavy stuff. That story really changed my picture of journalism, what journalists do.
"I would say, basically, in the aftermath of Jonestown -- I wouldn't say I was the same guy after that; it's never been the same since, really.