Helen Copley to Remer: “I don’t want to talk to you. You’ve gotten me in enough trouble.”
Scene: A Friday afternoon business luncheon. Helen Copley, publisher of the San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune , is speaking to 150 members of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. Time for questions. A young man in the back of the room challenges a recent Copley dictum: Would you grant myself or any other media an interview concerning your decision not to accept abortion advertising —pro or con—in our local papers?” The moderator asks the questioner’s identity. ‘‘Larry Remer of Newsline,” is the reply.
Remer's first fundraiser featured cartoonist-playwright Jules Feiffer and political activist Tom Hayden.
A wave of embarrassment and irritation rolls over the crowd. “I know who he is,” Copley says softly. Then louder: “I don’t want to talk to you. You’ve gotten me in enough trouble.” After the luncheon, Remer approaches Copley and asks, “What do you mean. I’ve gotten you in enough trouble?” She brushes past him without responding. A member of the Copley entourage steps between them and says rather curtly, “Leave her alone.”
Remer watches as Copley leaves.
Scene: The office desk of Larry Remer, on which sits a dirty yellow telephone. He is speaking with a Newsline financial supporter. They discuss the use of some light gossip for Remer’s “Tidbits” column, and then Remer turns on the pressure. “Oh yeah, I wanted to remind you to write me a check today. Make it a hundred. What do you mean, what for? It’s so I can make payroll. We need some money. And don’t forget the fundraiser in April. Can you give me a couple of your paintings to sell?
Okay. Good. Now remember, when you get home tonight just write me out a check.
Scene: A visitor enters the Newsline office during an extremely vocal and emotional disagreement between Remer and the paper’s business manager, Molly Stone. Stone storms out the front door and Remer starts to follow her. “Don’t argue with her anymore,” warns managing editor Peter Bowler. “She’s mad, Larry. She’s quitting mad, and I’m not kidding.” Remer ignores the advice and heads out to the street to continue the argument. Bowler, shaking his head in consternation, turns back to his typewriter and fumes, “Remer’s such an asshole.”
We are sitting in the cluttered and poorly lighted Newsline office below the Toluca Apartments at Fourth and Brookes in Hill-crest. On the door to Remer’s office are two bumper stickers (“No Nukes — Stop Diablo Canyon” and “Stop San Onofre! Poison Power”) and a calendar of the current Chinese Year of the Monkey. His desk is littered with sundry items: a wooden pencil holder from Nicaragua given him by friend David Helvarg, a Smith-Corona Electra 110 typewriter, a leather-bound appointment book, a photograph of a dozen or more naked people standing on the beach and laughing at the KGB Chicken, an IN box overflowing with loose papers and envelopes, and a Bic pen without a cap at either end. Against the wall in a jerrybuilt bookcase are stacked hundreds of back copies of Newsline, shouting out their revelations: “San Diego’s Paramedic Program in Chaos” and “San Onofre: The Silent Bomb.” A month-old issue falls open to one of those Remer-written advertisements which attempt to lure would-be subscribers. Its headline reads, “I Am Curious (Yellow Journalism?),” and it says.
- There is a faction in this profession that adheres to the principle that a reporter is nothing more than a stenographer with a by-line. All Responsible Journalists, they say. eliminate dreaded bias by divorcing themselves from curiosity and writing "just the facts. Ma'am,” the facts as told to them, at face value, verbatim. Anything more is less than the truth, and smacks of “yellow journalism.” Unso. Besides being utterly unrealistic, that philosophy automatically rejects what may actually be the whole truth — the story behind the story. At the Newsline, we’re digging to get behind the story. Because we’re curious.
Larry Remer is now well into his third year as editor and publisher of Newsline. In May of 1977, when he was twenty-six years old, he put together a financial prospectus for a muckraking investigative weekly newspaper, then went out in search of backers. In several months he had collected more than $25,000., and Newsline was on its way. He is now twenty-nine, and looks decidedly more clean-cut than one might be led to believe from reading Newsline's content. He favors Oxford-cloth button-down shirts and polyester double-knit trousers. His voice is rather thin and tinny, not the sort of voice likely to strike fear in the hearts of his victims. But eight years as an investigative reporter have taught him how to worm things out of interviewees, things they later regretted or denied. He can be obnoxious or coy, charming or bitchy, sly or seemingly naive. He can, in other words, be what the situation calls for. Long-time friend and former colleague Bill Ritter says, “Let’s face it. If you want to take a popularity poll, he wouldn’t be on the top of anyone’s list. He can be abrasive or obnoxious. The enigma is that people like him anyway. He has this Peter Pan-ish view of life that can be both frustrating and inspiring.”
I am in Remer’s office because I am interviewing him, which is rather like passing inspection from the father of a first-night date. “What do you guys want from me, really?” he asks with an abundance of suspicion and skepticism. “You’re not out to do a number on me, are you? I mean, I could be a pretty easy target. ” But soon he relaxes and speaks openly about his paper and himself. I ask him about “Tidbits,” his column filled with tittle-tattle, loose ends, prattle, and rumor. (A sample blurb: “Councilman Larry Stirling is trying to keep the city’s Crime Commission — which he is not on and which was formed without his knowledge while he was heading the Police Practices Committee — from getting adequate office space on the prestigious eleventh floor at City Hall ”) Remer defends the column, which he uses as a forum for his spleen-venting against powerful San Diegans. “What do we got to lose?” he says. “I’ll get into a pissing match with these guys because they’re assholes.“But it is doubtful that this “pissing match” is anything other than a minor annoyance to those Remer has challenged. Says Lynne Carrier, a reporter for the Evening Tribune who has known Remer for the past six years, “Larry is like a little mosquito buzzing around the powerful — a little sting here, a little sting there. It's not going to bring the powerful down. Larry knows he has limitations.”
It is a late Monday afternoon and Remer is trying to paste up the newest edition of Newsline. The advertising manager (there is no advertising staff; just the manager) wears a forlorn expression as she leaves for the day. Managing editor Bowler and typesetter Cactus Pena prepare to leave, and Remer pleads with them good-naturedly to stay a while longer and help put the paper to bed. They leave anyway, and Larry explains that it is because Cactus has been sick recently and Bowler works too hard and needs the rest. As he continues to design the pages, lawyer-playwright Miles Frieden walks in the door. Frieden, bearded and deep-voiced, chastises Remer for allowing to be printed an unsympathetic review of Frieden’s play The Grinder: A Working Song. The review was written by Newsline arts critic Robert Simone. Says Frieden, “It's really hard, Larry, to read things like that. There is a real political-art community growing in San Diego that’s not getting any support. It’s really hard not getting support from the places you expect it.”
“What can I do. Miles?” Larry asks. “I’m trying to educate him [Simone) politically. But he’s a critic. Miles. I have to give him some freedom. I can’t fire him just because I don’t agree with him.” Frieden considers this for a moment, and it doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. “Yes you can.”
“Maybe we could just run a letter from you. Miles, like Neil Simon did in the L. A. Times. Besides, he’s the only arts critic we have. Do you want to write for us?” Remer’s unique balancing of politics and practicality may be taking its toll. More than one of Remer’s acquaintances has commented on the inevitable burn-out Larry faces if he keeps up the pace. “I think Larry is real tired,” says one. “He’s found himself in a position where he attempts to do everything. His writing isn’t as good as it used to be, simply because he’s trying to do too much.”
Whether Remer’s overexertion has affected his journalistic trustworthiness is a subject of conversation whenever his name comes up. For many of his supporters, though, it is enough that Remer has aimed at the correct target; that he doesn’t always hit a bull’s-eye is unfortunate but not unexpected. “I think that’s one of the hazards of what he’s trying to do,” says attorney Dave Stutz. a friend of Remer and a financial supporter of Newsline. “Because of the way Newsline is set up, Larry tends to shoot from the hip sometimes, and that affects his credibility.” Otto Bos. a former reporter for the Sun Diego Union, has been familiar with Remer’s work for several years. Bos is now press aide to Mayor Pete Wilson, a frequent subject of Newsline's harangues. “Larry’s Achilles’ heel is that his work comes from a particular viewpoint.” Bos says. “He goes into every story with that particular outlook. In his eyes, Jerry Brown can do no wrong. Tom Hayden can do no wrong. By the same token, [state senator] Jim Mills is a bad guy because he took on Tom Hayden. Wilson was a bad guy during the mayoral campaign, and I used to kid Larry about being [mayoral candidate Simon] Casady’s minister of propaganda. He’d call me up during the campaign and ask me things, and I'd tell him that I wasn’t going to give him stuff that he was going to turn around and use in Casady’s favor. His credibility is hurting. But I have some regard for Larry as a journalist in terms of his ability to dig things up that no one else has. He has always been a professional in dealing with this office.”
And Remer has come up with stories no other reporter has written. Newsline was the first news medium in town to publish an expose of land holdings of planning commissioners Homer Delawie and Oscar Padilla, which was followed a day later by stories in the Union and Tribune. Remer and company can boast about being the first newspaper to detail the fight over the James Copley estate between Helen Copley and the adopted children from Mr. Copley’s first marriage. Even more than its scoops, however, Newsline is known for its continuous coverage of such favorite targets as the Navy, big business, organized crime, the Copley press, and border issues. When Remer and his reporters hit on a good story, they can be lively and incisive, but any story that has the slightest political content is often drenched in left-leaning verbiage, so much so that the facts are made suspicious. Every strike by workers is good. Policemen think of new ways to oppress minorities as they lace up their boots in the morning. Large corporations love nothing better than to squash consumers like so many cockroaches. And it is this predisposition to write from that particular standpoint that alienates Remer from his colleagues at the more traditional newspapers in San Diego. “There is room in this city for a paper that editorializes on the subjects that Larry writes about, but not room for papers that editorialize in the news columns,” says one high-echelon Tribune staffer. “At least, not in my kind of journalism.” Paul Krueger, a columnist for the Union, was incensed when told Remer was to be the subject of a feature story.‘‘Look,” Krueger said, “number one, he’d love the publicity; and number two, there’s no story. He thinks he’s a big defender of the people, a fighting man of the masses. But in reality he is an elitist, in terms of his thinking and social dealings. He isolates himself with these comfortable, well-off liberals. He owns a house and a new car. He gets a kick out of hanging out with these important people and calling them by their first names, and likes the fact that they know who he is. He may be energetic and dedicated, but he is so self-righteous it makes me sick. See, he wants to act the role of savior, but it’s false. He’s about as ludicrous as Jane Fonda at a Black Panther meeting.”
But if Remer and Newsline are offensive, they are in a grand tradition of the patently liberal press; from the Los Angeles Free Press in the Sixties, to The Masses prior to World War I, and possibly to the revolutionary writings of Thomas Paine. And make no mistake; Remer feels himself and his paper to be a part of that tradition. Newsline's motto is taken from that rambunctious iconoclast H.L. Mencken, who said fifty years ago, “It is the duty of the press to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The fact that Remer was raised in a liberal. Jewish, rather comfortable East Coast household, Remer says, does not prevent him from comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Says Remer’s friend Bill Ritter, a news writer at the University of San Diego and editor of the consumer newsletter published by CalPIRG: “My God. if you have to be black to fight for black people’s rights, or if you have to be poor to fight for poor people’s programs. or if you have to be unemployed to fight for jobs, then things have come to a pretty sorry state in San Diego.”
Although Remer’s commitment to helping the downtrodden appears genuine in every respect, few deny that he relishes his proximity to the powerful. When he speaks of Mayor Wilson, he always says “Pete.” He tells you about what he heard while having drinks with Councilman Bill Lowery. Lawyers, judges, politicians — they all read his paper, he says. At least two former Newsline writers privately have given as partial reason for their leaving the staff the fact that Remer likes dropping names of and being seen with powerful San Diegans. A good friend of his elaborates; “There’s a big difference between wanting to hang out with important people and a desire to gravitate toward the centers of power, which is what Larry does. Also, when you get people who have such strong goals, they’re often insensitive to their friends. Larry does not have a lot of close friends.” But in his own defense, Remer says flatly that he goes where the stories are, and you don’t learn the inside dope by hanging around the Ocean Beach pier.
This is not the only seeming contradiction observers point out in reference to Remer. "He gives discount ads to left-of-center political groups,” says a Tribune staff member. “If we did that for a right-of-center group, he’d be all over us.” An example of that complaint occurred in October of 1978 and resulted in a Newsline employee quitting his job there. Andrew Makarushka. an instructor of English at Mesa College and Newsline's film critic during the paper’s first year, resigned when he discovered that an advertisement designed to look like a news story had been printed with only the tiniest disclaimer that the copy was really an ad from Tom Hayden’s group, the Campaign for Economic Democracy. Headlined “Evelle Younger: Unfit for Any Office,” the ad-masquerading-as-news charged the then-candidate for governor with ineptitude and race baiting. Makarushka’s dismay was compounded when he learned that the Campaign for Economic Democracy was given a discount on the ad and that Remer had been paid to research and compile most of the material. Remer. however, has argued that it is Newsline's right — even obligation — to support liberal groups such as the CED in any way possible.
From the start. Remer’s plan was to attract readers at city hall, at the county administration center, in the courts, and throughout the liberal, activist community. When he went out in search of financial backers in 1977, he presented himself as a successful investigative reporter with the underground newspaper the Door, a contributing editor of San Diego magazine, and a former administrative aide to county supervisor Jack Walsh. But Larry Remer is disappointed in the response his paper has elicited in the past two and a half years. ‘ ‘For a city the size of San Diego,” he complains, “we’re not getting the support we need. There are a lot of people in this town who should be subscribing to us who aren’t.”
The first issue of Newsline hit the streets on October 5, 1977, with an initial press run of 15,000 copies. “Our plan,” says David Helvarg, who began as a writer and became managing editor six months later, “was to focus on the white-collar workers and administrators in the downtown area, and then gradually move it out to the beaches. In the Sixties, it was the beach people who you went after, but now the more politically important groups are downtown.” Remer concurs; “There are 50,000 people who work downtown. They’re the pulse of the community, and Newsline is a paper more for the activists than for casual readers. In terms of a financial base, we thought there would be more money downtown in sales and advertising. As it turns out, unfortunately, there may have been more money in the outlying areas.”
Remer’s dreams of financial security were based on what he thought to be a firm foundation. One of the first things he did as publisher was to file with the California Corporations Commission to sell stock in Newsline. For the purposes of incorporation a parent company was created — Greater Amalgamated Western Newspapers, Incorporated, which everyone refers to as GAWN, Inc. Under state law, Remer was entitled to twenty-five percent of the company; the remainder was offered to one hundred stockholders. “I started with my telephone book and my wife’s telephone book,” Remer says when asked where he found the potential investors. “I went to them on a one-to-one basis. I went to people interested in ‘cause’ politics, people who belonged to the ACLU, environmentalists. antiwar activists.” Although the current record of stockholders is kept confidential. Remer was required to name the persons to whom he intended to sell GAWN, Inc. stock. Out of the total 1000 shares — which sell for one hundred dollars apiece — Remer raised $25,000 upon the initial sale. The following is a list of some of the original prospective investors and the amount of stock they offered to buy: Dick Carlson, vice-president of San Diego Federal Savings and Loan, five shares; Javad Emami, a clinical psychologist and director of the Phoenix Center of Psychology, one share; Jane Fonda, actress and wife of activist Tom Hayden, five shares; Harvey Furgatch, building contractor and former port commissioner, fifty shares; Patricia Hunt, heiress to the Swanson Frozen Foods fortune and now Dick Carlson’s wife, ten shares; Lucy Goldman, local political activist, seven shares; Alan Ziegaus, an officer in a public relations firm, the Gable Agency, and former aide to Councilman Jess Haro, three shares; Bettie Kapiloff, political consultant and former wife of Assemblyman Larry Kapiloff, two shares; Art Letter, former administrator with the Comprehensive Planning Organization and now a candidate for state senate, three shares; and Basic Economic Education, Inc., a private foundation headed by former city councilman Floyd Morrow, ten shares.
Hotelier Carl Ludlow, a former aide to county supervisor Roger Hedgecock, and Harvey Furgatch, who was named recently to the Titanic captaincy of the Brown for President campaign, are two of Remer’s more consistent financial supporters, especially Furgatch, who was on GAWN, Inc.’s original beard of directors. Furgatch is rumored to be the single largest contributor to Newsline, helping to defray the average loss of $500 per issue. Furgatch, however, is out of town on the campaign trail with Governor Brown, and Remer is mum on the subject. “I could have gone for the nonprofit status,” Remer says, changing the subject, “but I didn’t want the IRS to have the power over our heads that they could withdraw that status whenever they wanted. Plus, when you sell stock, it gives the people who buy it the feeling that they have a stake in Newsline's survival; it solidifies their support. When I go ask them for more money, they’ll be likely to give it to me. And, in the event we go under, the stockholders can deduct the stock from their income tax.”
Stockholders, though, are only one source of income. By far the largest revenue source is the Newsline’s display advertising, followed by the newspaper’s independent printing business, called Line Graphics. Stock sales and donations also rate high as sources of income. Remer has also perfected the art of the fundraising party, and Newsline has benefited from six such fundraisers in the past two years. “But we really don’t make that much money doing that,” says Remer. “They’re as much for the PR as for the money.” The first fundraiser, which was held at the Guymon mansion in Mission Hills soon after the start of Newsline, featured cartoonist-playwright Jules Feiffer and political activist Tom Hayden. Newsline netted $1500 from the admission fee of fifteen dollars per guest and the sale of an original Feiffer cartoon panel for $410. A subsequent party at a private home in Golden Hill featured Georgia state legislator Julian Bond and Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Scheer.
The raising of cash is a constant worry, considering that the weekly budget of GAWN, Inc., is between $2000 and $2500. (Salaries comprise nearly half that; printing costs take up another twenty percent; and the remainder of the expenses consist of rent, gasoline, supplies, and miscellaneous expenditures.) Although much of the overhead expense is offset by advertising revenue, the Newsline's ad sales have never been impressive. “Our advertising isn’t very successful,” Remer admits. “First, we’re not large enough to attract a lot of advertisers, and second, where are we going to find the capitalists to sell the ads? If they’re any good, they’re snapped up right away.”
Correctly or not, Remer feels that his brand of political journalism has cost him some needed advertising revenue with the large corporations, such as San Diego Gas and Electric. “They give us the runaround whenever we ask why they don’t advertise with us, ” Remer grumbles. He says he has considered filing a lawsuit against SDG&E over the issue — because the power company is a monopoly and a public trust and it unfairly boycotts his paper — but that a court action would be too expensive. He tells an illustrative story regarding SDG&E which occurred last April at a Commission of the Califomias conference in San Felipe, Baja California. “I was down there with [city councilman] Bill Lowery, and Frank Devore, an SDG&E vice-president, came up to me and started screaming at me,” Remer remembers. “He accused me of taking my technical advice from Jane Fonda, so I’m not surprised they don’t advertise with us.” When asked recently about the incident, Devore claimed ignorance. “Honestly,” he said, “I just don’t know what you mean. I’m really sorry, but I simply don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Since its inception, Newsline has not only made a habit of losing money and advertisers, but also of losing staffers. The ever-changing staff box indicates something of a revolving door, pulling in idealistic, young writers, and spitting out demoralized journeymen of advocacy reporting who are tired of a meager (or nonexistent) paycheck. Free-lance writers are not paid at all, and there are only five full-time and two part-time staffers earning just over minimum wage. (The full-timers make between $160 and $185 weekly; Remer says he earns $170.) As a result, Remer does almost everything that he cannot pay to have done by someone else. Remer’s friend and colleague Bill Ritter says that as Remer goes, so goes Newsline. “That paper hangs on Larry,” Ritter says. “He keeps it afloat with sweat, paper clips, bubble gum, and mirrors.” And stockholder Dave Stutz, when asked what the reaction would be among fellow investors if Newsline were to fold in the near future, said, “If Newsline went under at the end of this year, there would be no hard feelings and no regrets among the stockholders.”
Remer was born in Montclair, New Jersey, the first child of Herbert and Beverly Remer. His mother is a teacher at an intermediate school in the Bronx, and his father owns a gift-importing firm which deals mostly with such Swiss and Scandinavian goods as marble artwork and knife sets (“To be sold in the better gift shops," says Remer). A year later, the family moved to Mt. Vernon, a white, middle-class, bedroom community of New York City. Larry was soon joined by two sisters — Sue and Laurie — and entered Columbus Elementary School in the Italian section of town. He showed some proficiency at his studies and skipped the second grade, which seems to have been something of a turning point in his life. “The major thing is that I no longer fit in with my peers, because I skipped a grade. That and being Jewish. And I’m not even a religious person; I don’t even identify with being Jewish.”
When he entered Mt. Vernon High School in the fall of 1963, the age difference between Larry and his fellow freshmen was more apparent than before. He was small to begin with, but as his friends began maturing into adults, Larry felt he was left behind. For his own protection — because he was often picked on by bullies — Larry joined a group with the unlikely appellation the Classics. “The Classics was an integrated social club, ” he says. “See, on one end you had the fraternities, and on the other end you had the street gangs. The Classics fell somewhere in between. We had meetings and paid dues and like that. It originally started with black and white athletes. We even got in fights. We fought the Italian racists — not that all Italians arc racists or anything. These were white, working class, and not very liberal. The Classics always defended their members, and that was great because I was always getting picked on.”
Remer began developing a political consciousness around the beginning of his teens. “My parents were pretty active politically. They had me boycott school in 1962 in favor of integration, and I went to a ‘freedom school’ in one of the black churches. In 1963 I went with friends down to Washington, D.C., and saw Martin Luther King give his ‘I have a dream. . .’ speech. I got very involved with the civil rights movement. Even the first women I dated were black. A lot of my male friends were black, and part of my friendship with them meant that I had to pick up their white girlfriends at their homes.
“I remember myself and my friend, Dougie Garr — he was a member of the Classics, too — we were the only white guys who could be safe out on the streets of the black areas. I could identify with black power. I was a junior in high school in the fall of 1965 when a black guy from Mt. Vernon named Johnny Griffith, who had dropped out of school and joined the army, became the first black killed in the Vietnam war. It was a real big funeral; the mayor was there and everything, and I cut school to go to it. The thing is, 1 missed a social science test. The next day I was given this incredible tongue-lashing from the teacher, calling me a communist and agitator. She made me write a paper as a punishment assignment about George Fitzhugh, who was this racist during the pre-Civil War days, this incredible proslavery advocate.”
Remer graduated high school in the spring of 1967 and went on to the State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island, sixty-five miles east of New York City. Stony Brook was full of “bright underachievers,” and Larry joined their ranks as a math major. Remer had an excellent math record in high school, a record of which he was “tremendously proud.” Life at Stony Brook was idyllic. Protests against the draft were very popular; academic standards were dropping; and drugs were very much in vogue. Drugs, of course, were also illegal. On January 17, 1968, Remer got busted. Two hundred Suffolk County police officers marched onto the campus at five o’clock in the morning and arrested “thirty-seven pot smokers.” Remer explains, “It was finals week, and I was pulling an all-nighter in one of the student lounges, studying for a Russian final. They got me for something like being present during the sale of marijuana. Actually, I was there when somebody gave a joint away. Anyway. I got probation and had to go to some drug-diversion programs.”
He became attracted to the twin vices of politics and journalism during his junior year. He ran for student-body treasurer and won. “I got elected because I discovered a scandal in the faculty-student association, a group which had a $2000 slush fund for the president of the school.” As treasurer he began writing a student-government column in the student newspaper, The Statesman. He began tipping Newsday on possible stories, and wrote articles for such underground papers as the Suffolk Citizen, the Red Balloon, and the Long Island Duck, all without pay. He lost his bid for re-election, but decided to stick with news reporting.
Remer graduated in 1971 after changing his major from math to social science. Although the draft was in high gear, and Larry was in the prime age category, he was given a 4-F deferment from military service because of an asthmatic condition he has had since childhood. By the fall of 1971 Remer was living in “a very dingy tenement” in Manhattan’s East Village and working on a service-referral switchboard at a liberal Methodist church in Greenwich Village. “I was sort of a floating hippie,” Remer says. "I didn’t have much money. It was real raunchy New York street life.”
Although he was free from the draft himself, the milieu in which he found himself inspired him to join the antiwar movement with a fervor. In the spring of 1972, Remer went to an antiwar planning conference in Washington, D.C., in preparation for a demonstration that summer at the Republican Convention in Miami. It was at that strategy session he met three San Diego activists from the San Diego Convention Coalition — his wife-to-be Shari Lawson. Bill Ritter, and George Katsiaficus. When they regrouped in Miami a month later. Remer was introduced to other San Diegans, including David Helvarg.
After the convention. Remer returned to his pied-a-terre in the East Village, but “itchy feet” moved him to hitchhike to San Diego for a visit with his new friends from the convention. At first Remer stayed in Golden Hill, where he delivered advertising fliers for a living. Then he moved into a rented house in Ocean Beach and began working as a clerk in The Black head shop on Newport Avenue. One of Remer’s roommates, George Katsiaficus, happened to see several surfers one afternoon moving out of a house near the beach — a house Remer and friends had admired before — and learned it would be available to rent.
Such was the beginning of the infamous Red House, as the structure later came to be known. The surfers moved out and the activists moved in. Besides Remer and Katsiaficus, there were three others, including radical SDSU professor Peter Bohmer, who had just been fired for allegedly giving higher grades to those of his students who opposed the war in Vietnam. The Red House, at 5113 Cape May, soon became a center of beach-area political life. “We had teach-ins in the living room and women’s self-defense classes in the front yard,” Remer remembers. Helvarg, whose friendship with Remer was ripening during this period, says Larry played to the hilt the role of beach radical. “He had this wild hair flying out all over the place,” says Helvarg. “He always wore blue jeans, a work shirt, a Levi jacket, and a denim cap. ” In many ways it was not unlike his association with the Classics, although the beach people’s common enemy was the San Diego Police Department and not Italian racists. The main difference, though, was that the street people of San Diego had a voice — and that voice was the Door.
The Door, which was to become the last of the “underground” newspapers in San Diego, began as a sexual liberation tabloid in 1968, published near the state college. As it moved its offices to wherever the rent was cheapest, and as the staff evolved through the years, the content of the Door changed drastically. It went from sex to sex and music, then to just music, then to music and politics, then to just politics with some entertainment. It was almost inevitable that Remer would be attracted to that newspaper. “Most of the stuff I’d done in the past was just diatribe,” he says. “I decided to get journalistically serious. The first thing I did was a three-part series with editor Doug Porter on the Copley Press. Our stories linked the Copley Press with the CIA. We also wrote about Victor H. 'The Brute’ Krulak, a former Marine Corps general who was the director of the Union-Tribune editorial policy. We did a story about Krulak’s plans, when he was still in the Marines, in which U.S. operatives were to go out and attack U.S. military installations to convince Congress to fund more money for defense. And this was the guy who was running the U-T editorial policy.” This was the beginning of Remer’s disgust with the Copley product — a disgust which has dimmed little over the years.
The Door was above all else antipolice. But those were days of mutual distrust, and the SDPD intelligence unit — commonly called the Red Squad — was at its peak strength. Undercover cops were infiltrating political groups throughout the county, and the atmosphere in the radical community was one of paranoia. “We were pretty good at finding and exposing intelligence agents,” Remer says. “We’d take pictures of the guys sitting on the sides of the demonstrations taking pictures of us.” The staff then incorporated those pictures into a series of “Cop Watch Trading Cards,” a joke of sorts which featured a photo and short biography of different members of the Red Squad. A frequent target of the Door's anticop venom was officer Jack Pearson, a former member of the Red Squad and currently the president of the Police Officers Association. “There was some enmity at that time between Larry and myself,” Pearson says. “I don’t know if it still exists or not, because Larry and I don’t talk. He’s one of the few people I don’t talk with. I don’t know if he avoids me or what. I think that at the time this was all happening I was reacting to him at a personal level and not a professional level.” This is almost understandable, because in one issue of the Door, Pearson’s photograph was spread across a two-page layout after Pearson was voted in a readers’ poll the most-hated member of the Red Squad. Even so, Pearson is fairly magnanimous when assessing his past relationship with Remer and the Door. “Larry is a change agent,” Pearson continues. “Through a process of isolationism, you tend to screen out objectivity and start to become paranoid. I think that’s what happened to Larry. I know to a degree that’s what happened to me. My attitudes in the past few years have changed. I’ve gotten a lot more liberal. I think we’ve both drifted closer to a common center.”
As Remer continually points out to those who listen, he is a product of his times. The times back in 1974, though, were not boding well for the underground press in general or in San Diego. A tight economy and a decreasing interest in mass radical politics meant less advertising revenue coming in to the Door. Another blow to the paper’s coffers was the cutback in record company advertising during the initial Arab embargo of petroleum, the by-products of which are used in making record albums. Because of Remer’s knack with figures, he was made business manager and, ultimately, editor. Former Door staffer Bill Ritter remembers: “The last year of the Door, Larry kept the paper afloat; raising money from people he knew here and on the East Coast. He got people to buy ads; he got donations.” The financial ills of the Door, however, were terminal.
The Door folded a month after President Richard Nixon resigned from office in the summer of 1974, and Remer was out of work. Through a mutual friend, Remer was introduced to Jim Bernstein, chief aide to then-supervisor Jack Walsh. Bernstein hired Remer as an administrative aide in September 1974. “Jack had this huge staff of low-paid aides and lots of interns,” says Remer. “He sent us out to look into everything. We investigated nursing home abuses and sheriff’s brutality. It was really unprecedented.” The casual atmosphere in Walsh’s office agreed with Remer. Although Walsh was a Republican, he embraced many of the same left-leaning causes as Remer.
“Jack was a real hippie in office,” Larry says fondly. “He wouldn’t wear a tie, which was really unusual back then. Jack was a tremendous supervisor, but he had a real problem: he wouldn’t make the ribbon cuttings or the little coffee meetings down in Chula Vista, which was in his district.” Walsh replaced top aide Jim Bernstein in mid-1975 with former Channel 10 news reporter Judy Hillman. Hillman and Remer did not get along from the start, and Hillman fired Remer in July of that year. “It was just a personality thing,” Remer says. “But I didn't realize how good I had it until I wasn’t there anymore.”
At this point Remer and Shari Lawson had moved in together. (Shari Lawson formerly went by the name Shari Whitehead, which is the surname of her stepfather. She changed it last year to Lawson, after her natural father.) Remer began trying to make some extra cash on top of his unemployment dole by writing free-lance stories. He picked up one or two small assignments from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times before finding a regular outlet for his writing in San Diego magazine, where eventually he earned the title of contributing editor. "San Diego magazine had these trepidations about my writing for them because of some of the stuff I did for the Door, but it was easy to write for them,” he says. “All you had to do was quote both sides. Before I knew it, I was writing for them every month. Remer’s work with San Diego is generally considered to be some of his best, albeit his most traditional in tone and style. In the June, 1976 issue, Remer wrote what may have been the most comprehensive story on local prostitution up to that time. In the January and February issues of 1977, San Diego ran a two-part series by Remer called “The Justice Factory,” which analyzed the state of the judicial process in San Diego. In the series, Remer included the results of a survey taken among local lawyers concerning the quality of performance by the superior court judges — the first survey of its kind locally.
Says Remer of his life then: “I was living the life of Riley, but I don’t think I appreciated it at the time. I did some pieces for Playboy and Oui, but I felt like I was writing for others and not myself. There was no venue for me to write what was happening in local politics. ” Remer began his search for the backers of what later turned out to be Newsline in May, 1977. Two months later Shari and Larry were married in a simple ceremony presided over by Superior Court Judge Earl B. Gilliam. They are now the parents of a twenty-month-old girl named Terra.
During the short time Newsline has been publishing, one of the more common complaints against it is that it dogmatically reiterates the party line of Tom Hayden, . Jane Fonda, and their organization called the Campaign for Economic Democracy. Remer fairly bristles at that charge, hut is proud of his relationship with Hayden and the CED. A major goal of the CED is to involve consumers in the decision making of large corporations by forcing those corporations to accept public representation on their boards of directors. In that way, according to the CED, citizens could expect economic democracy as well as the extant political democracy. It is an issue-oriented organization, favoring increased use of solar power, farmworkers’ rights, and abolition of nuclear power. Remer’s wife, Shari (who is deputy director of the Southwest Border Regional Commission), met Hayden at Berkeley in the late Sixties. She later worked as a coordinator in the San Diego chapter of Hayden’s Indochina Peace Campaign, an antiwar group which based its strategy on lobbying in Congress for its goal of stopping the Vietnam war. When Hayden later announced he was going to run for the United States Senate. Larry and Shari hosted a celebration in his honor at their Ocean Beach home. When the Hayden senatorial campaign faltered, many of his volunteers felt a need to continue their work, which culminated in the Campaign for Economic Democracy, "I’m a member of the CED,” Remer says wearily, as if explaining for the thousandth time, “but I’m not an active member. I’m also in the ACLU. but no one ever accuses me of being controlled by them. It’s just that Tom and Jane are in the public eye, I think.”
Remer considers himself a populist, but says he does not like the “corporate liberals" such as state senator Jim Mills. In general, Remer subscribes to the goals of the CED. with a strong antimilitary bias and a desire for social change and equality on economic and political levels. ”1 believe in democracy,” Remer says, “but we need more of it. In the Sixties, when the ‘system’ was closed, we didn’t have any other option but to go to the streets. It was the system that was violent toward us. In the Seventies, the'system has opened up. ” In terms of San Diego’s political climate, Remer says he has seen the once-archly conservative county slowly spawn a growing liberal community. “We’re seeing a lot more popular movements these days,” he says. “We’ve been siding with these movements, supporting them. In that sense. I see Newsline as a political force."
We are sitting in a booth at Salazar’s Taco Shop on Market Street, downtown. Remer has just conned me into paying for his breakfast — huevos rancheros, flour tortillas, and Mexican hot chocolate, which he devours gleefully. His first response when told he was to be the subject of a feature story was, “Hell, and I just cut my hair and shaved.” When three nights later I visited him at his modest home in South Park, my suspicions were confirmed: Larry Remer is indeed shaking his once-vehement anti-establishment image. In his living room he played with his daughter, changed her diapers, and offered me a piece of cake. He turned the television to “The Lou Grant Show” and accurately guessed the twists and turns of the plot. He took me into his backyard and showed me the brick patio he has been building since last Thanksgiving. The garage, he said, was soon to be remodeled into an office for him, and he pointed out the changes he planned. Remer, it occurred to me, was becoming very comfortable. Although his home is not luxurious, it is comfortable. Although the new Saab he and Shari own is far from being a Mercedes 450 SL, it is a comfortable car. For a man whose motto has to do with afflicting the comfortable, it seemed to me that Larry was treading dangerously close to insincerity.
“Maybe we should call this article 'The Mellowing of Larry Remer,’ ” I suggested. He contemplated this for a moment. He had already informed me that he has been thinking about going into real estate.
“You've got to understand.” he said, “that my life is different now , with a wife and a kid and a house. I don’t feel like doing the same things now that I did w hen I was twenty-five.”
“Then how much longer can you keep putting out Newsline?”
“The thing is, Shari and I want to have another baby, which means Shari would have to take a year off from work, and I’m not going to make it on $170 a week at Newsline. What I’d really like to do is get the paper in the black, get someone who could run the thing, and then try freelancing on a regular basis, and still contribute to Newsline.”
Getting Newsline out of debt is, to put it gently, quite unlikely, and I reminded him so.
“Okay, look,” he said, a little flustered, “if we’re still in the red in January of 1981, we probably won’t be publishing. I’ve thought about getting out of journalism, but I’d have trouble doing that. I’m very interested in doing a screenplay. You’re dealing with a very difficult set of variables here. In terms of doing something that lets my creative energies flow, I don’t know. It’s unclear in my own mind. But I have skills and contacts. I could get a job.”