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Newsweek’s 1978 Jonestown issue

By Aaron Kinney
Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 at 1:35 pm in Aaron Kinney, Democratic Party, Jackie Speier, Jonestown, Leo Ryan, San Mateo County, Tom Lantos.

The Times, in preparation for Sunday’s story on the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, got ahold of a copy of the Dec. 4, 1978, issue of Newsweek magazine, which featured a 26-page special report on the calamity that unfolded that Nov. 18.

It was an impressive and comprehensive report, and we’ll get to it in a minute. But first we have to touch on the most remarkable thing about the issue: the advertising, which looks like was it produced on a different planet.

This single installment of Newsweek contained 23 separate full-page liquor ads, from Christian Brothers and Crown Royal to Seagram’s and Tanqueray.

One ad for Wolfschmidt vodka consists of a gauzy photo depicting a czar, his wife and an enormous dog at the foot of a marble staircase, with copy recalling an age when the czar was a “giant among men” who could “bend an iron bar on his bare knee” and had a “thirst for life like no man alive.”

(The ad reproduced above is not the same one we’re describing but it’s from the same series. Copy is the same, and the wolfman-like czar, lady and dog are the same, though the pose is different. Link to the site that uploaded the image here.)

Leafing through these ads, we realized: No wonder print journalism is in an advertising tailspin. All those politically correct do-gooders in Washington have restricted the rights of liquor companies to cater to Americans’ unslakeable thirst for booze.

There were also seven full-page ads for cigarettes. Judging from the copy, this was the era of the low-tar craze, when the various manufacturers were trying to find ways to market low-tar smokes that still had that robust, lung-blackening flavor.

On a serious note, there were a few snippets of the Jonestown coverage that relate to San Mateo County. There was a one-page sidebar on local Rep. Leo Ryan, whose fact-finding mission to Guyana precipitated the mass-murder-suicide ordered by the Rev. Jim Jones.

Ryan — described as a “reformer who liked causes, and liked his publicity too” — put off his trip to Jonestown until after the November election to avoid the appearance of a cynical stunt, the article asserts.

The article goes on to say that Ryan agreed to allow journalists to accompany him partly because he thought their presence would help prevent Jones from attempting any violence. But reporters’ aggressive questioning of Jones may have pushed an unstable man over the edge, the article notes.

“Ironically, (Ryan aides) speculate now, Ryan might have survived the chancy venture had he gone without the newsmen and cameras,” the report states.

Most of the people in Ryan’s contingent appear to have been well aware of the danger involved.

Rep. Jackie Speier, who was then one of Ryan’s aides, drafted a will in advance of the trip. Speier, who earlier this month won her first two-year term in her late mentor’s congressional seat, updated Ryan’s will as well. She left both documents in an envelope in her desk, according to the article.

In preparing the Times story that will appear Sunday, the Times contacted the family of Maria Katsaris, one of Jones’ mistresses and one of more than 900 Jonestown victims. They declined to participate.

Katsaris’ father Steve used to be the pastor at a Greek-Orthodox church in Belmont. He and his son Anthony traveled to Guyana to convince Maria to leave. They were unsuccessful.

In a first-person account included within the special report, Newsweek correspondent Chris Harper recalled coming across Katsaris’ body in Jones’ personal cottage, along with the bodies of 11 other members of Jones’ inner circle.

Katsaris lay on a bed, “her once attractive face discolored and stained with blood” from a gunshot wound.

“A small pail of poison was next to the corpses, and a small black and white kitten was crawling among the bodies, whining. “… I turned and walked away,” he wrote.

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3 Responses to “Newsweek’s 1978 Jonestown issue”

  1. jonestown massacre images Says:

    Clifford Gieg, right, and his brother, Stanley, were 18 and 19 when this photo was taken at Jonestown, Guyana. Photos like this one were sent home to families to assure relatives that people were happy, even as the utopian ideals

  2. jim jones massacre Says:

    Before Jim Jones led 900 people to their deaths in a cult massacre 30 years ago today, he was just a young Indianapolis pastor who preached a Gospel that appealed to people like Gene and June Cordell. The Cordells, who

  3. jonestown massacre Says:

    In the 30 years since Clifford Grieg has seen his brother alive, he has never talked publicly about what happened. Until now. The Boise cabinet maker survived the Jonestown massacre — the murders and mass suicides that killed

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