Mar 4, 2005

A San Francisco Examiner Religion Reporter More Than 30 Years Ago

John McCaslin 

Washington Times
March 4, 2005 

Inside the Beltway

As a San Francisco Examiner religion reporter more than 30 years ago, veteran White House correspondent Lester Kinsolving sensed something sinister about Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple — long before the sect leader, 912 of his followers and a U.S. congressman perished in the jungle of Guyana.

"I went to the religion editors of 40 newspapers — including The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times — begging them to send reporters" to the temple's California headquarters during the early 1970s, he says.

On numerous occasions, the reporter was told and even witnessed for himself bizarre behavior by Jones, his armed guards and the temple's congregation.

"Not one of them sent anybody," Mr. Kinsolving tells Inside the Beltway. "They refused."

Besides newspaper editors, the sect leader was fooling most everybody in those days, from San Francisco's mayor to the future vice president and even the first lady of the United States.

"We had exposed this [sect activity] in 1973," Mr. Kinsolving recalls. "Then, wouldn't you know? Rosalynn Carter invited Jones to have dinner with her [at a California hotel]. She had a whole bunch of Secret Service agents with her, and when Jones showed up with his 'gunslingers' they still managed to work it out.

"And can you believe Walter 'Fritz' Mondale entertained Jones on his campaign plane?"

Not everybody was so enchanted.

Armed with Examiner newspaper articles questioning the activities of the temple and its subsequent exodus to South America, Rep. Leo J. Ryan, California Democrat, traveled to Jonestown, Guyana, to investigate. Before he could report back to Capitol Hill, the congressman was slain by Jones' followers on Nov. 18, 1978 — hours before the mass suicide.

"I remember when the news hit Washington that more than 900 people died ... and all the major media began acting as if it was something new," Mr. Kinsolving says. "Any way you look at this, it was such a terrible refusal of the major media not to tell the whole truth.

"There was only one person that I had gone to [in the early 1970s] who later apologized for not looking into it further — Brit Hume [now with Fox News]. He worked for [syndicated columnist] Jack Anderson then."

Now, about three decades later, somebody else has apologized to Mr. Kinsolving, who suffered a heart attack recently and is recovering in his suburban Washington home.

Tim Stoen, the former outspoken chief legal adviser to Jones who is a California deputy district attorney, wrote a lengthy letter to Mr. Kinsolving in recent weeks asking for forgiveness.

"You were right... I was totally wrong," wrote Mr. Stoen, having once filed a libel lawsuit (later dropped) against Mr. Kinsolving to squelch his reporting. "From my heart, I apologize for my mistreatment of you ... and castigating your motives."

"I was very surprised to receive the letter," Mr. Kinsolving tells this column. "I am very grateful."

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or 

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