Peter Laufer, winner of major awards for excellence in reporting, is an independent journalist, broadcaster and documentary filmmaker working in traditional and new media. He is the James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.
While a globe-trotting correspondent for NBC News, he also reported, wrote, and produced several documentaries and special event broadcasts for the network that dealt in detail with crucial social issues, including the first nationwide live radio discussion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “Healing the Wounds” was an analysis of ongoing problems afflicting Vietnam War veterans. “Hunger in America” documented malnutrition in our contemporary society. “A Loss for Words” exposed the magnitude and impact of illiteracy in America. “Cocaine Hunger” was the first network broadcast to literally trace the drug from the jungles of Bolivia to the streets of America, and alerted the nation to the avalanching crises caused by the consumption of crack cocaine. “Nightmare Abroad” was a pioneering study of Americans incarcerated overseas.
Laufer’s first major exposure to immigration issues dates to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 when he reported from Afghan refugee camps for NBC Radio. Almost 10 years later, as the Iron Curtain began to rise at the Berlin Wall, which he reported for CBS Radio, Laufer went on to cover immigration from Western Europe, reporting on the hordes of desperate people trying to better their lives by talking, sneaking, bribing, cajoling themselves and their families into Western Europe with the same ferocity he would find more than a decade later among Mexicans and other impoverished Latin Americans hungry for work and heading north to the U.S., even at risk of their lives. In 2002, Laufer’s documentary film, “Exodus to Berlin,” and the ensuing book of the same title, told the relatively unknown story of Germany’s attempt to rebuild its Jewish population by providing sanctuary and financial support to Soviet-era Russian Jews who came over the border from Russia and Ukraine to build a new, safer life, in – of all places – Germany.
Laufer’s books include The Question of Consent: Innocence and Complicity in the Glen Ridge Rape Case. It is the study of the rape of a mentally retarded schoolgirl by a gang of her classmates, and the effect of the case of the health of the local community. He’s written works on the fall of Communism in Europe (titled Iron Curtain Rising), a severe criticism of contemporary talk radio, Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice Or Just Hot Air, and a book version of the documentary about Americans in prisons overseas, also titled Nightmare Abroad.
Another of his books, Made in Mexico, published by the National Geographic Society, deals, in a juvenile environment, with cross border issues between California and Mexico. Laufer has written Exodus to Berlin, a book version of his study of the resurgence of the Jewish population in Germany and the concurrent rise of right-wing violence, and Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border. With Markos Kounalakis he’s written Hope Is a Tattered Flag, based on conversations from “Washington Monthly on the Radio”, the nationally-syndicated radio show they co-anchor. Another of their Washington Monthly projects is “Calexico,” a series of radio documentaries celebrating the California-Mexico Borderlands, and supported by a grant from the California Council for the Humanities. The research for that project developed into Laufer’s book Borderlines.
His experiences with Mission Rejected resulted in a natural history trilogy: The Dangerous World of Butterflies, Forbidden Creatures, and No Animals Were Harmed During the Writing of this Book.
Peter Laufer was the charter anchor of the radio program “National Geographic World Talk,” a nationally-syndicated show he created. He hosts “The Peter Laufer Show” Sundays which originated on the Pacifica radio station KPFA, moved to the San Francisco Clear Channel station Green 960, and on to Sonoma County’s KOWS. It now airs on Eugene’s KPNW.
Peter Laufer’s detailed c.v.:
No Animals Were Harmed (to be published by Lyons Press, fall 2011)
Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling and Exotic Pets, Lyons Press, 2010
The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists, Lyons Press, 2009
Calexico: True Lives of the Borderlands to be published by the University of Arizona Press, fall 2011)
Hope Is a Tattered Flag: Voices of Reason and Change for the Post-Bush Era, PoliPoint Press, 2008 (co-author with Markos Kounalakis)
Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006
Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican Border, Ivan R. Dee, 2004
Highlights of a Lowlife: The Autobiography of Milan Melvin, (compiled
and edited by Peter Laufer), Swan Isle, 2004
Shock and Awe: Responses to War (edited and with an introduction by
Peter Laufer), Creative Arts Book Company, 2003
Exodus to Berlin: The Return of the Jews to Germany, Ivan R. Dee, 2003
Made in Mexico (illustrated by Susan L. Roth), National Geographic
Society, 2000; Spanish-language edition: Hecho en México
Wireless Etiquette: A Guide to the Changing World of Instant
Communication, Omnipoint Communications, 1999
Safety and Security for Women Who Travel, Travelers’ Tales, 1999 (co-author with Sheila Swan Laufer); Spanish-language edition: Guía Para Mujeres Que Viajan Solas, published by Ediciones
Paidós Ibérica in Barcelona, 2002
Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air? Birch Lane Press, 1995, Chinese-language edition published by Cheng Chung Book
Company in Taipei, 1996; excerpted for use by Harvard University and the
University of Missouri, 1995; and excerpted in Penthouse magazine, April
A Question of Consent: Innocence and Complicity in the Glen Ridge Rape
Case, Mercury House, 1994; German-language edition Sie
hat es doch gewolt, Bastei-Lübbe in Cologne, 1995; excerpted for use by
the University of Massachusetts, 2003
Nevada Neon, University of Nevada Press, 1994
(co-author with Sheila Swan Laufer)
revised and updated edition to be published by Globe Pequot Press, fall 2011
When Hollywood Was Fun, Birch Lane Press, 1994 (collaborator
with Gene Lester)
Nightmare Abroad: Stories of Americans Imprisoned in Foreign lands,
Mercury House, 1993
Iron Curtain Rising: A Personal Journey through the Changing Landscape
of Eastern Europe, Mercury House, 1991
Peter Laufer took on his first radio job while in high school at what is arguably the first all-talk radio station in America, Metromedia’s KNEW in Oakland (known at the time as Radio Free Oakland). From there he crossed the Bay to San Francisco and joined KSFO as a news writer at its zenith, self-proclaimed “The World’s Greatest Radio Station.”
In 1970 he took a cable car down Powell Street from KSFO to the studios of the famous and infamous KSAN (Jive 95), America’s premier so-called underground radio station. As a news reporter and talk show host at KSAN he and other members of the KSAN Gnus team won the DuPont/Armstrong Award for their unique coverage.
From KSAN Laufer moved his talk radio act to market leader KGO and its sister ABC-owned radio station in Los Angeles, KABC. Returning to the newsroom, he became part of NBC’s News and Information experiment, an early test of a nationwide 24-hour radio news service. Based at the NBC-owned KNAI in San Francisco, he covered northern California for NBC News in the mid seventies.
His wanderings next took him to stints at KPTL in Carson City, KOLO in Reno, and WFAA in Dallas before he returned to San Francisco and NBC to work as the “News Flash” at KNBR and a general assignment reporter at KYUU. Next Laufer took over as news director at KXRX in San Jose where he also hosted a talk show, attracting nationwide attention when he managed to connect via telephone with the hostage takers holding Americans in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Those KYUU reporting duties included foreign correspondence covering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S.-Soviet proxy wars in Central America. From KYUU he transferred to NBC News and was assigned to its Washington bureau where he worked for much of the 1980s as general assignment reporter and worldwide documentarian, winning the prestigious broadcast journalism awards detailed below.
Stopping off for a brief tour as news director of public radio station KQED in San Francisco, Laufer took a mid-career study fellowship in Berlin just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he covered the fall of the Soviet bloc for KCBS in San Francisco and the CBS radio stations nationwide, before switching to ABC Radio for further coverage of the post-revolutionary elections in Eastern Europe.
He returned to CBS to cover the run-up to the Gulf War and then moved back to Washington to take over as News and Program Director of the capital’s news and talk radio station WRC. That experience led to his assuming the role of founding Programmdirektor of NEWSTALK 93.6 in Berlin, Germany’s first American style, but German language, talk radio station. While in Berlin in the mid 1990s he served as Germany bureau chief for the public radio business program “Marketplace.”
In Europe he worked as consultant to Talk Radio 1395 in Amsterdam, training the staff for the launch of this first American style and Dutch language talk radio station. He consulted management and coached air staff at TalkRadio/talkSPORT in London, working with manager/owner Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s flagship British tabloid, the Sun. He consulted Bill Sinrich at TWI for their launch of the London television talk show “Under the Moon,” created for Channel Four, and he fielded a comparative study of German and American commercial television broadcasting for DuMont Funk und Fernsehen in Cologne.
Back in America, Laufer created the “Omnipoint Business Minute,” a daily business show sponsored by Omnipoint Communications as a branding vehicle for the launch of the mobile phone network that became T-Mobile. He reported on America with a weekly broadcast post card for Radio New Zealand. He established the Business Shrink daily business talk show with Peter Morris, which broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio, the content of which became the Business Shrink book series published by Adams Media. With Mother Jones publisher Jay Harris he founded “Mother Jones Radio,” which broadcast nationwide on Air America affiliates. Along with Washington Monthly publisher Markos Kounalakis he created and anchors “Washington Monthly on the Radio,” syndicated nationally and heard on its flagship outlet, XM Satellite Radio. He created “National Geographic World Talk” and the “National Geographic Minute.”
He hosts “The Peter Laufer Show” Sundays, which originated on the Pacifica radio station KPFA, moved to the San Francisco Clear Channel station Green 960, and on to Sonoma County’s KOWS.
Since founding the Sausalito Sun while in grammar school, Peter Laufer has been immersed in print journalism. His other newspaper duties included working as the media critic in the early 1990s for SF Weekly and acting as editor-in-chief in the early 1970s of the resurgent Gold Hill News, bringing the classic Nevada newspaper back to the Comstock after a 92-year hiatus, a lapse he apologized for in a sardonic “note to readers” on the paper’s front page that was flashed across the country on the wires of Associated Press.
He’s written on the post-Communist scene in Prague and about the fate of Soviet-bloc spies for the San Francisco Examiner’s Sunday magazine Image, and his feature articles fill the pages of a diverse stack of periodicals including Europe magazine, Mother Jones, Hungry Mind Review, Washington Journalism Review, Kansas City Star, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and Prague-based Pozor magazine.
Opinionated, Laufer’s op-ed pieces run the gamut from calling for the opening of the Mexican-American border to sounding post-9/11 wake-up calls regarding the domestic attacks on Americans’ civil rights. These tirades have been published in papers including the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and his hometown Marin Independent Journal.
With its publisher Markos Kounalakis, Laufer writes a regular feature for Washington Monthly magazine, based on their conversations with political and cultural leaders on their radio program, “Washington Monthly on the Radio.” Counter-intuitive as it may seem, some of the most productive magazine journalism assignments for Laufer have come from what he calls “my favorite pornographer,” Penthouse magazine. For Penthouse, Laufer’s work included travel to Peru to interview Lori Berenson, training for survival in conflict zones with former British Marines, and investigating the predatory scam of selling bogus university degrees.
Peter Laufer worked as reporter, writer, and producer of the documentary film “Exodus to Berlin” which won the David Wolper best documentary prize at the Wine Country film festival in California. The project was supported by grants from the RIAS Berlin Commission and the Robert Bosch Foundation. He is reporter and cinematographer of the under-production independent documentary “Sea to Shining,” a portrait of immediate post-9/11 Middle America. His documentary “Garbage,” a biography of household trash, was broadcast on the San Francisco public television station KQED.
Peter Laufer did his undergraduate work in English at the University of California in Berkeley, he earned his Masters in Communications: Journalism and Public Affairs from the American University School of Communication in Washington, DC, and his Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from Leeds Metropolitan University Faculty of Arts and Society in England. His post-graduate work includes media studies while a Robert Bosch Fellow stationed at the Freie Universität in Berlin, German language study at the Carl Duisberg Centren in Cologne, French culture and politics study at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Paris, and Spanish language study at the Academia Sonora lengua y cultura española in Macharaviaya, Spain.
He served on the faculty of Sonoma State University in California in the early 1990s, and he’s taught journalists from Egypt, Cambodia, and Indonesia in the International Journalism and Media Management Training Program at Western Kentucky University. Under the auspices of San Francisco-based Media Alliance, he was instructor and coordinator of the “Dateline: Prague” seminar and workshop in foreign correspondence held in cooperation with the newspaper Prognosis in Prague and its twin program “Dateline: Berlin” held in cooperation with the Freie Universität in Berlin.
For Internews Networks and as a charter fellow of the Knight International Press Fellowship, he was dispatched to make an assessment of the Minsk Mass Media Center in Belarus. He conducted a field analysis of post-Fox media in Mexico for Internews, a project funded by the Packard Foundation.
His guest lecturing datelines include San Francisco State University, the University of Nevada at Reno, the University of Oregon at Eugene, California State University at San Luis Obispo, American University in Washington, the Freie Universität in Berlin, and Misr University in Cairo on subjects from “The Myth of Objectivity” to “The Big Story Syndrome” to “Facts versus Truth” to “The Dangers of Post-Wall Germany.” As a guest expert he presented on the myth of objectivity and the importance of storytelling to a UNESCO freedom of expression conference at its Paris headquarters.
A frequent speaker, Laufer’s topics and venues include the Democracy Radio Forum in Washington, DC where he tackled “Why Right-wing Rhetoric and Ranting Dominate American Talk Radio”, SENAC in São Paulo to discuss “Media and the Third Sector”, the RIAS Berlin Kommmission/Radio Television News Directors Association meeting in Berlin to detail “Founding a Talk Radio Station in Berlin”, and the World Affairs Councils in Portland and San Francisco to address the question: “Are the Germans Still Dangerous?”
Laufer has written the talk radio chapter “Talk Nation: Turn Down Your Radio” in the radio text Radio Cultures (edited by Boston College Communication Department professor Michael Keith) and the talk radio chapter “Hier spricht Berlin: Newstalk 93.6” in the radio text Vox Populi: Hörerinnen und Hörer Haben das Wort, published by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung in Bonn.
Peter Laufer participates in symposia such as the Sonoma State University Internet conference where he addressed “Talk Radio as a False Community,” the Radio-Television News Directors 48th Annual International Conference in Miami where his theme was “On the Beach, by Force or Choice.” He spoke to the National Association of International Educators about “The Media as International Affairs Educator” and considered “Talk Radio Democracy” for the Peace and Justice Center of Marin County in California. At a University of California Graduate School of Journalism conference his criticized “The Media’s Coverage of the 1989 Earthquake”.
- Knight International Press Fellowship charter fellow, assigned to Minsk, Belarus, 1994
- Konrad Adenauer Foundation, journalists exchange program to Germany,
- Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, affiliate artist (writer),
- The Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship, research and study in Germany,
- International Press Institute, journalist exchange program for study
- in Japan, 1983
- John J. McCloy Fellowship, American Council on Germany, research in
- Germany, 1982
Honors and Awards
- The California Council for the Humanities awarded The Calexico Project a radio production grant as part of its California Voices program 2008.
- Mission Rejected was awarded a Koerber Foundation (Hamburg) Transatlantic Idea prize in the foundations “Transitions in Life” competition 2006.
- Wetback Nation was acknowledged with Gustavas Myers Book Awards honorable mention from the Gustavas Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights at Simmons College, Boston 2005
- RIAS Berlin Commission/ Radio Television News Directors Foundation
- German/American Production Grant for TV documentary: “Exodus to Berlin,” 2000, which won the David Wolper Best Documentary Prize from the Wine Country Film Festival in California, 2001
- National Parenting Publications Awards
Gold Award for the book “Made in Mexico” (National Geographic, 2000), also cited on the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2001 list, compiled by a joint committee of the Children’s Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies
- RIAS Berlin Commission/ Radio Television News Directors Foundation
German/American Production Grant for radio documentary: “Border Wars” 1994
- The Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government Goldsmith Research Grant: talk radio book 1993
- The Society of American Travel Writers Foundation
Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition First Runner-up travel book category 1992
- The Society for Professional Journalists Northern California Chapter
Excellence in Journalism Award 1991
- Co-anchor and reporter for KCBS, San Francisco earthquake coverage that won the Peabody Award, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, Edward R. Murrow Award and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton Award 1990
- Edward R. Murrow Award from the B’nai B’rith for national radio talk show (NBC network) on AIDS 1987
- National Headliner Award for documentary on the war in Nicaragua
- Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award, public service in radio journalism and National Headliner Award for the documentary “Cocaine Hunger” 1986
- B’nai B’rith Edward R. Murrow Award for the documentary on immigration reform, “Promise of Liberty,” also cited by the Ohio State Awards 1986
- George Polk Award from Long Island University for reporting a documentary on Americans imprisoned overseas, “Nightmare Abroad,” which was also cited by the New York State and American Bar Associations 1985
- American Academy of Family Physicians Award for documentary, “AIDS: The Killer Epidemic Continues”
- International Reading Association Award for documentary on illiteracy “A Loss for Words,” which was also cited by the Robert F. Kennedy Awards
- The Society for Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi, Northern California Chapter Outstanding Young Journalist Award
- American Academy of Family Physicians Award for documentary, “AIDS: The Facts and the Fears” 1984
- World Hunger Media Award for the 1984 documentary “Hunger in America,” which was also cited by the American Women in Radio and Television, the Armstrong Memorial Research Foundation and received the Distinguished Urban Journalism Award from the National Urban Coalition 1984
- “Healing the Wounds,” a documentary on post- war problems suffered by Vietnam veterans, won an Edward R. Murrow Award from the B’nai B’rth and a Gabriel Award from the Catholic Association for Broadcasters 1984