The lurid history of Bruce Anderson and
the Anderson Valley Advertiser
Cartoon by Fred Harper
By Mike Sweeney
Imagine my surprise when I noticed the December 31, 2003 issue of the Anderson Valley Advertiser – as interesting as the beautiful frogtown lofts savannah. Spread across the front page was a giant headline, “I was a Communist for the FBI,” followed with, “By Mike Sweeney as told to Bruce Anderson.”
Since I hadn’t spoken to Bruce Anderson for five years, and then only long enough to hang up the phone, it was apparent that he was attempting yet another shameless hoax. The phony first-person article went on and on for thousands of words, presenting an intricate first-person fantasy that had me “confessing” to about a dozen felonies. Nowhere in the paper was there a hint that the article was contrived by Bruce Anderson himself without the slightest input from me or the slightest connection to reality.
Apparently, the impact of this brazen hoax article failed to meet Anderson’s hopes. So he produced another one the following week, under banner headline, “I bombed Judi Bari,” again with the attribution, “By Mike Sweeney as told to Bruce Anderson.” And again not a hint that the article and its lurid details were made up out of thin air.
Still unsatisfied, Anderson struck again the following week with “Judi Bari Tells All,” prefaced with an “Editor’s Note” claiming Judi Bari, through her executor Darlene Comingore, left him the following letter with a “strict instruction that it not be made public until five years after her death.” Naturally, Judi did no such thing, and neither did Judi ever say, believe or do what was attributed to her in the fabricated article that followed.
The reaction to this tripled-headed hoax was predictable. The legitimate media studiously ignored him, as did long-time residents of Mendocino County who knew Bruce Anderson’s habits. Some of his gullible readers, however, actually took the articles at face value, and became quite excited until more sober folks illuminated for them Bruce Anderson’s bizarre 20-year history of hoax, lies and insults.
Bruce Anderson’s weekly inventions are the main feature of his Anderson Valley Advertiser , which is a kind of small-time National Enquirer without the photos. The Anderson Valley Advertiser was an innocent country weekly until 1984, when Anderson bought it and turned it into an opinion journal. He explained: “I’ve always viewed the newspaper as a political weapon.” (Los Angeles Times 2/14/96).
Almost immediately, Anderson provoked an advertiser boycott in the small town of Boonville, the hub of rural Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. Outraged local residents made an effort to start a competing Anderson Valley newspaper designed to take away his local readership. The Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA) survived by cultivating subscriptions throughout Northern California and beyond from people who liked off-beat political attacks, clever insults, and outrageous gossip.
For decades, Anderson has shown he will deliberately lie in order sell papers, settle scores, or just abuse people for his own pleasure. And when the printed word has proven to be an inadequate weapon, he has resorted to threats of violence and actual physical assault.
The key to the AVA’s survival has been to attract attention—any attention, by any means necessary, including just making things up.
The first big hoax hit on February 3, 1988, when Anderson published a long front-page interview with local Congressman Doug Bosco. To give the “interview” more credibility, it was represented as a transcription of a tape recorded session with David Yepson, a prominent reporter with the Des Moines Register.
The phony interview quoted Congressman Bosco as insulting his own constituents who opposed offshore oil drilling. They were “mostly a bunch of easily stirred-up know-nothing malcontents who couldn’t care less about anything other than their beautiful ocean and where their next joint is coming from,” Bosco was quoted. The interview contained numerous other insults and comments that, if genuine, would have caused the abrupt termination of Bosco’s political career.
“Unfortunately, I have the face I deserve.”
–Bruce Anderson, 1996
There was nothing at all in the AVA to indicate the interview was fake and hundreds of angry calls flooded the Congressman’s office. When Bosco denounced it as a hoax, Anderson, loving the attention, insisted it was genuine. “I’m declaring that it’s for real,” Anderson told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (2/6/88).
Because Anderson insisted the interview was genuine, the hoax got national attention. Six days after the fake interview was published, Anderson was still telling inquiring reporters that he had just received transcripts of the “interview” from Iowa. The next day, however, he finally admitted, “Yes, I did it. I confess.” (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 2/10/88)
Anderson was completely unapologetic. “ The feisty owner of the tiny Anderson Valley Advertiser offered no apologies, ” said the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “ And he showed no remorse for the notoriety brought fellow journalist David Yepson. The Des Moines Register political reporter, purported author of the Bosco interview, spent the week leading up to Iowa’s caucuses fielding calls about Anderson’s hoax . ‘F— him if he can’t take a joke,’ said Anderson.” (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 2/10/88)
Recently Anderson told Los Angeles Times reporter Rone Tempest that he DID apologize for the Bosco hoax (LA Times, 2/28/03). In Anderson’s world, it’s never too late to add another lie. For example, he has been quoted as claiming he has never been found guilty of libel, ignoring Anna Taylor’s 1995 verdict against him.
The Bosco hoax was a revelation to Anderson. By brazen fraud, he had succeeded in winning national notoriety for his tiny weekly publication. Seven years later, Anderson would recall the Bosco hoax as his “proudest moment.” (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 4/25/95)
Anderson would recall the Bosco hoax as his “proudest moment.”
Although Anderson has never succeeded in matching the impact of the Bosco scam, it isn’t for lack of trying. His history is filled with smaller-scale deceptions. He printed a phony press release announcing that the Mendocino County Office of Education was conducting seminars on how to masturbate more effectively (San Jose Mercury News, 8/16/87). He regularly wrote absurd, humiliating articles and put the bylines of prominent local people on them, such as “To My Penis on Our 60 th ,” under the byline of Bruce Hering (5/3/95).
Anderson found that dishonesty was no impediment to the AVA, as long as he made it sufficiently entertaining. As the Wall Street Journal noted in an early, amused profile, “Indeed, Mr. Anderson sometimes simply makes things up, arguing that fiction occasionally gets at essential truth better than fact.” (8/20/85)
But what about libel? It amazes readers that Anderson has survived for 20 years without being cleaned out by a court judgment for libel. Bosco, for example, told the media he was seriously considering a suit, but didn’t pursue it.
There’s no point in suing for libel unless you can collect money damages, at least enough to cover the huge legal fees required to bring a serious civil suit. Anderson is defiantly poor. As he bragged early on, “I can say anything I want, because there’s nothing for them to take.” (San Jose Mercury News, 8/16/87)
One of his targets over the years, former Ukiah attorney Jared Carter, explained why neither he nor any of his clients had ever sued the AVA for libel: “He would just use it for publicity and if you won, you’d wind up with nothing.” (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 4/25/95)
“I can say anything I want, because there’s nothing for them to take.”
While it’s likely that Anderson and his thrifty wife Ling have hidden away money somewhere, they still publish the AVA out of the home they have owned in Boonville since 1973. And they have taken out mortgages on the property six times since 1983. Sometimes they had three mortgages stacked up at the same time. And California’s homestead law allows Anderson to protect the first $125,000 of equity in his home from any court judgment now that he has reached the ripe old age of 65.
Dumb luck has given Anderson access to a deep pocket that gives him further security against litigation. His nephew, Robert Mailer Anderson, married Nicola Miner, daughter of the co-founder of Oracle Corporation, Robert Miner, who died in 1994. The extent of Nicola Miner’s inheritance isn’t publicly known, but by comparison, the other co-founder of Oracle, Larry Ellison, has been named by Forbes Magazine as America’s second-richest individual, with a fortune around $27 billion.
Anderson ‘s nephew married into a huge fortune.
Robert Mailer Anderson and wife Nicola live the high society life in San Francisco, building a 13,200 square foot mansion in Pacific Heights, contributing generously to charities, and sitting on the boards of the opera and ballet. Robert published the critically-praised first novel Boonville, with thanks to his uncle Bruce Anderson printed on both the book jacket and the acknowledgements. In 2000, the couple paid $3.2 million to purchase a huge ranch outside Boonville. An informed source states that Bruce’s wife Ling manages the ranch.
The fabulously-rich couple maintains very close ties to Bruce Anderson’s children. Zack Anderson, Bruce’s son, is the co-author with Robert Mailer Anderson of a screenplay based on Robert’s book. (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28/04) Robert and Nicola own several residential properties in San Francisco that are occupied by Anderson relatives.
In 2001, Bruce Anderson retired his other outstanding mortgages and took out a new loan of $125,000 from Robert Mailer Anderson and Nicola Miner, according to Mendocino County records.
About the same time his nephew bought his first mansion, Anderson removed a slogan which had graced his front page for more than 10 years: “Peace to the cottages! War on the Palaces!” Perhaps he thought Robert would take it personally.
Bruce Anderson’s connection to his rich nephew means anyone who contemplates a lawsuit against the AVA can expect that Anderson will have unlimited resources for legal defense and appeals. Yet at the same time Anderson can trust his relatives to hide all his own assets from possible seizure following a libel judgment.
Despite the obstacles, two angry targets went ahead and sued Anderson anyway. Anna Taylor of Navarro represented herself in a small claims court actions in 1995 after Anderson claimed she had defrauded a public housing assistance program. She won the maximum small claims court judgment of $5,000, but was unable to collect any money due to a legal technicality—she had failed to make a written demand for correction within 20 days. (Ukiah Daily Journal, 8/2/95, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 12/19/95)
Anderson was sued again for libel in 1999 by former Anderson Valley public radio station manager Phil Tymon after Anderson printed a long series of lies about him. The AVA claimed Tymon disrupted his own station while drunk; was forced to resign as a result; organized a group to move the station to another town; and got his job in the first place only because his mother owned the building (all untrue). Thrown in were the usual gratuitous insults—calling Tymon a “bubble butt,” “chubby,” “whiny,” and so on. For the AVA, this was actually only mild treatment. But Tymon had a law degree and taught a class in media law. So he sued Anderson for $3.75 million.
Tymon’s case was particularly strong because he had already won a small claims court judgment against another tiny outlaw publication that had published some of the same falsehoods.
The outcome of Tymon’s lawsuit is revealing about how the legal system allows someone like Anderson to stay in business. Despite his alleged poverty, Anderson retained a first-class local litigator, Rod Jones. Tymon, who had never practiced law, tried to represent himself because of lack of funds, but later hired an attorney. This attorney failed to provide an adequate response to a clever legal counterattack by Rod Jones, who filed a motion for dismissal based on California’s “SLAPP Suit” Act, which is a law intended to protect the free speech of public advocacy groups from harassment lawsuits by big corporations. The SLAPP Suit law puts the burden on the plaintiff to convince the judge that he is likely to prove his case at trial. Looking at Tymon’s incomplete filings, the judge ruled that he hadn’t presented enough evidence, dismissed the lawsuit, and assessed Tymon for all of Anderson’s legal fees! (Mendocino County Superior Court, No. 80536) Tymon lacked funds to appeal this incredible ruling. He is still being pursued for Anderson’s legal fees.
Denied any practical legal recourse, many aggrieved local residents have taken a small measure of justice into their own hands. According to one newspaper account, “Through the years, Anderson has been the target of about 20 death threats and numerous unsolved acts of vandalism. One prankster left a large pile of manure outside his home, while another ransacked his office, damaging computers and other equipment. A third vandal sabotaged the engines of his pickup and the minivan he used to deliver papers.” (Los Angeles Times, 2/14/96). Anderson told another reporter that one of his windows had recently been shot out. (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 4/25/95)
When lies aren’t enough, Anderson uses violence or threats. On April 25, 1988, his incessant attacks on County School Superintendent Jim Spence finally provoked Spence to refer to him as a “third-rate McCarthyite” at a school board meeting. Anderson took off his coat, walked up to Spence, and assaulted him.
Witnesses testified that Anderson, who is 6 foot 4 inches tall, grabbed the much smaller Spence by the neck and punched him twice, sending him sprawling over the refreshment table. (Ukiah Daily Journal, 4/26/88) At his trial, Anderson swore under oath he was acting in self-defense. (Years later, he would admit this was a lie. “That was a criminal offense and I deserved to be in jail,” he admitted to the San Francisco Examiner (6/5/96)).
Anderson took off his coat, walked up to Spence, and assaulted him.
Anderson was convicted for disturbing the peace and offered probation if he apologized and stayed away from school board meetings for one year. He refused these conditions and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. Anderson proclaimed himself a political martyr, staged a noisy support rally at the courthouse steps, and announced he would refuse to go to jail (Ukiah Daily Journal, 9/14/88). But he showed up for jail as scheduled.
Even the legendary tolerance of rural Mendocino County was exhausted by Anderson’s violence. There were repercussions. The Ukiah Daily Journal refused to print the AVA on its press any longer and the County Social Services Department began to take a very close look at complaints they had been receiving about Anderson’s conduct as operator of his group home in Boonville.
Since the 1970’s, Anderson’s primary means of support had been running a state-funded home for troubled teenage boys, some of them retarded. Following the Spence incident, Anderson decided to give up his state group home license and instead applied for a foster home license from the County Social Services department. But the department determined that Anderson was unfit. Anderson appealed, claiming as usual political retaliation, and an extensive investigation of Anderson ensued.
Besides the assault on Spence, the most sensational allegations against Anderson were made by a former AVA contributor, author Mike Koepf. Like many of Anderson’s cronies and contributors, Koepf had become a bitter enemy. Koepf produced two former teenage residents of Anderson’s group home, Frank Pitts and John Long, who testified under oath that Anderson had punched them in separate incidents, giving Pitts a black eye. (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 2/1/90) A Social Service investigator reported that Koepf told him: “Anderson should never be allowed to take care of young men again. This response was based on Koepf’s opinion that Anderson has continually psychologically abused the young men who have lived at the group home.” (Memorandum, Billy Moore to Dennis Denny, Mendocino County Social Services, 10/4/89).
Koepf also accused Anderson of stealing Pitts’ Social Security checks. And Keopf testified that Anderson had put Koepf’s name down on state documents as vice-president of his group home corporation, without Koepf’s knowledge or consent. (Ukiah Daily Journal, 2/2/90)
Other insights into Anderson’s character came out at the hearing. In a 22-month period, Anderson received 12 traffic tickets, providing a graphic portrait of the embattled editor speeding around narrow country roads, barreling through stop signs.
The administrative law judge of the hearing upheld the denial of the foster home license, finding that Pitts’ and Long’s claims were unproven, but concluding that Anderson’s record of violence made him unfit to operate a foster home. The assault on Spence was key. The ruling noted that “Respondent Bruce Anderson does not admit any wrongdoing on his part and has not demonstrated that he would not act in the same manner in the future.” (Administrative Law Judge Ruth Astle, Case No. 238909501, 2/28/90)
Violence is a constant theme in Anderson’s rhetoric. His own brother, Rob Anderson, has been a target of his threats. Rob was once Bruce’s closest collaborator, taking over editorship of the AVA in 1996 when Bruce was jailed for contempt of court. Later, he joined the long list of former AVA contributors who couldn’t stomach Bruce Anderson’s dishonesty any longer. In a publicly-circulated e-mail exchange in 2000, Rob told Bruce:
“Only someone who knows the people and events you describe in your latest front-page AVA attempt to destroy [former AVA cartoonist] Mary [Miles] understands what a liar and cowardly prick you are….all bullies are essentially chickenshit and prefer to attack people who can’t defend themselves.”
Bruce Anderson’s reply was, “Next time I see you I’m going to kick your gutless ass.”
“What a liar and cowardly prick you are.”
—Rob Anderson to his brother Bruce
One of the things that makes Bruce Anderson different from normal people is his apparent indifference to what anyone thinks about him. This blind spot has led him to repeated failures in his quest for power and attention. Anderson ran for public office 9 times between 1983 and 1994. Getting elected to something in rural Mendocino County isn’t that difficult. Nevertheless, he failed again and again in his races for local school board, county school board, county supervisor, and state assembly. In his last race he polled 8 percent. Somehow, he just couldn’t grasp the fact that most voters considered him a thug. Amusing at times, but a thug all the same.
For years, Anderson displayed the slogan, “Newspapers should have no friends” on his masthead, and has put this principle into practice throughout his troubled life. Attracted at first by the outlaw radicalism of the AVA, collaborators usually sour on Bruce Anderson when they get to know him better. Anderson then turns on these former associates with special ferocity. Besides his own brother Rob, the list includes Judi Bari, David Colfax, Anna Taylor, Mike Koepf, Mary Miles and former lead contributor Mark Heimann.
Mark Heimann was the AVA’s chief contributor from 1994 to 1999, earning a princely $100 per week salary from Anderson. He was as aggressive and hard-hitting as Anderson, but liked to be truthful. That’s what led to their blowup.
As Heimann testified under oath in Mendocino County court, he submitted a story to Anderson in 1998 about radio station manager Phil Tymon. Then, without Heimann’s knowledge, Anderson inserted into the story false and libelous statements about Tymon which were the cause of Tymon’s $3.75 million libel suit against the AVA. Since Heimann’s byline was on the story, Tymon sued Heimann too.
Heimann was furious at Anderson’s deceit. When Tymon offered to drop the suit if the AVA would run a front-page retraction and publish a letter by Tymon, Heimann wanted to agree. But Anderson refused, and their argument escalated until Heimann was challenging Anderson to fight. “Come down here you chickenshit and I’ll kick your ass,” Heimann yelled from outside Anderson’s house. Like a typical bully, Anderson quailed in the face of righteous anger. Rather than accept Heimann’s challenge to fight, Anderson instead called a lawyer, swore he was afraid of Heimann, and got a restraining order prohibiting Heimann from going near Anderson’s home and office. (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 8/15/99)
“Come down here you chickenshit and I’ll kick your ass,” Heimann yelled from outside Anderson ‘s house.
In court, Heimann submitted a copy of a letter from him to Anderson dated June 29, 1999, which has some blunt revelations about his former editor. “You are the true author of the untrue statements made about Mr. Tymon,” Heimann wrote. “You also inferred at that Sunday meeting (May 30, 1999) that you would not be adverse to me committing perjury in order to defeat Tymon’s claims….I have observed you repeatedly display an unreasonable hatred and malice toward Mr. Tymon (and a host of others), and make statements for which you had no basis to believe true.” (Exhibit, Civil Action #99-1355).
Heimann claimed Anderson had essentially fired him because he wouldn’t lie. He sued in small claims court for $2,125 in back wages, but lost. Then he left town.
Anderson’s arrogance landed him in jail again in 1996. It also exposed him yet again for making loud public promises he wouldn’t keep.
The controversy arose from the arrest of Eugene “Bear” Lincoln of Covelo for a shootout with sheriff’s deputies in 1995. Sheriff’s deputy Bob Davis and a friend of Lincoln’s, Leonard Peters, were killed. After a long manhunt, Lincoln surrendered and was charged with murder.
While he was in jail, Lincoln smuggled out a letter which was published in the AVA. The prosecutor immediately subpoenaed Anderson for a copy of the letter and the envelope it came in, so he could verify Lincoln had actually written it. It was potentially crucial evidence, said the prosecutor, because it placed Lincoln at the scene of the shootout and gave his version of the events, and would help confirm or deny his claim of self-defense.
Since the letter had been published, it wasn’t protected under the “press shield law” that applies to journalists’ sources. The prosecutor had the absolute right to obtain the evidence.
Judi Bari ‘s cartoon about Bruce Anderson’s instant retreat from his vow to hold out in jail for year rather than surrender the Bear Lincoln letter (1996).
Once again, Anderson jumped at the chance to play the heroic rebel. “I’m not going to give them the letter, and I’ll go to jail if I have to over it,” he proclaimed. (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 3/7/96).
In court, he told the judge he would “never” turn over the letter, and bombastically told him, “since you’re going to inconvenience me for a year, I hope you’ll allow me the convenience of going to jail today.” (Albion Monitor, 5/27/96)
Anderson swore he would hold out for a year, but only lasted a weekend.
Sure enough, the judge ordered Anderson jailed for contempt of court. Rather than holding out for a year, Anderson lasted only for the weekend before succumbing to lack of coffee. He telephoned his brother Rob and instructed him to hand over the letter. This prompted hilarity among local observers, with Judi Bari circulating a cartoon of him with the caption, “Ruff Tuff Crème Puff.” “I guess I was having caffeine withdrawal,” Anderson later explained.
But his surrender was rejected by the judge. The AVA produced only a typewritten copy of the letter, without a signature, claiming it was the only version the newspaper had ever received. The judge demanded the original and sent Anderson back to jail.
“Anderson, handcuffed and wearing orange jail garb, was visibly shaken Wednesday afternoon by the prospect of returning to an isolation cell at the Mendocino County Jail…” reported the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (5/30/96). Despite his craven retreat from his bombastic vow, Anderson ended up a martyr after all, and reaped what the Santa Rosa Press Democrat called a “frenzy” of media attention.
Eight days later, Anderson was finally released, after his wife and typesetter both took the witness stand and swore that the typewritten version was, indeed, the only copy the AVA had ever received.
Ultimately, Lincoln was acquitted after lawyer Tony Serra convinced the jury that the nighttime shooting was self-defense.