History of the Review

The story so far

It all began in 1964 with the Idler, a strong critic of the Johnson administration and the Vietnam War and a supporter of the civil rights movement. It published the cartoons of Hugh Haynie and columns by Charlie McDowell and Edward P. Morgan. In 1966 it published two articles on auto safety by Ralph Nader.

In 1966, the Idler’s editor, Sam Smith, started an alternative neighborhood newspaper on Capitol Hill, the Capitol East Gazette, serving a community that was 75% black but also home to some of the most powerful whites in the country. In 1968 Washington went up in flames with two of the four major riot strips in the Gazette’s circulation area. In 1969, the Gazette became a citywide alternative paper, the DC Gazette.

During the 1960s, the Gazette was a voice of the anti-war movement and the leading journalistic opponent of the city’s planned freeway system strongly supported by the Washington Post and other members of the local establishment. It mixed city reportage with national coverage believing, as the theologian Martin Marty said, that we need a place from which to view the world. Boris Weintraub in the Washington Star described the Gazette as “a combination of things Americans profess to hold dear: iconoclasm, a deeply felt sense of community and, above all, independence.”

For many years, the Gazette also provided alternative coverage of the arts, with writers such as Tom Shales (now with the Washington Post and a nationally syndicated TV critic) and movie critic Joel Siegel. Patricia Griffith, later president of the Pen/Faulkner Foundation, was also among the paper’s arts critics.

The Gazette featured the photography of Roland Freeman, the first photographer to win a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and later a leading expert on African-American quilts. In the mid-70s the arts section was spun off as an independent non-profit publication, the Washington Review, which won a number of awards during its 25-year life as an independent journal.

The Gazette long published the only urban planning comic strip in America, drawn by DC architect John Wiebenson, who played a major role in saving a number of historic buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue and elsewhere in the city, as well as leading the construction of the shelters for Resurrection City. And — until its author was released from prison — the Gazette published the only column that had been written from behind bars for a non-prison publication.

In the 1970s the Gazette published the first article calling for DC statehood. It urged the development of light rail transit and bikeways, and proposed the creation of neighborhood commissions. With a mixture of controversy and wit, it repeatedly locked horns with the city government and the Washington establishment.

In the mid-1980s, increasingly concerned about the rightward drift of the country, the Gazette ended its local coverage to concentrate on national politics as the Progressive Review. It became the city’s most unofficial source — a rare alternative journalistic voice in Reagan-Bush-Clinton Washington, returning to its roots as an underground publication.

The Review has, since the mid-eighties, espoused a pragmatic, decentralized, populist alternative to increasingly conservative Democrats and their emulation of GOP policies and has been a voice of the growing Green movement.

In November 1990 it devoted an entire issue to the ecologically-sound city and how to develop it. The article was republished widely — from Utne Reader to the Atlanta Constitution and the San Francisco Examiner. In 1992 TPR won a national Annual Alternative Press Award for its coverage of emerging issues. It was a finalist in 2000 and 2001.

Utne Reader, the Reader’s Digest of the alternative press, had this to say about the Review: “In a spirited and compelling style, editor Sam Smith gently weaves messages about community and individual empowerment through coverage of politics. . . Whatever the debate, the Review’s sharp critiques encourage us to look out our window, notice and act upon what we see, and also to look further — to the rest of the country and globe — to see how the organized big world interacts with our more spontaneous small worlds.”

In the 1990s, the Review became one of only a handful of progressive publications to investigate and report on the Clinton machine and the Arkansas Mafia. In May 1992, even before Clinton’s nomination, the Review published a comprehensive report on the issues involved in what would become known as the Clinton scandals. In 1994, at the request of Indiana University Press, the editor, Sam Smith, wrote the first book to raise serious questions about Clinton and his administration. He would write four books, two at the request of publishers.

These efforts, in the paper’s fact-finding tradition, were not appreciated by many liberals and the editor soon found himself banned from a major local NPR program and blacklisted at other outlets including CSPAN.

Over the years many interesting writers and cartoonists have graced our pages. Among them: poet and former presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy; Chuck Stone, former senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News; Charles McDowell, national TV commentator and correspondent for the Richmond Times Dispatch; Des Wilson, a longtime activist dubbed the Ralph Nader of Great Britain; Tuli Kupfenberg, the minimalist cartoonist; Jim Hightower, later a national populist leader; Paul Krassner, satirist and publisher of the Realist; and Jim Ridgeway, later with the Village Voice.

. We have also featured the work of such alternative cartoonists as Ron Cobb, Tony Auth, R Crumb, Tom Tomorrrow and Bill Griffith and the columnist Dave Barry long before they were picked up in the journalistic mainstream.

For nearly 40 years the Review had been a consistent critic of the run-away free market economy that led to the 2008 financial collapse.

We reported on NSA monitoring of U.S. phone calls years before it became a major media story.

In 2003 editor Sam Smith wrote an article for Harper’s comprised entirely of falsehoods about Iraq by Bush administration officials.


REVIEW GOES ON THE WEB IN 1995The Review started a web edition in 1995 when there were only 27,000 web sites worldwide. Today there are over 170 million active sites. It began an e-mail edition in 1994. To get some idea of how early this was, take a look at this 1994 video with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel

The Review has opposed the ineffective and unconstitutional 21 year old drinking age limit since the mid 90s,

Our 1990 article on the savings & loan bailout scandal was selected by Utne Reader as one of the ten most under-covered stories of the past decade.

In 1987 we ran an article on AIDS. It is the first year that more than 1,000 men died of the disease.

In the 1980s, Thomas S Martin predicted in the Review that “Yugoslavia will eventually break up” and that “a challenge to the centralized soviet state” would occur as a result of devolutionary trends. Both happened.

In the 1980s, we reported on the dangers of computerized voting and suggests possible solutions including an independent review of software and an adequate audit trail.

Beginning in the 1970s, we argued that the war on drugs was wrong and would not work. It hasn’t.

We argued for light rail and other transit alternatives in the 1970s that were later widely adopted.

In the 1970s we published a first person account of a then illegal abortion.

In 1971 we published our first article in support of single payer universal health care

In 1970, we ran a two part series on gay liberation.

Sam Smith’s article arguing for DC statehood in 1970 led to the creation of the DC Statehood Party, now the DC Statehood Greens. For a quarter century, the party would have elected represenatives on the city council and/or school board.

In 1966 we published two articles on auto safety by Ralph Nader

In 1965 we called for the end of the draft.

We proposed bikeways in the 1960s.

We proposed community policing in the 1960s

We published first person reports from the Mississippi pivotal civil rights summer of 1964.

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