As Ramparts grew in notoriety and circulation, which topped out at 250,000, it attacked everything its editors and writers saw as wrong-headed, specious and downright criminal, and while never the pinko commie rag some accused it of being, it delighted in interviews with Che Guevara, with an intro by Fidel Castro, and published the prison diaries of Elridge Cleaver.
In an era when covers sold magazines at the newsstand, Hinckle’s covers were taunts: Ho Chi Minh dressed as George Washington, Bobby Seale accusing his accusers of betraying America. He and his staff even had a cover of them holding their draft cards, in flames.
No one intimidated Hinckle, and, since he wore an eye patch from a childhood injury, he could get in anyone’s face, just daring them to sue him, shut him up, shut him down. Much of the time he edited out of a local bar favored by the decidedly not left wing San Francisco police. He had a pet monkey in his office he named Henry Luce, which enraged the head of Time Inc. The monkey even intimidated Hunter Thompson, who loved writing for Hinkle.
When Ramparts closed, Hinkle moved on to help found the short-lived Scanlon’s, then worked at City of San Francisco, a magazine owned by Francis Ford Coppola, then the Chronicle and the Examiner. Yet despite his ultra-liberal leanings—well, Hinckle never leaned, he always crashed one way or the other—he loved the high life that came with the New Journalism of his day, and he shared with William F. Buckley, Gay Talese, Jimmy Breslin, Nick Pileggi and others a Catholic education that gave a moral edge to everything he wrote, even if it meant skewering the Catholic Church. His memoir was entitled If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade.
I never knew Hinckle though I certainly knew of him, and while I was never much of a muckraker in my own writing (I once did a piece highly critical of CT Governor Ella Grasso, and heard from her personally that she was pissed), I had to admire the junkyard dog style of the man, for whom facts sometimes got in the way of a good story and vice versa.
Today, since the death five years ago of Christopher Hitchens, there is almost no one left like Hinckle and damn few magazines or newspapers that would hire such a firebrand. Today, in the interest of seeming to be “balanced,” the kind of stories Hinckle assigned and published would not pass muster and, God forbid, offend advertisers. To which Hinckle would answer, why the hell should an editor ever give a s___ about advertisers?
H.L. Mencken, who lobbed his own grenades on a regular basis throughout his career, once said, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Warren Hinckle didn’t need a knife for that task, because he truly believed that the pen was mightier than the sword and the First Amendment the greatest shield of all.
For the NY Times obit of Hinckle, click here.