A change of historical pace it is for tonight. Tonight on PBS News Hour there was a quick mention of a new book about the paranoia that the FBI had instilled into the protest movement back at the peak of the Vietnam War. Any group involved in antiwar protests back in the late 1960's and early 1970's quickly got to feeling that there was an FBI spy or an infiltrator in every office and on every corner. They knew that somehow our government was following them. They began to realize that this might well be illegal because the vast majority of the people involved in protest were not doing anything illegal or committed to any violent action against the war. They were just voicing their democratic right to speak out; to protest; to tell our elected leaders that they had gone to far.
A group of eight everyday, average citizens hatched a plan. Remember this was before the day of our electronic networks and big data. Everything was paper and some audio tapes and a few videos here and there. They decided that they would develop a plan to take every document out of a small, local FBI office and see what the FBI was up to. On the night of the first Ali-Fraser Fight back in 1971, the plan went into action. If you know about America, almost everyone was busy that night listening or viewing the "Fight of the Century". Nobody was much around to witness much of anything on that night. Our thoughts were elsewhere. The theft of all those files from the FBI office went off without a hitch and gradually the documents started to appear on the desk of trusted reporters. The secret and dark side of the FBI was revealed. Ultimately J. Edgar Hoover lost his job and the FBI was reformed. Our intelligence communities were reformed for a little while. This book is the detailed story of how this heist happened and what it led to. What changed? The Church Committee for example was supposed to stop domestic broad stroke spying forever. This should sound familiar. Now our entire country has repeated a cycle and were starting down the same road again. Over forty years later, we have another big problem with government overreach.
This interview I want to share with all of you contains a fascinating interview that Jeffrey Brown of Public Television did with Betty Medsger author of this new book just recently. It's a very concise 6 minutes and part of a very important set of stories that Public Television has covered in its News Hour nightly television program. It's also part of the Art Beat section of Public Television's web site. Jeffrey Brown covers art, history, and culture and of all the people on Public Television, his segments are usually the most thoughtful and well done.
The book is: The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI. Betty was one of the reporters who received many of these files and reported on some of them over the years as a Washington Post reporter. I want to give you an Amazon Link for the book too. It is rated extremely well. There's a nice article here:http://www.amazon.com/The-Burglary-Discovery-Hoovers-Secret/dp/0307962954
Here's another good link. It's from a book talk that Betty Medsger gave recently. She's the former Department Head of the University of San Francisco Journalism Department and an excellent speaker: Book TV: Betty Medsger, "The Burglary."
I also thought I would share a link to an introduction to Betty at a lively bookstore in San Francisco where she gave a talk: http://bookpassage.com/event/betty-medsger-burglar
If you do this little search on Google, a lot of excellent hits will pop up:
betty medsger journalism The first one is this link which was darned interesting: http://www.theburglary.com/biography
You'll find her background fascinating along with the fact that I bet she had a very good and helpful reader right at home as she drafted and edited her book. Her husband was Presiding Justice of the California Court of Appeals. By the way, the burglars were never caught. They all went back to their lives, never spoke with each other again, but they struck a resounding blow for our Constitution and Citizen Rights. This sound like it is a fascinating and enjoyable read with many lessons for us. #jedgarhoover #governmentsurveillance #domesticsurveillance #citizenrights #firstamendment #governmentoverreach #billofrights #governmentsecrecy #surveillancestate