Upcoming Events

Sonoma Speaker Series - In Conversation with Bill Keller
Monday, February 26, 2018

Bill Keller has been an important, central figure in American journalism for decades. His most significant roles came with his work at the New York Times where he wore many hats: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and bureau chief in Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union, bureau chief in South Africa during the collapse of apartheid, foreign editor, op-ed writer, and then executive editor from 2003-2011. Today he heads up The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that “seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.”

Keller recently talked about his work and the state of the news business in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review:

“My worry about criminal justice reporting is that—because it’s complicated, lacking in transparency, often grim, and expensive to do well—it will fall back into a state of neglect before anything gets fixed. My worry about the press writ large is that I’m wrong about the average American’s bullshit detector, that the new president will sow widespread cynicism, and that people will tune out. Those of us who have worked in countries with authoritarian regimes know where that goes.”

In our conversation with Keller, we’ll talk about his days at the Times, the current state of American journalism, and the important work being done by The Marshall Project.

“Ultimately all journalism—especially watchdog journalism, accountability journalism, investigative journalism, call it what you will—aims to lay bare problems in the hope that someone will fix them. We want to make a difference.” Bill Keller

Sonoma Speaker Series - In Conversation with Kevin Jorgeson – BORN TO CLIMB
Monday, April 2, 2018

Kevin Jorgeson

Kevin Jorgeson

Kevin Jorgeson, a Santa Rosa native who first began climbing walls at 11 when his father took him to Vertex – a Santa Rosa indoor climbing facility – became an international climbing icon in January of 2015 when he and Tommy Caldwell put up the first free climb of the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan.

As a toddler, he sought routes over trees, fences, cupboards, ladders, anything. After his introduction to Vertex, rock climbing took over his life and by 19, he was the top-ranked climber for his age in the country. He became adept at bouldering – free climbing challenging rock faces close to the ground with little or no climbing aids, save a “crash pad” to cushion a fall.

His passion for free climbing inevitably led him to Yosemite and the most famous slab of granite in the world. El Capitan soars 3,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and the Dawn Wall is its hardest route. With pitches rated on the difficulty scale as high as 5.14d (5.15b or c is the highest difficulty on record), the Dawn Wall had never been free climbed when Jorgeson and Caldwell launched their 19-day assault. The two used ropes only to protect them in falls; they relied on their hands and feet alone to move up the wall. Their stunning achievement has been called the world’s hardest successful climb.

Today, in between climbing trips and lecture tours, Jorgeson, with another climbing partner, is planning to open a new, $6 million, state-of-the-art indoor climbing facility in Santa Rosa.


Interviewer: David Bolling – Sonoma Speaker Series Board Member

David Bolling came to Sonoma County in the 1970’s, not long out of college, and with two classmates bought a failing weekly newspaper in Santa Rosa. They spent the next decade building it into a large and prosperous community paper. David went on to host adventure TV programs for the Outdoor Life Network, became publisher of Whole Earth Magazine, then Editor and Publisher of the Sonoma Index-Tribune and SONOMA magazine. He is currently the editor and publisher of Valley of the Moon magazine. In his free-time, he has spent four decades kayaking and rafting whitewater rivers around the world, from the Grand Canyon to Siberia. He spent two months on Mt. Everest with the 2000 Everest Environmental Expedition, and then produced the documentary film, “Living and Dying on Everest.”

Sonoma Speaker Series - In Conversation with Daniel Ellsberg
From the Pentagon Papers to the Doomsday Machine

Monday, June 4th, 2018


Daniel Ellsberg

It’s arguable that no man had a greater influence on the American perception of the war in Vietnam than Daniel Ellsberg. He was a consummate insider, served as a Marine First Lieutenant after graduating from Harvard, later returned to Harvard and wrote what is widely regarded as a brilliant dissertation on decision theory. In 1964 he went to work for the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He then went to Vietnam for 2 years working in the State Department for General Edward Lansdale. He had an eye level view of what was happening in that horrendous war. In 1967 he joined the Rand Corporation and contributed to a top secret history of the conduct of the war in Vietnam.

That history was commissioned by none other than Secretary McNamara, and became known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg had become increasingly disillusioned with the war and began attending peace rallies. At one, a draft resistor named Randy Kehler said he was going to prison rather than serve in Vietnam. To Ellsberg, Kehler’s willingness to sacrifice himself to prison to protest the war was an epiphany, and he began making several copies of the top-secret documents. First, he tried to get a number of senators, including William Fullbright and George McGovern, to release them. Didn’t happen.

Then Ellsberg shared the documents with the Institute for Policy Studies in D.C., and they got them to Neil Sheehan at the New York Times. On Sunday, June 13, 1971, the Times published the first of nine excerpts from the papers. Nixon got a court order to stop the Times from publishing. Ellsberg then leaked the documents to the Washington Post which began publishing them. (See the movie, The Post)

The Papers revealed that three presidents, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon had consistently lied to the American public about the war. In the end, the release of the Pentagon Papers played a central role in bringing an end to the Vietnam War and the Nixon presidency as well.

Now Ellsberg has written a new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, based on his experiences at the Rand Corporation. The New York Times says this about the book: “By employing personal stories from his time in the 1950s and 1960s working alongside (Herman) Kahn and other “wizards of Armageddon” at the RAND Corporation and as a consultant at the Pentagon, he makes hard-to-believe truths more credible.”