Born on April 4, 1936 in the Bronx, New York, for nearly three decades Robert Scheer worked for the Los Angeles Times— as a national correspondent from 1976-1993, and then as a regular columnist from 1993-2005 — where he specialized in national security issues. From one of the most powerful press platforms in the United States, he articulated, on a weekly basis, his assertions about the moral deficiencies of America and its leadership.
Scheer co-authored a 1961 book defending Fidel Castro‘s Communist revolution in Cuba. In 1965 he ran for liberal Democrat Jeffrey Cohelan’s congressional seat, attacking Cohelan from the radical left. He was the political editor of the largest magazine of the radical left, Ramparts, and was given (by the Cuban dictatorship itself) the diaries of Che Guevara to publish.
Later in the 1960s, Scheer and Tom Hayden co-founded Berkeley’s Red Family — a commune of urban guerrillas which trained its members in the use of explosives and firearms and called for the creation of “liberated zones” in the United States; this “liberation” was to be achieved by force of arms. Dedicated to Maoist principles, Red Family leaders adorned the walls of their headquarters with portraits of such heroes as Ho Chi Minh, North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, and Black Panther thug Huey Newton.
Scheer strongly supported the violent Black Panther Party in the 1960s. He helped get the infamous Eldridge Cleaver out of the prison where the latter was serving an indeterminate sentence for rape, and he edited Cleaver’s writings for publication in book form. Distinguishing himself from the mass of what he deemed “racist whites,” Scheer felt solidarity with the Panthers’ cause. In his introduction to an article in which Cleaver declared his intention to kill whites — an article that Scheer himself titled “The Courage to Kill” — Scheer expressed his approval of Cleaver’s sentiments with the exclamation, “Right on, Eldridge!” After Cleaver fled the U.S. following his ambush of two San Francisco policemen in 1968, Scheer joined a Red Family overseas delegation to visit the fugitive.
In the early 1970s, Scheer joined the Red Sun Rising commune, which was devoted to “armed struggle” and embraced Kim Il-Sung. In the three decades that followed, Scheer rose to influence at the L.A. Times (in part through his marriage to Narda Zacchino, one of the Times’ top editors); he became a friend of Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda and Warren Beatty; and in his columns he vigorously opposed America’s Cold War efforts against the Soviet bloc.
“What the heck, let’s bomb Baghdad,” is how Scheer depicted the thought process by which “our accidental president” — George W. Bush — decided to forcibly disarm Saddam Hussein in 2003. “Sure,” Scheer wrote sardonically, “. . . many of [Baghdad’s] more than 3 million inhabitants will probably end up as ‘collateral damage,’ but if George the Younger is determined to avenge his father and keep his standings in the polls, that’s the price to be paid.”
Scheer further claimed that President Bush was driven by an unspoken desire to create a global American empire. “The world’s current unprecedented hostility toward the United States,” he wrote, is “a profound alarm over the imperial endpoint of Bush’s design for the world.” “Imperialist greed,” he added, “is what ‘regime change’ in Iraq and ‘anticipatory self-defense’ are all about, and all of the rest of the Bush administration’s talk about security and democracy is a bunch of malarkey.” Moreover, Scheer deemed it “fitting” that, just prior to the Iraq War, Bush had met to strategize with his British and Spanish counterparts in the Azores, “an island chain originally settled by a Portuguese Crusader whose goal was to encircle the Muslim world with Christian armies.”
Scheer believed that a lust for oil was yet another of President Bush’s motivations for war, explaining that “oil is black gold, and Iraq has a whole heck of a lot of it.”
Scheer also saw the Iraq War as a “diversion” tactic: “the modern equivalent of the Roman Circus, drawing the people’s attention away from the failures of those who rule them”; “a smoke screen to obscure our floundering economy”; and a “convenient distraction” from President Bush’s “close personal and financial ties to the company — Enron — whose demise is the most glaring symbol of the broad moral disarray of the nation’s corporate culture.”
Despite President Bush’s dogged attempts to disarm Saddam Hussein non-violently — via United Nations Resolutions and meaningful inspections (on the heels of twelve years of Iraq’s refusal to abide by its disarmament obligations) — Scheer depicted Bush as a trigger-happy warmonger. “Hussein is not the aggressor,” said Scheer, “we are.” He characterized Bush as one of “the vast majority of Americans who blissfully and conveniently forget that we are the only ones to ever actually use a nuclear weapon.” “[This] may explain,” Scheer added, “why even those who love freedom and democracy as much as we do are frightened not only of Saddam Hussein, but increasingly of us.”
According to Scheer, “the most outrageous Big Lie of the Bush administration [is] that delaying an invasion to wait for the UN to complete inspections would endanger the U.S. The fact is that for more than a decade the military containment of Iraq has effectively neutered Hussein, and there is no reason to believe that can’t continue.”
But in fact, Scheer had argued for years in the L.A. Times that containment efforts were a cruel means of “punish[ing] the Iraqis for failing to overthrow Hussein.” “In Iraq,” he wrote, ” . . . more than one million children [who] suffer from malnutrition . . . are the true victims of our embargo, not Hussein, who continues to live the high life.”
Just prior to the start of the 2003 war, Scheer asserted that because “Iraq at this time poses no direct threat to the well-being of the American people,” it logically followed that “the maiming or killing of a single Iraqi civilian in an attack by the United States would constitute a war crime.” He complained that the U.S., by aggressively enforcing UN Resolution 1441 (which offered Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations”), had “gutted” the United Nations.
But when the UN had backed an American-led coalition to drive Iraq’s invading army out of Kuwait twelve years earlier, Scheer was not at all in favor of following that organization’s decrees. In March 1991, he decried Americans’ “patriotic orgy” over the coalition’s campaign of “terrorism” that was not unlike the “hijacking [of] a commercial aircraft — treating civilians as combatants.”
Asserting that America’s military efforts in the war on terror were founded on the “simplistic” notion of a struggle between good and evil, Scheer in 2002 declared that the world’s most destructive practitioners of evil resided in the Bush administration and corporate America. “Is there any doubt,” he asked rhetorically, “that the chicanery of Enron executives and [other] top CEOs has done more long-term damage to the U.S. economy than the efforts of anti-American terrorists?”
In contrast to his sentiments about President Bush, Scheer has been a consistent supporter of Bill Clinton — describing him as “a great president,” “supremely capable,” and “one of the hardest working, most competent, fundamentally decent and smartest men to ever serve in the office.” During the Clinton administration, Scheer dismissed most criticisms of the President as the rantings of partisan “jackals” intent on making Clinton feel “the lash of the self-righteous.”
Scheer enjoyed his friendships with Clinton White House operatives like James Carville and Sidney Blumenthal as much as he savored the salons of the Hollywood left. Such associations have always boosted his sense of superiority over the less well-connected. In a revealing moment, Scheer once mocked an unemployed journalist thusly: “Look at you. You support the System, and you’re struggling, while I attack it and have a six-figure salary and a yacht, and am surrounded by Hollywood stars” (reported in David Horowitz’s Radical Son).
Scheer is also a great admirer of former President Jimmy Carter, who he once described as a man who “won the Nobel Peace Prize for a career of successfully waging peace.” Added Scheer in October 2002: “While Carter has exhibited the patience of the peacemaker, a sweet Jesus for our time, willing to rebuke contemptible leaders while offering them a path for redemption, Bush has become a self-fulfilling prophet of war, delighting in the discovery of what he defines as immutable evil, thereby justifying an endless crusade against the infidels.”
In November 2005, Scheer was fired from his Los Angeles Times job; his column now appears regularly in the Huffington Post.
In addition to his writing, Scheer has taught courses at Antioch College, New York City College, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and UCLA. He currently teaches a course on media and society at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication.
Robert Scheer is the father of Christopher Scheer.