2009 Second Place Writing Winner

News Story

Coyote News Article

SAN FRANCISCO – Peter Coyote still thinks of the days when his father, Morris Cohon, would bring seven newspapers to their New Jersey home. Good papers. He thinks of reporters like Mark Danner and Gary Webb, guys who wrote about the El Mozote massacre and how Contra supporters helped contribute to the crack epidemic.

And he says it’s a bygone era.

“That’s why I’m angry all the time,” Coyote said.

In Coyote’s opinion, the media has lost its bite, its watchdog capability, its ability to rake the muck. He can’t identify when it happened or necessarily why, but he said the press was hurting the public because of its lack of investigative reporting.

Coyote, a San Francisco resident actor, writer and voiceover specialist, has an example of how the media is losing its watchdog capabilities. He investigated a story he claims is legitimate and tried selling it to Esquire. The magazine has so far refused to publish it.

It started in late October. Coyote read the story about how the U.S. military invaded Syria, reportedly killing a terrorist, Abu Ghadiya, but also seven civilians.

The stories all had Washington datelines with unnamed sources. Nobody published a picture of Ghadiya’s body. Coyote didn’t buy the death and wanted to investigate.

He went to Syria and Lebanon with a progressive journalist friend. After a series of interviews with Syrian generals, Iraqi opposition, former CIA agent Bob Baer and villagers in Al Sukariya, Coyote pieced together a story about what happened and said the government erred, that it only killed innocent civilians.

The U.S. Department of Defense didn’t return calls when contacted about the story.

Coyote worked with editor David Granger. Esquire won’t publish it for now. Coyote said it was because they didn’t have enough information from the American side about what happened.

And Coyote believes that’s where media fail.

“If you don’t report the story because you can’t get an official source or a European or white-skinned eyewitness,” he said, “you’re offering de facto censorship to the government.”

That censorship is built-in for people in media, he said, a Washington Consensus of sorts about what the press can publish that took away from investigative journalism.

“I think we need to stretch it,” Coyote said.

Coyote admitted he was no expert on journalism, but he does have some ideas. For one, admit bias. Include more information about reporters than just the name. And of course, get rid of that Washington Consenus-style censorship.

Coyote and his longtime friend and Hearst Newspapers executive, Philip Bronstein, have had many discussions about modern media. Bronstein would like newspapers to keep their objectivity, but he does agree that investigative journalism is going the way of the polar bear.

“You do those pieces and you can tick off advertisers,” Bronstein said. “I think it’s an endangered species.”

Coyote bemoaned the fact that too many Americans couldn’t read a bus schedule or find Iraq on a map. He believes those people need direction, and they need it from the press.

“I think human survival is at stake,” Coyote said.

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Personality/Profile Article

SAN FRANCISCO – Act One: The door is wide open, so the man in the black suit walks through and begins shaking hands.

His button-up shirt is gold, same as the hoop earring in his left ear, and he arrived at the Palace Hotel from his Mill Valley home, a slightly more lavish estate than the one he lived in at Olema Ranch commune.

He lived in Olema in the 60s and 70s, in the past.

Today, that man, Peter Coyote, the son of Morris and Ruth Cohon, turned English student at Grinnell University, turned counterculture actor, turned commune resident, turned arts council president, turned actor, author and voice-over specialist is sitting at the head of the table. His role?

He’s talking about the media. Coyote says the press has lost its muckraking abilities, and that he wants to try and change that.

The writer in Coyote is coming through. He’s a lot like the Hollywood guy, the one who’s appeared in 90 films and done various voiceovers for companies like Buick and Chiquita. He’s not entirely like the one who became part of the Diggers anarchist group in the 60s and lived in the communes.

“The 60s are long ago,” says longtime friend and Hearst Newspapers executive Philip Bronstein. “And Peter has evolved like a lot of us.”

Bronstein has known Coyote for 12 years. He met him on the set of the film, “Sphere.” Some of the people who knew Coyote in the 60s don’t have the same feelings.

“You know the chameleon right?” says Peter Berg, a Digger in the 60s with Coyote… “They aren’t so much who they are rather than what they represent.”

Act Two: The old wooden sign outside the door reads Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic. Inside, up the stairs, a bucket of condoms rests on the waiting-room table, and collages of photos remind everyone of the free clinic’s past eras.

The Diggers belong to the place’s past. They used to work here, answering phones. The group was an offshoot of the radical-activist Mime Troupe acting club. Coyote, Berg, Judy Goldhaft, David Simpson and others were involved.

They had a goal, getting people to live according to their own personal choices and impulses rather than worrying about profit and property. They attempted this by providing free food and goods at free stores in the Haight-Ashbury area.

The members of the Diggers would be life actors, imagining the best they could be and trying to act that out in everyday life in hopes that others would catch on, leading to social change.

Coyote fit right in.

“We considered it kind of a good acquisition as a life actor,” Berg says, “because we knew he could perform in public.”

In the late 60s, the Diggers disbanded. Coyote broke away from Haight-Ashbury and lived the commune life, once sharing a single toilet with 30 people.

By the mid-70s, the counterculture movement had died, and Coyote was around 40 and he had a child and he had no money. All of a sudden, a job sounded like a good idea.

He earned a spot on the California State Arts Council and later became the chairman. Then he got his next break. A Hollywood agent saw him at a Magic Theatre performance.

The hippie would appear in movies.

Coyote acted in E.T. as the sympathetic doctor, writing in his book that he helped director Steven Spielberg rewrite a major scene. Hollywood rarely called for major starring roles, but he’s appeared in 90 films and does voiceovers for documentaries.

San Franciscans know about this Coyote.

“I love his voice,” says a cab driver.

He didn’t know anything about Coyote’s past.

Final Act: Peter Berg is holding the smell of Northern California in his hand. The piece of sage comes from his sidewalk garden, 100 feet long, the largest in all of the Bay Area, he claims.

He planted the garden, full of sage and other green species, outside of his house on 30th and Harper Streets, where he lives with his partner, Judy Goldhaft, another former Digger. They’ve run Planet Drum, a regional ecological organization for 35 years.

Berg and Goldhaft were in the Mime Troupe and the Diggers before Coyote. David Simpson was another. He’s also involved with ecology.

“A lot of people have maintained some sense of integrity from where they started from,” Simpson says.

Simpson and Berg both say that very few people who were involved in the counterculture movement took the same route as Coyote.

And that’s why Berg has a problem. He believes the media and the public have portrayed Coyote as an activist, as a face of the 60s generation.

“I’m not saying it’s a travesty,” Berg says, “I’m just saying, it’s a little weak.”

Berg lost contact with Coyote long ago, but he’s had indirect meetings with the man’s voice. He’s heard it talk about staying away from drugs. Coyote used to walk around with a cocaine spoon sewn to his shirt, Berg says.

He’s heard it on Chiquita commercials and Buick commercials. Those are major corporations.

” This is not a representative of the generation,” Berg says. “This is somebody who is very good at representing anything.”

Coyote admits that doing those commercials and certain movies are inconsistent. But he says he has to do it if he wants to support his family.

“I’m certainly not pure,” Coyote said, “but within a contradictory world I try to make the preponderance of my decisions and the preponderance of my choices consistent with my values.”

The Buick ads, the fancy suit, the house in Mill Valley would say Coyote and those values have changed since the 60s, that they’ve transformed like a chameleon would.

But maybe they haven’t.

Remember, Berg liked Coyote as a digger because he was a life actor who could perform well in public. He played the anarchist who wanted to change society back then.

He’s the same life actor now.

He’s just playing a different role.

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Spot News

SAN FRANCISCO – A call to the coach could change Terence Lee’s life.

Lee is the one with the unkempt cornrows, the one wearing thong sandals with socks. He’s the only person standing near the blacktop basketball court on Thursday morning in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

He dribbles a racquetball between his legs while lunging forward to build muscle in his calves, an exercise he calls a kung-fu imitation of basketball. He found the racquetball resting in the curb on his way to church two months ago.

“I was going to get some church grub,” Lee, 31, says.

He’s lived homeless for about the last four years.

“I’m not that surprised,” admits the coach, Mike Legarza, when he hears the story.

Legarza lives in the Bay Area. He played ball at Menlo College, gaining small college All-American status before turning to a career in coaching. He’s training kids – 70,000 and counting at his own basketball clinics – but before then he coached at Cañada College in Redwood City.

About 10 years ago, at Cañada, he got a request from another coach, Lamonte Jackson, at Los Altos High School in Mountain View. He had a troubled kid who needed some guidance. That kid was Lee.

Lee grew up without a stable family life. He loves his three younger sisters and his mother too. But Legarza and Lee said his father, Terence Lee Sr., was often absent.

“The biggest crisis in America right now is kids without dads,” Legarza said.

Lee remembers when his father did show up. One of those times was at high school graduation. He complimented him, hugged him and even took a picture.

“It was embarrassing,” Lee says.

After graduation, he went to Cañada College. Lee got the scholarship because of Jackson’s suggestion. It was a rocky experience for Legarza and Lee.

“He was a pain in the ass,” Legarza said.

That first year, Legarza kicked Lee off the team but let him back on after six weeks, after Lee worked his way back. Legarza had quite the team back then. Justin Love, who moved on to NCAA Tournament glory at Saint Louis University, starred, but Legarza says Lee never gave into the team concept.

After two years, Lee did finish his associate’s degree. He says he got it so he could finish his career at a four-year school. And after Legarza helped scour the country for a college that would take him, Lee moved to Oklahoma and played at Northeastern State.

He didn’t graduate. He feuded with the coach. But he does have one memory.

Late in a game against John Brown, Lee made two crossover moves, freeing up a path toward the hoop. He leaped and barely pushed the ball above the rim. But it was still a dunk.

“That was the pinnacle,” Lee says.

Though his biceps still bulge with definition, and the remnants of a six-pack dot his abdomen, Lee says he doesn’t have the necessary athleticism to play above the rim anymore.

As his game faded after college, so did his motivation. He worked a few waiting jobs near Mountain View at Chevy’s, Chili’s and other restaurants. He got fired or quit, and about four years ago, he stopped working and started living the homeless lifestyle.

Now in San Francisco, Lee splits time between the street and MSC Shelter, bums food from local churches and kitchens and says he often smokes marijuana.

Lee talks about moving to Arkansas with his sister, whom he calls Rose. They’re close. He remembers her phone number by heart. That tattoo below his shoulder? It’s a rose, for her. He’d like to help her raise her son. Maybe wait tables again.

“I’m not in any hurry,” Lee says.

Legarza found out about Lee on Friday afternoon. He hadn’t heard about him in years and wanted to know more. He wanted the number for the MSC Shelter so he could try and contact his former player.

He says he wants to do something.

Ten years ago, Legarza brought Lee on his team because a kid was in trouble, and he wanted to help.

Lee is in trouble again, and the coach isn’t ready to give up yet.

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