Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Bruce Is Loose

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Bruce Is Loose

Article excerpt

As the soggy nesting place of radical Earth First! environmentalists, Black Army Faction anarchists, and Unabomber pen pal John Zerzan, the Pacific Northwest rain forest city of Eugene, Ore., would seem to be a fertile incubator for alternative newspapers and underground periodicals. But that's not really true, says the owner of Black Sun Books, an independent shop just outside the University of Oregon campus. "We've got the daily paper, The Register-Guard. We've got the one free alternative, the Eugene Weekly. And that's it, aside from the advertising papers," says Peter Ogura. "So his paper definitely stands out now."

The paper is Bruce Anderson's AVA Oregon, a brand-new version of the weekly that roiled

rural Mendocino County in California for two decades with an in-your-face journalism that won its editor/publisher much national applause, and an equal measure of local scorn. By this spring, the mutual loathing between the gentrifying wine country communities and its acerbic newspaper chronicler in Booneville reached the point where Anderson sold the (coincidentally named) Anderson Valley Advertiser to the paper's anti-wine industry columnist for $20,000 -- exactly what he paid for the slim broadsheet in 1984 -- and decamped for Oregon.

The California AVA, as everyone calls it, stirred up an awful lot of fuss for a 12-page broadsheet that costs a buck and sells about half of its 3,000 copies outside Mendocino County. The AVA is "the greatest newspaper in the United States," the leftist political writer Alexander Cockburn wrote last year. "As an example of all that is seditious, muckraking, contrarian, courageous, and uproarious in American journalism, Bruce Anderson's AVA has been up there with the best of Paine, Twain, Steffens, and H.L. Mencken."

But don't tell Mendocino forestry activist Nicholas Wilson that Anderson is a country editor sticking up for the little guy. "Far from it!" he says by e-mail. "Anderson is an ego-driven bully who uses his paper to beat up on little guys, not help them. He routinely violates at least half the points in the SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) Code of Ethics, including causing deliberate harm to his victims. He's the poster child for irresponsible journalism. He'll say or print anything he wants, as long as it draws attention to himself."

The former husband of the deceased Earth First! activist Judi Bari maintains a Web site,, dedicated to debunking the AVA and Anderson, whom he terms a "sociopath." Rob Anderson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, ran the AVA when his brother Bruce was hauled into jail on a contempt-of-court charge that made national headlines. Now, on the Web site he maintains for his campaign to become a San Francisco city supervisor, he calls the AVA's reporting on Bari "bullshit."

And an anonymous Internet chat room participant hung a tag on the editor that tickles both Anderson and his enemies: "the Jeffrey Dahmer of journalism."

The subject of the raves and rants is a 65-year-old ex-Marine who speaks in a wry, soft drawl even when he says, "I just can't stand them. They set my teeth on edge."

Most of the time, the people he's saying those things about are political leftists like him. That probably explains the fierce loyalty and enmity Bruce Anderson engendered right from the moment in 1984 that he bought the sleepy Advertiser, a weekly by all accounts dedicated to happy news of the Chamber of Commerce-approved variety.

"A lot of the criticism came immediately from what we used to call the Nice People -- capital N, capital P -- or the Lib-Labs," Anderson says. "They thought because I'm from the left and the paper is from the left, that they would be immune from examination. Well, nobody's exempt -- and that's a problem with the left."

Not that Anderson didn't warn them. True, the masthead inside lists as "spiritual advisor" Eugene V. …

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