The Progressive Review: A little history

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 1964 we published a first person report from the Mississippi Freedom Summer

In 1966 it published two articles on auto safety by Ralph Nader.

In 1965 we called for the end of the draft.

In the 1960s we proposed community policing

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. 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 (later 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.

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 1968 it advocated urban bikeways

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

In 1970, we proposed DC statehood and explained how it could be achieved. This led soon to the formation of the the DC Statehood Party. We also proposed an elected district attorney which the city would get in 2014.

in 1971, it reported the CIA drug connection in Southeast Asia. It also published its first article on gay liberation.

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

In 1972 it called for light rail construction and for proportional representation.

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

In 1982, we ran our first article on global warming.

In the 1980s, we reported on the dangers of computerized voting and suggested possible solutions including an independent review of software and an adequate audit trail. we published a first person account of a then illegal abortion.

In 1981, we proposed that Washington DC have an elected attorney general. It got one in 2015.

In 1985, we ran our first article on jury nullification.

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.

In 1987 we ran an article on AIDS. It was 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 suggested possible solutions including an independent review of software and an adequate audit trail.

In 1990 we devoted an entire issue to the ecologically-sound city and how to develop it. The article was republished widely.

In 1990 we ran an article on the S&L bailout scandal which was selected by Utne Reader as one of the ten most under-covered stories of the past decade.

In 1992, we ran our first article on the Clinton scandals. Although our thorough coverage of the story would get us into a lot of trrouble it remains one of the most thorough and accurate accounts of the Clinton story.

In the 1990s we reported on NSA monitoring of U.S. phone calls in the 1990s, years before it became a major media story. We also began opposing the 21 year old drinking age.

In the 1990s, we began reporting on the dangers of electronic voting.

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.

in 1995, the Review started a web edition when there were only 27,000 web sites worldwide.


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

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.”

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.





Sam Smith’s Decoland Band & other gigs

SAM SMITH’S APOLOGY TO YOUNGER AMERICANS set to music by John Halle, performed by the Now Ensemble with Sarah Chalfy.




What others say

An alternative press icon if ever there was one — NY Press

A truly independent journalist with his feet firmly grounded in the city of neighborhoods and everyday people. – Patrick Mazza, Progressive Populist

A larger than life presence in the nation’s capital . . .A truly original voice in American journalism: humorous and plain spoken and filled with common sense — Jay Waljasper, Utne Reader

Inimitable — Mother Jones Magazine

Sam’s a cynical cat — Former DC Mayor Marion Barry

The Progressive Review has been a luxuriant jungle of old-school reporting and frenetic information exchange since before blogs were blogs, and before the Internet was the Internet. – Jason Zannon, Democracy in Action

Sam Smith has been a lonely populist voice in Washington, a journalist who’s chronicled the waste, the misdeeds, the scandals, and spending that make Washington Washington. Smith is a natural-born iconoclast who refuses to give up being a barnstormer – Jacki Lyden, NPR

One of the nation’s leading visionaries. — Charlie Spencer, Charlie Spencer Show

Notorious journalist — Seattle Weekly

Washington has but a very few observers of the caliber, honesty and overall orneriness at the right times and places as Sam Smith — Stephen Goode, Insight Magazine

Sam’s one of the few independent voices left. — Eugene McCarthy,

He has a wonderful combination of being absolutely realistic about the vagaries of people in political life while still being an idealist. — Peter Edelman

A reputation for wit, intelligence and anger. — Claude Lewis, Chicago Tribune

A very good summary of a lot of items from a left perspective, but they are also interesting to our readers – Christopher Ruddy, editor of the conservative Newsmax

Smith is an island of reason and information in a sea of narcissistic blather. — City Paper, Washington

Sam Smith is an antidote to mindless speed reading. He makes you pause between paragraphs in order to mull over the captivating morsels he is placing in your imagination. – Ralph Nader

There are butts that need kicking in this country . . . Sam Smith is handing out the boots. — Alex Steffen, The Stranger, Seattle

Smith offers [a] community based, participatory politics that’s neither left nor right wing but the whole bird. . . . His work is not different from what quality journalism ought to be: truth-seeking, independent, fair-minded and debunking. — Colman McCarthy, Washington Post

His saucy judgments remind one of the way H. L. Mencken handled presidential campaigns.” — Robert Sherrill, The Texas Observer.

The Tom Paine of the Nineties — Chuck Stone

Lucid . . . Keep going, Sam — Mario Cuomo

For a 31 year old anthropology major (Harvard) Sam Smith runs a pretty good newspaper. His Capitol East Gazette, in fact, may be the best paper in town. It certainly is the most readable. – William Raspberry, Washington Post 1969

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