Ronnie Dugger was born in 1931. After developing progressive political opinions he joined up with with a group in the Democratic Party who disliked the position on civil rights of the traditional leadership in Texas who became known as the Shivercrats.
In 1952 Dugger, Ralph Yarborough, John Henry Faulk, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Creekmore Fath, Robert C. Eckhardt and Frankie Carter Randolph campaigned against Governor Allan Shivers who supported the Republican Party candidate, Dwight Eisenhower against Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 Presidential Election. During this period Shivers and his supporters accused Dugger and his friends of being communists.
In 1954 Dugger and his friends established The Texas Observer. Dugger was appointed editor of the new journal. Dugger later recalled: "Texas in 1954 had no big-city daily newspaper in which one could sense freedom of conscience. A group of us decided to build The Texas Observer into an independent liberal weekly paper that would introduce freedom of conscience into the press of the state. From the first I sought to practice journalism according to three basic standards, accuracy, fairness instead of objectivity, and moral seriousness. We were a tiny group, running on a shoestring, and we lost money at once and for the next 44 years. But we found and told a lot of stories that would have been lost, and somehow together we made a go of it."
The Texas Observer proclaimed in its first issue: "We will serve no group or party but will hew hard to the truth as we find it and the right as we see it. We are dedicated to the whole truth, to human values above all interests, to the rights of humankind as the foundation of democracy. We will take orders from none but our own conscience, and never will we overlook or misrepresent the truth to serve the interests of the powerful or cater to the ignoble in the human spirit.”
Dugger campaigned against racism in Texas: "One day in 1955, a subscriber in East Texas phoned me that he had read a two-inch story in his area daily that somebody had driven through a little country town for blacks only, shooting bullets. I went out there and got the story. Bullets slammed into a schoolbus and houses, landing around a woman who was kneeling at her bed saying her nightly prayers, plugging into a café, killing a boy of 16 and injuring two younger girls who had been dancing together. The publicity led to a trial and to Southern justice for one of the two young white men who had done it, (guilty, five years suspended); no trial at all for the other one. But the story was told, and 50 years later is part of the memorialized history of East Texas."
Dugger was a constant critic of Lyndon B. Johnson. He pointed out that he had been on the left of the Democratic Party until coming under the influence of Herman Brown and George R. Brown. "The alliance (of Brown & Root and Johnson) became common knowledge as his political identity changed from left to right before everyone's eyes." Johnson later told Dugger when he said: "I never recommended them for a contract in my life. They never asked me to do anything for them." Dan Briody, the author of The Halliburton Agenda: The Politics of Oil and Money (2004), wrote that "when Johnson told reporters that he had never recommended Brown & Root for a contract in his life, he was lying."
In 1949 Johnson mounted a smear campaign against Leland Olds, chairman of the Federal Power Commission. Olds had managed to lower the prices of electricity. This upset Johnson's friends in the Texas oil industry. As Robert Bryce, the author of Cronies: Oil, The Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate (2004) pointed out: "Johnson saw that the best way to take care of Olds was to brand him a Communist. In the 1920s, Olds had worked for a wire service, and during that time he'd praised some aspects of the system of government in Russia." Olds was forced to resign. Dugger pointed out that by joining in the political crucifixion of Leland Olds - driving in the nails himself - Johnson had used most of the tricks of what would come to be known as McCarthyism, and he nauseated some of his colleagues, but he had achieved his purpose - he had convinced the oilmen back in Texas that he was their man."
Dugger wrote several critical articles in the The Texas Observer on the Warren Commission. He was not convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman that killed President John F. Kennedy. The most significant of these articles was November 22, 1963: The Case is not Closed (11th November 1966 and Batter Up (3rd February 1966).
According to Barr McCleellan, the author of, Blood Money and Power: How L.B.J. Killed J.F.K., Dugger considered that Lyndon B. Johnson was capable of being involved in the assassination: "Ronnie Dugger concluded Johnson was a man without moral principle or compass, a man capable of murder and assassination. While editor of the Texas Observer, he closely followed the developments in the Warren investigation, and the news weekly regularly reported on progress. In perhaps the closest he got to the conspiracy was noting recognition between Oswald and Ruby just before the fatal shot."
It has been claimed the Dugger used the magazine to oppose McCarthyism. In his book, North Toward Home (2000) Willie Morris has commended Dugger for having the courage to write "what actually happened in McCarthy-era Texas". He adds that Dugger "is not only one of the great reporters of our time in America; more than that, he had imbued an entire group of young and inexperienced colleagues with a feel for Texas, for commitment in the most human sense, and for writing."
Brad Buchholz has pointed out: "As a journalist, Dugger championed national health care before Barack Obama was even born. Dugger gave 40 years of his life to the Observer - first as its seven-days-a-week writer/editor, later as publisher - practicing independent, public journalism long before it was in fashion. His ideas and example influenced some of most famous writers and progressives of our times." Journalists who contributed to the magazine included Molly Ivins, Willie Morris, Lawrence Goodwyn, Billy Lee Brammer, Robert Sherrill, Kaye Northcott, Elroy Bode, Geoff Rips, Bill Moyers and Jim Hightower.
Dugger once wrote that: "I decided what I had to do with my life was sort of like the scout on Western caravans who went ahead and looked for the ambushes and big rivers, and came back and talk to the people who had to turn the wagons. That's the way I see my life... It's kind of a lonely self-image... I tell people I'm closest to that I've always been lonely; I don't know why... but the operative idea that night was that I'd rather disappear into total oblivion than to give my life over to anything but my own work."
Books by Dugger include Three Men in Texas: Bedichek, Webb and Dobie (1967), Dark Star (1967), Our Invaded Universities (1974), Politicians: Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson - The Drive for Power (1982) and On Reagan: The Man and His Presidency (1983). He has published hundreds of articles in Harper's Magazine, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Progressive and other periodicals.
Dugger was a strong opponent of George Bush and in 2004 he pleaded for Ralph Nader not to stand in the election. He wrote: "Given the GOP sweep in the midterm elections, progressives and populists must position themselves to play a pivotal role in the next presidential contest. As we demonstrated in 2000, we are a fragmented political force, divided between those who supported, however reluctantly, the Democratic choice, Al Gore, and those who backed the Green Party's Ralph Nader. But the Bush disaster, compounded now by the meltdown of the Democratic Party on November 5, is an emergency. We cannot afford another division in our ranks that will bring about the election of George W. Bush in 2004."
In 2012 Dugger won the George Polk Award for Journalism. In his acceptance speech, the co-founder of the Alliance for Democracy, took the opportunity to argue about the dangers of nuclear war: "Now, here I am, the old guy you see, but still a reporter trying to find stories. I’ve been worried since the fifties about H-bombs, and I’ll wonder a little with you now if we’re doing enough, and on a long-enough timeline, on the story about the likelihood of an H-bomb holocaust that would decimate, or end, life on earth. That possibility seems like an old story, the Cuban missile crisis - Gorbachev and Reagan solved that, didn’t they? - end of the cold war. But no, it’s not over. It’s worse. The present form of the story, like that about North Korea, is the daily drumbeat that Israel well may now bomb Iran, that is, attack it, to get at its nuclear program, and the consequences for the next two or three years. Could we not be overlooking some profound truths and questions concerning this spasmodically worsening situation, the rising danger of an H-bomb holocaust?"
I’m deeply honored to be present among this award’s inspiring special achievers this year.
Texas in 1954 had no big-city daily newspaper in which one could sense freedom of conscience. A group of us decided to build The Texas Observer into an independent liberal weekly paper that would introduce freedom of conscience into the press of the state.
From the first I sought to practice journalism according to three basic standards, accuracy, fairness instead of “objectivity,” and moral seriousness. We were a tiny group, running on a shoestring, and we lost money at once and for the next 44 years. But we found and told a lot of stories that would have been lost, and somehow together we made a go of it.
Once I did a story establishing that the man who was chairman of the Texas state agency regulating the oil companies was also drilling wells for them for his profit. I gave him his full say, of course. There was not a ripple in the rest of the press. A year or so later the Dallas Morning News of that day - it’s a much better newspaper now - reported the same story as if it was new. In that and other ways doing the Observer was like playing a guitar, but with no sound coming out of it.
In due course our freedom attracted serious reporters and writers, Billy Lee Brammer, Bob Bray, Jim Hightower, Elroy Bode, Willie Morris, Robert Sherrill, Kaye Northcott, Geoff Rips, Molly Ivins - too many more to name. Then there were supporters making up the deficits with money - lumber heiress Mrs. R.D. Randolph, insurance man Bernard Rapoport, oilman J.R. Parten, banker Walter Hall, and thousands more with $5 to a hundred. And the people on the business side, two of whom, Sarah Payne and Cliff Olafson, gave their lives for it.
The unattended-to injustices overwhelmed us, as they still do the staff 57 years later. One day in 1955, a subscriber in East Texas phoned me that he had read a two-inch story in his area daily that somebody had driven through a little country town for blacks only, shooting bullets. I went out there and got the story. Bullets slammed into a schoolbus and houses, landing around a woman who was kneeling at her bed saying her nightly prayers, plugging into a café, killing a boy of 16 and injuring two younger girls who had been dancing together. The publicity led to a trial and to Southern justice for one of the two young white men who had done it, “guilty, five years suspended”; no trial at all for the other one. But the story was told, and 50 years later is part of the memorialized history of East Texas.
Now, here I am, the old guy you see, but still a reporter trying to find stories. I’ve been worried since the fifties about H-bombs, and I’ll wonder a little with you now if we’re doing enough, and on a long-enough timeline, on the story about the likelihood of an H-bomb holocaust that would decimate, or end, life on earth. That possibility seems like an old story, the Cuban missile crisis - Gorbachev and Reagan solved that, didn’t they? - end of the cold war. But no, it’s not over. It’s worse.
The present form of the story, like that about North Korea, is the daily drumbeat that Israel well may now bomb Iran, that is, attack it, to get at its nuclear program, and the consequences for the next two or three years. Could we not be overlooking some profound truths and questions concerning this spasmodically worsening situation, the rising danger of an H-bomb holocaust?
Why are nuclear weapons called “weapons of mass destruction” when morally they are weapons of mass murder?
If we put aside the Soviet collapse, the disassembly of grotesquely surplus nukes, and cosmetics, is it not true that there has not yet been any effective nuclear disarmament?
Why is the deterrence doctrine against nuclear attack so numbly accepted? Deterrence has to mean retaliation. It posits retaliation with nuclear weapons. Mass murder for mass murder.
Has deterrence “worked,” as is so commonly said, or did the skin of our teeth work, barely saving us three times from at least tens of millions dead? An H-bomb explodes in millionths of a second with several times the heat of the core of the sun. Tens of millions of degrees. Heat, blast, radiation, no life. Only one failure of deterrence can be, the experts say, a billion dead.
When in the 1960s I asked President Johnson in the White House about nuclear weapons, he flared into anger against me that I had done so and exclaimed, “I’m the one who has to mash the button.” Richard Garwin, one of the three inventors of the H-bomb, told me in an interview in 1986 that what we’re doing with deterrence is buying time, that nuclear proliferation can’t be stopped, there will be a nuclear war, and a billion people will die. Why are so many of us so confident this will not happen? Are we lemmings? Is this not the most important subject on the world, whether it will happen, or can we prevent it? More nations keep getting the bomb.
There is still no international control of these weapons that can end life on earth. Is Gorbachev not right in cautioning us very recently that we need enough effective international governance to keep events from becoming “dangerously unpredictable”? Are they not already so? As Robert Jay Lifton said to me this morning, unpredictability is all right, except on nuclear weapons.
Dr. Garwin’s prophecy is coming toward true.
How have nine nations become nine separate owners of the H-bombs that can be sent to mass murder the people of any large city, or a country? Why are these weapons still, 67 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, none of our business, with possibly apocalyptic facts about them blocked off from us by nine separate systems of military secrecy?
For example, does Israel have five nuclear-armed submarines in the Mediterranean, as indicated in the recent well-sourced book How the End Begins?
Jonathan Schell reports in his book The Seventh Decade that 50 more nations know how to make the Hbombs. They are secrets no more. Why, then, are H-bombs still a national, not an international, question?
Why has the actual and prospective nuclear policy and practice of the U.S., Israel, and Britain segued away from the promised disarmament into attacking nations we don’t trust that we believe insist on getting the weapons that we keep on having?
What really is happening to and in our own nuclear arsenal of almost 5,000 H-bombs? Last fall in Los Alamos a former director of nuclear bomb development at our lab there told me what we should be doing is making our nuclear weapons more usable. Might that be what we’ve been doing?
President Obama calls for a nuclear-free world, but not likely in our lifetimes, he added. Why not? We say other nations mislead us about their nuclear plans. Are we reporting and analyzing, with the emphasis needed, whether our own government is also guilty of hypocrisy on this?
Why does our country, after 67 years, still not have a “No further first use” policy about our nuclear weapons?
How long has it been since one of us asked the President that question?
And what is the political and ethical responsibility of the American citizen for our H-bombs?
What, if aimed, are American nuclear bombs aimed at? If exploded on target, how many people will they kill? If we use them either to attack or retaliate, what would that do to our standing in the history and conscience of humanity?
This subject can turn anyone into a melancholiac, but none of us knows if the H-bomb holocaust will come, and where there’s uncertainty there’s hope.
Dr. Lifton speaks of “species consciousness,” that we are all one species, all in this together, and one senses that this consciousness is spreading, although slowly, around the world.
And of all the looming subjects of our time this is the most nonpartisan. Killing all of them and all of us must not be a political, an ideological, a religious, a nationalistic purpose. Preventing H-bomb holocaust is the all-partisan story, partisan to all of us and everything else living.
I believe we journalists have a professional and ethical responsibility to penetrate this story more deeply than we have on behalf of our readers and watchers. A story that hasn’t happened yet is hard to investigate. Perhaps we should have a new discussion on this among us. If the holocaust comes we are not likely to be around to report it.
May our thought, our work, and our words do what we can.
Thank you again.
Given the GOP sweep in the midterm elections, progressives and populists must position themselves to play a pivotal role in the next presidential contest. As we demonstrated in 2000, we are a fragmented political force, divided between those who supported, however reluctantly, the Democratic choice, Al Gore, and those who backed the Green Party's Ralph Nader. But the Bush disaster, compounded now by the meltdown of the Democratic Party on November 5, is an emergency. We cannot afford another division in our ranks that will bring about the election of George W. Bush in 2004.
His selection as President by the Supreme Court in 2000 was a presidential and judicial coup. Progressives may believe this coup stains his Administration as illegitimate, but apparently he and his inner group take it as leave to cast aside the Bill of Rights and international law. Now the President is out of control and threatens American democracy and the peace of the world. At home, there is mounting evidence that we are living in a land ruled by a crypto-fascist government: The FBI spies on law-abiding political organizations and churches, citizens are deputized to spy and inform on one another, an underground parallel executive government has been activated, lawyer-client consultations are bugged, the government keeps citizens locked up without lawyers or hearings and talks of using the military to police the United States, and the Pentagon is making a vast database of the American people. We are being cudgeled into agreeing to wars of aggression, to make first use of nuclear weapons and to put weapons in outer space. Setting a lethal example for other nations, the Bush government prepares to initiate an attack on a small nation 6,000 miles away and asserts the right to wage a war with no discernible end by attacking any nation that one man--an unelected President who has rarely traveled overseas--determines to be harboring terrorists or seeking weapons of mass destruction. This same unelected President schemes to exempt Americans from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court, which punishes crimes against humanity. The will to dominate the world is explicit when he tells Congress he will not allow "any foreign power to catch up with" or surpass "the power of the United States." If Bush and the Pentagon control the government through 2008 we will become a militarized nation bent on world domination, a third-millennium Rome. Intensified terrorist attacks on us and a series of widening wars can be expected. All of this is dramatically worse in kind and degree than what Al Gore would have done as President.
These are the realities that tell us Bush must be beaten in 2004. Not only the nation, but the world, depends on it. If we divide our votes for President again between the Democratic nominee and Ralph Nader, we will very probably help elect Bush. Therefore, Nader should not run for President as a Green in 2004.
Dugger recently received a lifetime achievement prize, the Career Award, at the prestigious George Polk journalism awards banquet in New York. But he remains self-effacing, especially when talking about his tenure at the Observer. "I didn't attract Billy Lee Brammer to the Texas Observer," he'll say, referring to the author of the renowned Texas political novel "The Gay Place," dismissing his own role as a mentor. "He was looking for freedom. I counted as freedom. And that attracted a number of people of that kind."
As a journalist, Dugger championed national health care before Barack Obama was even born. His second book, "Our Invaded Universities" - which focused on his alma mater, the University of Texas, circa 1972 - presaged the corporate takeover of American higher education. Dugger warned America about the perils of computerized vote-counting in a New Yorker essay in 1988, a dozen years before deadlock in Florida left the outcome of the Bush-Gore election in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court...
Dugger left Texas in the 1980s, shortly after his second marriage, to Patricia Blake, a writer and editor in the Time-Life empire. He's spent most of the past 20 years in Cambridge, Mass., where his writings served as a force behind the populist movement Alliance for Democracy. But after Blake's death in October 2010, Dugger eventually answered the call of his heart and came home, to Austin.
“The Guilty Men” presents “yet another theory” about the assassination. But “The Guilty Men” doesn’t merely present the theory in a neutral manner; it offers up big lies uncritically, and therefore propagates them. If an objective documentary were to be made about Johnson’s alleged involvement, say 60 minutes in duration, 30 minutes would have to be devoted to presenting Johnson’s side of the case. It would take at least that long to rebut the potpourri of charges that have been leveled over the years (ranging from variations on Garrison’s “Qui bono” theory to the “oil depletion allowance” motive). Unfortunately from Johnson’s perspective, his alleged co-conspirators all have one thing in common: they are deceased. Indeed, it does not seem coincidental that the persons so casually slandered in “The Guilty Men” (such as Edward Clark, Don Thomas, Cliff Carter, Clint Murchison, Jr., J. Edgar Hoover, and John Connally) all happen to be dead. This has been the The Men Who Killed Kennedy modus operandi since the first two episodes had to be redone.
At the same time, some very well-informed individuals about Texas politics are still around, and their absence from the program is glaring. One thinks of Ronnie Dugger, for example, who wrote (as editor of the Texas Observer) about the machinations of some of the individuals mentioned during the course of the program, most notably Billie Sol Estes. Dugger is not known to be overly enamored of Lyndon Johnson and is on record as not even subscribing to the Warren Commission’s findings. How is it that someone with his demonstrated knowledge, expertise, and first-hand exposure to Texas politics and business circa 1963 - a journalist who knows the Texas players - is not to be found on the program? Might it have something to do with Dugger’s ability to debunk these allegations?
Instead of someone like Dugger, the episode presents the viewer with self-styled “assassination experts” like Edgar Tatro, Gregory Burnham, and Walt Brown, and alleged “witnesses” like Barr McClellan and Madeleine Brown whose concoctions cannot be corroborated by circumstantial evidence. A few examples will suffice to illustrate that not one person in this group is either an expert or reliable.
Edgar Tatro is a high school teacher from Quincy, Massachusetts. His main claim to fame is that he has been trying for 35 years to prove that Johnson was to blame for President Kennedy’s assassination. In the episode, Tatro is the vehicle for introducing allegations originally leveled by Billie Sol Estes that Lyndon Johnson and his associates were responsible for several murders, including that of President Kennedy. At one point Tatro notes that “there is every reason to believe (Estes) is (telling the truth).” In point of fact, there is every reason to believe Billie Sol Estes is incapable of telling the truth. He is a twice-convicted felon and compulsive swindler who spent more than 10 years in federal prison. In 1984, when Estes first alleged Johnson’s involvement in the assassination, it probably had everything to do with promoting Billie Sol, his just published autobiography, and nothing to do with reality. At that time Walter Jenkins, formerly Johnson’s closest aide, noted that Estes’s charge “was just so far fetched it’s sick.” And as Estes himself admitted to the federal judge who sentenced him in 1979, “I have a problem. I live in a dream world.”