2009 Third Place Writing Winner

News Story

Coyote News Article

SAN FRANCISCO — Peter Coyote is worried about the journalism industry.

Yes, that journalism industry. The industry that has been hemorrhaging money and trying to find answers to myriad business problems.

But Coyote, the former counterculture figure turned actor turned activist, isn’t worried about money and profit margins and new business models.

He’s worried about filters and biases and the voices that are getting drowned out.

He’s worried that investigative journalism is dying.

“The great fiction of American journalism is that we pretend that the center is where you automatically arrive at when you filter out the bias from the left and the bias from the right,” Coyote said. “It’s implied that that’s where all reasonable people end up and it’s horseshit.”

Coyote is worried about a world where the American press is complicit and the government goes unchecked.

Those concerns buoyed Coyote to travel to Syria after a mysterious raid by the U.S. Military reportedly killed a terrorist, Abu Ghadiya, and left several Syrian civilians dead.

Coyote gathered eyewitness accounts of the incident, talked to leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah and pieced together a story that documented the events. He says he’s not convinced that the U.S. Military actually found and killed a terrorist.

Coyote pitched his story to Esquire magazine, but with no U.S. officials willing to corroborate the eyewitness accounts, Esquire has yet to print the story.

“We interviewed two CIA people,” Coyote said. “One who sort of swallowed the administration cool-aid and gave us the story that they had captured a terrorist, but he had no direct knowledge of the raid. He just talked to somebody who talked to somebody.”

Coyote said he also talked to former CIA case officer Bob Baer.

Coyote said Baer expressed doubt in the government’s story. Coyote said Baer told him that if the government had captured and killed a terrorist, they would have photograph documentation.

But at Esquire, Coyote’s story has given editors a concerned feeling of uneasiness. Esquire has expressed the opinion that nobody can be totally sure of what happened in Syria, Coyote says.

“I’m countering, and I made him very, very angry by saying, ‘You mean we don’t have any white people who have said what happened…'” Coyote said.

But Coyote says his case is just one example of a disturbing trend.

Philip Bronstein, an executive at Hearst Newspapers and former executive vice president and editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, has known Coyote for 12 years.

There’s not a lot of money to be made in investigative journalism, Bronstein says.

“I think it’s an endangered species,” Bronstein said.

“We can’t live in a culture without news and without unfettered access. The newspapers all disappear. What’s going to whip around the Internet?” Coyote said. “Google is not hiring investigative reporters. Yahoo!’s not hiring investigative reporters. Ninety percent of what you read on the newspaper came from reporters, so we all have a vested interest in keeping the flow of information alive.”

Back to top

Personality/Profile Article

SAN FRANCISCO — A man sits at a table, earring in his left ear, pressed suit covering his body. He leans forward in his chair and tries to explain his existence.

It’s not easy for Peter Coyote. He’s traveled many places, met many people, lived a hundred lives.

He’s been a high school activist who met President Kennedy. He’s been an English major at Grinnell College. He’s been a counterculture pioneer. Been a writer, a son, a father and a husband. He railed against the oppressive nature of capitalism in the 1960s. He worked for the state of California in the 1970s. He acted in Hollywood movies in the 1980s.

He’s been a social activist and a corporate pitchman — and a drug addict.

And now, at age 67, he sits in a hotel in San Francisco, his adopted hometown, and he tries to explain it all.

“The way I see myself,” Coyote says, in a deep, gravelly voice, “is someone whose life is dedicated to learning and teaching.”

So just who is Peter Coyote?


You’re standing inside an anarchist bookstore in the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. Coyote’s name is on the cover of a book that sits in the window. It’s called Ringolevio, written by Emmett Grogan. Coyote wrote the Forward.

Grogan and Coyote were members of the Diggers, a radical counterculture movement that arose here in the mid-1960s. They used to hand out free food to people everyday in Golden Gate Park. They opened a free store, too. Called it “A Trip Without a Ticket.”

A young man named Johnny Tsagkis sits behind the counter. He’s heard of Coyote. And that’s about it.

You’ll have to look elsewhere.


Flies buzz around the doorway of the Haight-Asbury Free Medical Clinic and wooden stairs lead to the waiting room. Two weathered men sit on plastic chairs and wait to hear their names.

The Diggers used to work here, used to work the phones. But that was more than 40 years ago, and there’s no sign of the Diggers anymore.

Outside, and down the street, a Ben & Jerry’s sits on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. The Diggers are gone. Tourists have taken their place.

You’ll have to look elsewhere.


Today, Coyote is still a walking contradiction. The kids that came of age in the Haight in the 1960s had to find jobs, had to become members of a system they loathed.

Coyote became an actor at the age of 40. His voice made him money, too.

“We all have to support our households,” Coyote says.

Today, he’s married and he says he transitioning away from acting. The offers aren’t coming like they once did, and Coyote says he’s much more comfortable at home — meditating and writing and thinking about his many lives.

He’s also working on two books.

“One is called ‘Toxic Taboos: things we are afraid to know and why they’re killing us,'” he says.

He’s writing another book about his childhood. He lived with a black family in North Carolina from the ages of two to 13, and he’d like to share that experience.

“I thought that it might be an interesting time to tell that story,” Coyote says, “especially with Obama in the White House.”


A sign warning of Coyotes — real ones — is taped in the window as Peter Berg answers the door.

Dressed in a turtleneck sweater and dark jeans, Berg’s white hair is pulled back into a small ponytail.

He takes you to his garden in his backyard, and begins to talk about Peter Coyote.

It’s been more than four decades since Berg watched Coyote walk through the door of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the acting group that would eventually evolve into the Diggers.

Berg sits in his garden with his wife, Judy Goldhaft, another former Digger. Together, they explain their cause. They wanted to create a new culture, Berg says. A culture where everything was free, where individual expression was cherished.

Berg remembers directing Coyote in plays. He remembers Coyote’s talent. But it’s hard, he says.

“He’s sort of an establishment,” Berg says. “I think he’s attempting to live an establishment sort of life. I’m not. We separated that way too.”

Berg says he doesn’t begrudge Coyote for what he’s become, but…

“Peter is a chameleon,” Coyote says. “And the other thing is he is extremely glib and this is not something I knock him for. It’s a very good trait for a salesman, to talk about any subject and sound like you have it covered.”


So much has happened since Coyote left his counterculture days behind. He became a member of the California State Arts Council in 1975. His acting career would take off a few years later. But the Diggers left a legacy.

“We were cultural workers…,” he says. “We were artists.”

If you squint real hard, you can almost picture Coyote as he was, his long hair covering his face, a cocaine spoon attached to his jacket.

But that man is gone.

Coyote leans back in his chair and his yellow tie moves slightly. He’s a walking contradiction. He’s a counterculture pioneer turned corporate pitchman, but…

“I don’t accept it, I don’t like it,” he says. “I think capitalism is a cruel and heartless form that needs to be mediated and softened.”

Philip Bronstein, an executive at Hearst Newspapers and former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, has known Coyote for 12 years. He puts it another way.

“The 60s are long gone,” Bronstein says, “and Peter has evolved like a lot of us.

So, just who is Peter Coyote?

“I’m certainly not pure,” he says. “But within a contradictory world, I try to make a preponderance of my decisions and a preponderance of my choices consistent with my values.

And then he begins to finish his story.

“The best you can do,” Coyote says, “is try to consistently pick the most enlightened possibilities.”

Back to top

Spot News

SAN FRANCISCO — Joe Wilbur twirls his black plastic bat in the air and bends his knees. The pitch floats over the plate and Wilbur takes a hack.

Plastic meets plastic and Wilbur drops his bat and sprints toward first base.

Tomorrow is the last day of school and members of Diane Jones’ third grade class have gathered here — a small picnic area in the middle of Golden Gate Park — to celebrate their upcoming freedom.

For Wilbur, a nine-year-old with sandy blonde hair who lives in San Francisco, that means a hastily thrown together game of wiffle ball.

Tomorrow is the last day of school at St. Gabriel’s, a Catholic school on 41st Street, and Wilbur and his buddies can’t stop talking about the summer and baseball and the San Francisco Giants.

“Hey,” Wilbur yells, protesting a call, “that was a strike.”

Wilbur loves the Giants. So do Dominic Cesari and Chris McDonagh. They love baseball too.

Miles away from Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s most famous baseball player is no longer playing baseball. Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, is without a team. Bonds is 44 now. Persistent rumors of steroid use have plagued Bonds for years. The allegations have landed Bonds in court and ruined his reputation.

They’ve also made Bonds damaged goods in the eyes of Wilbur and his classmates.

For most of the last decade, San Francisco has been ground zero for the steroids scandal in Major League Baseball. Bonds made headlines with his home runs and his reportedly rampant drug use.

Wilbur, Cesari and McDonagh lived it. They aren’t quite sure about steroids — what they do, what they are, why people take them. But they know their bad. The people on television told them so, they say. So did their parents.

“Barry Bonds stinks,” Wilbur says.

The sun is shining, but the game must be put on hold. Time for a nature hike. Jones scrambles to organize the class.

“I’ll never get them all rounded up,” says Jones, who’s been teaching at St. Gabriel’s for 20 years.

In moments, Jones’ class is hoofing it up a staircase made of rocks and dirt. Kids talk about Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and SpongeBob… and Barry Bonds.

The class reaches the top of a wooded hill. You can see the city — houses painted in all shades. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge peaking over the trees. This used to be Bonds’ town, until…

“He took steroids and he betrayed the Giants,” Wilbur says.

Michael Emery of San Francisco is one of those parents who had to have a discussion with his son, Robert, about steroids.

Michael and Robert say they’re the biggest Giants fans in San Francisco. They’ve been to about 40 games a year for the last five or six years, been to Spring training too.

“He had a poster of Barry Bonds,” Michael Emery says. “It’s down now.”

Robert is 12-years-old. Michael had the steroids talk with him a few years ago.

“Every player that he’s rooted for — everyone of those players. Everyone who had any talent at all was a steroid user,” Michael says.

These days, Robert plays on a traveling baseball team. He says he’d like to play baseball in college, maybe longer if he can.

He says he loved Bonds. Had the poster in his room, had an autographed ball, too.

“A lot of people were disappointed,” Robert says.

The nature hike is over and it’s time to resume the game. The ball is dented and the bases are crumpled sweatshirts. They don’t care.

Wilbur just wants to play. He wants to play for the Giants when he gets older. He says his coaches call him “slugger”.

Like the rest of baseball fans, they’d like to forget about Bonds and steroids, but they keep getting reminded of a tainted era. Other famous players get caught. More facts are revealed.

“You can already be strong, and then you take steroids and you crack up and go down,” McDonagh says.

Wilbur steps to the plate. He twirls the bat again, and digs his feet into the grass.

Wilbur connects, sending the dented plastic ball spinning into the air. The students of Jones’ third grade class scramble after it, and Wilbur circles the bases. In a second, there’s a commotion at home plate. There’s yelling and arguing and Wilbur runs off crying.

“I was safe,” he yells.

Another baseball story ends in tears.

Back to top