Friday, April 30, 2010

Lowell Bergman, Herbert Marcuse, and Al Pacino

Lowell A. Bergman is an American investigative reporter with The New York Times and a producer/correspondent for the PBS documentary series Frontline. Bergman is also the Reva and David Logan Distinguished Professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where he has taught a seminar dedicated to investigative reporting for over 15 years. Bergman has received top honors in both print and broadcasting. In 2004, he shared the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service with David Barstow. 
(Source: Wikipedia, s.v. Lowell A. Bergman) 

Professor Bergman was also a graduate fellow in philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied under Herbert Marcuse from 1966-1969. 

See him portrayed by Al Pacino in the 1999 movie The Insider discussing studying philosophy at "UC La Jolla" (fast forward to 7:30 on this clip).

Doug Ireland, in an article posted to ZNET, transcribes an interview that journalist Danny Postel did with Lowell Bergman about Marcuse, in which he reflects on UCSD and La Jolla. I quote extensively from Ireland’s article below. After the quotation are links to Ireland’s article and to Lowell Bergman’s website.
Danny Postel did a long interview about Marcuse with the investigative journalist Lowell Bergman ... Lowell recounts his experiences with Marcuse, how they led to Bergman's career in journalism, and the influence Marcuse had on Bergman's work: 
"I studied with Marcuse as a graduate fellow in philosophy at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) from 1966 to 1969," Bergman told Postel. " It was a Ph.D. program in the history of philosophy.....My first real contact with Marcuse came [when] reading his book Reason and Revolution, which remains one of the best, if not the best, expositions of Hegel in English. It was—maybe there are others now—the only coherent presentation of his philosophical insights in relation to the development of Marx's thought. That book led me to read some of his writings from his time in Frankfurt [Ger.], especially a seminal essay on liberalism... 
"...One-Dimensional Man provided a unique way of looking at the rise of the authoritarian state in advanced industrial society. The suppleness of the analysis provided a way of thinking that ran counter to the dominant notion of 'progress' and 'Nature' that permeated thinking on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Marcuse began to articulate ideas about the way in which the culture and mass media were no longer presenting information except for the sake of presenting it. There was no depth, no history, no analysis. Information for information's sake without any attempt to help people understand.... 
"[My] jump to journalism 1969, " Bergman (left) continues. "The spark was the incessant appearance of editorials in the San Diego Union-Tribune demanding that the University of California regents fire Marcuse. This came after students in Europe ran around in 1968 chanting "Marx, Mao, Marcuse!" When Herbert went back to Germany that summer he was feted not just at universities but at outdoor rallies....Back in San Diego, the very conservative community reacted at first with virulent publicity and then physical harassment. Marcuse's telephone lines at home were cut. Someone drove by and fired at his garage door. There were phone threats. The tension was mounting. San Diego had an active right-wing vigilante movement, which I encountered later when I got into journalism. So his graduate students decided to start escorting him to school every morning, a 15-minute walk. This was in the time when UCSD was a small campus with a small undergraduate college and as many graduate students. 
"This experience led the students to discuss the idea of putting out an alternative newspaper in what was and is a monopoly newspaper town. San Diego was not only the largest staging area for the Vietnam War; it was also home to a large military retirement community and politics that made parts of the deep South look liberal. Thus was born the San Diego Free Press, which a year later was renamed the San Diego Street Journal....The publicity [about Marcuse] in Europe—and it was then repeated in the U.S. press—that [Marcuse] was an ideological leader came to the attention of the anticommunist ideologues associated with the Copley Press (the San Diego Union-Tribune). In those days the paper, now a conservative but civilized rag, was to the right of Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon called San Diego his 'favorite city.'... 
"Marcuse was a symbol, which became even more threatening when one of his students, a veteran of the Hegel seminar and before that a student of Marcuse's at Brandeis, went to work at UCLA. That was Angela Davis (below left). The ensuing row brought in [then] governor Ronald Reagan and more action to terminate her appointment. Marcuse's own reputation, enhanced by hers, made him a central target of the anticommunists of the Reagan right in the late '60s. ... I guess what I'm getting at is that one doesn't normally associate political upheaval and mass mobilization with philosophy professors—at least not in the United States. Moreover, the figure of Marcuse doesn't exactly square with the style and tone of the '60s counterculture. There was something of a baroque quality about him: By that time he was fairly ancient, wore nice suits, spoke with a heavy German accent. There's a striking scene in the documentary film Herbert's Hippopotamus in which a group of student activists are holding a demonstration of some sort on the UCSD campus. They're running around, banging on drums, singing—and then Marcuse steps up to speak, using language right out of 19th-century German philosophy. Yet he captivated them. They fell silent and listened to his every word. This struck me. What was it about him—because I think he was fairly unique in this sense that so many young people revered and were inspired by? 
"...Despite his Germanic professorial bearings and his old world roots, Marcuse was a captivating orator. His lectures on Hegel were phenomenal. The best way to describe them is to read Reason and Revolution. Few, if any, books on Hegelian philosophy and its aftermath are so cogent and to the point. In the world of UCSD at the time, Marcuse was an intellectual superstar. It was a little surreal, in the midst of San Diego county, high on a plateau, within sight of the largest military complex in the world.... 
"Marcuse's dialectical analysis did not depend on heavy-handed 'conspiracy' theories or mechanistic economic determinism. That would save me from falling into some of the simplistic traps that lure many people looking for tidy explanations...."

Doug Ireland's article can be found at these sites:

Lowell Bergman’s Berkeley website is here:

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