The Way It Was
It was a different world when CW was born in '88.
Thursday, September 3, 1998
It''s fall 1988. George Bush is running for the White House (remember Michael Dukakis?), the Iran-Contra affair is just heating up, Geraldo Rivera has brought tabloid TV to primetime; Jim Bakker, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, the Helmsleys and Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega are all under indictment. Tracy Chapman''s debut album is topping charts; meat loaf is a hot new menu item and sales of oat bran, the miracle cholesterol fighter, are soaring.
Ben Johnson has been stripped of his Olympic gold medal after testing positive for anabolic steroids. A 22-week Hollywood writers'' strike wreaks havoc on the new fall TV line-up. And the Whitney Museum of American Art is mounting a major exhibition by controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who is dying of AIDS.
Coast Weekly is still six months away from changing its name from Coasting, the "easy-going entertainment guide for the Central Coast," focusing on local arts and entertainment. We''re cushioned from the vagaries of world politics in our tiny Carmel office, high above The General Store/Forge in the Forest.
Change began the first week Bradley Zeve took over as publisher, with our Sept. 14 article on the controversy surrounding Martin Scorcese''s new film The Last Temptation of Christ, about to open at the Carmel Village Theater (yes, there were two movie houses in downtown Carmel then). Theater co-owners Alan Weber and John Harris (who also owned The Dream Theater) were "preparing for the worst," hiring private security guards for the "onslaught of protests" they expected after receiving a slew of hate mail from out-of-town Christian groups. The film opened quietly enough, in the end.
On Sept. 28, Oliver North, the pivotal figure in the Iran-Contra affair, spoke at the Doubletree in Monterey to raise money for his legal defense (he went on trial later that year facing a 23-count indictment, including embezzlement of government funds and lying to Congress.)
On Oct. 5, we ran our first big news story, about the Monterey Bay chapter of Flying Doctors, who were bringing free dental care to 12 impoverished villages in Sonora, Mexico. That issue also marked the debut of our short-lived "Media Beat" column, examining the media''s effect on our lives.
Environmental reporting was still very much the business of the alternative press, with precious little interest from the mainstream media, as we found when we launched our first serious piece on the environment in mid-October: A four-page spread timed to coincide with "State of the Bay ''88," an all-day event at the Monterey Conference Center. Two months after then-Vice President Bush declared his support for offshore oil drilling in California, a wide array of governmental and non-governmental organizations came together in downtown Monterey for the first time to explore ways of protecting the bay from further pollution. Conference organizers declared, in a spirit of optimistic navet, that they were "removing politics" from the discussion. (Funny, they said that again in ''98.)
In a related article, environmental news reporters from major media outlets bemoaned the lack of public interest in stories about the environment. Fred Briggs, in charge of environmental affairs for NBC News, told CW the lack of media attention "is a reflection of our times...People don''t want to be bored with a story about how that land is washing away or this species is becoming extinct."
"Think globally, act locally" was not yet a bumper sticker, but the pithy watchword of late ''80s political activists.
By the end of October, we added "news" to the "arts and entertainment" banner on our front cover, but the focus of most of our news coverage for the rest of ''88 was on the environment: protecting Monterey Bay, protecting the rain forest, protecting the bald eagles, promoting the electric car and supporting Prop. 99, a ballot initiative to raise cigarette taxes by 24 cents per pack to fund health care for the indigent.
In our first big "save the whales" article, arts editor Craig Carter, with all due respect to Earth''s largest mammal, questioned the priorities of a world where several great nations coordinated efforts to free three whales trapped under the ice in Alaska, while human beings held hostage in many oppressive countries "would gratefully appreciate being freed by that same kind of international cooperation."
On Oct. 26, leaders in the local arts world griped about the need for more arts funding, and called for renovations at Carmel''s historic Sunset Center theater (not yet underway, several plans and 10 years later).
In November, we took our first serious look at the county''s wine industry. Grape prices in Napa and Sonoma were sky-high, after two years of statewide drought, and we complained that the price hike would hit hardest at "the popularly priced premium wines, the $4 to $5 chardonnays and cabernets." Show me a $4 cabernet today, and I''ll show you a bottle of bootleg booze. At that time, of course, "premium" meant anything not sold in a jug. And in 1988, a wine writer could still get away with stating that Monterey County "produces grapes that are considered good, but generally less desirable than those from the North Coast."
Also in November, the county''s first conference on AIDS as an issue in the workplace was held at the Salinas Community Center. AIDS statistics that year showed that two-thirds of local cases were homosexual or bisexual men; women weren''t even listed as a category. Knowledge was still scanty, and a noted Manhattan physician could still write in Cosmopolitan that women are "extremely unlikely" to risk infection by heterosexual intercourse because their vaginal fluids prevent the AIDS virus from penetrating through to the bloodstream. (Say wha''?)
By year''s end, we tackled the issue of violence in the media, covering a statewide protest by Media Watch against Guns N'' Roses'' newest album cover art (yes, we still had album covers), which showed a mechanical monster leaning menacingly over a young woman with her panties down around her ankles. It promotes violence against women, protesters shouted. But local record stores, including The Wherehouse and Recycled Records, shrugged and said they''d sell it anyway. Record Asylum''s acting manager even said that if anyone protested outside his store, he''d play the album more often. Concern about the media''s role in glamorizing violence against women is not yet common.
In our final issue of the year, we interviewed then-Congressman Leon Panetta, who had just become chair of the House Budget Committee. Panetta, described by one of our Washington sources as "a budget junkie" who "loves the stuff," was not yet a national figure. Asked to comment on the probability that his new position might catapult him into national prominence, Our Man in D.C. said, "There''s no question that you get tremendous exposure," but insisted that he wasn''t thinking ahead to future political goals.
And the Persian Gulf was just another place on the map.