Dec. 3, 2010 examiner.com
Earlier this year the Memphis Commercial Appeal exposed Memphis photographer Ernest Withers as an informant of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during Operation COINTELPRO. Withers spied on Martin Luther King and the local civil rights activists for the FBI for several years, most likely as a paid informant.
COINTELPRO was a massive and illegal clandestine program of the FBI during the long tenure of J. Edgar Hoover as director. The secret war on domestic political activists that Hoover didn’t like was the largest abuse of law enforcement in American history and was carried out with lethal ferocity.
Withers had become the star photographer of the civil rights movement and had unique access behind the scenes of historical events when he was recruited by the Memphis FBI office to spy on King and others. The expose of Withers by the Memphis Commercial Appeal garnered the paper international attention as the story spread.
However, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer now has exposed the Memphis newspaper for its role in COINTELPRO dirty tricks. The FBI under Hoover operated a vast propaganda machine both to promote Hoover and to shape public opinion. When the publicity experts within the FBI applied their talents to COINTELPRO’s mandates a wholesale manipulation of the news media began.
Numerous publications, columnists, reporters, television stations and radio outlets were fed tips and stories to further Hoover’s secret domestic war on activists. Agents around the country in FBI field offices were directed to cultivate reporters who could be used to plant stories and provide the Bureau with intelligence information.
The Post-Intelligencer quotes from the so-called “Albany memo” of August 25, 1967, sent by Hoover to selected FBI field offices in major cities launching the “Black Nationalist--Hate Group” Counterintelligence Program.
In the Albany COINTELPRO memo, Hoover, who described his office as the Seat of Government, ordered media manipulation but gave a warning to agents.
“When an opportunity is apparent to disrupt or neutralize black nationalist, hate-type organizations through the cooperation of established local news media contacts or through such contact with sources available to the Seat of Government, in every instance careful attention must be given to the proposal to insure the targeted group is disrupted, ridiculed, or discredited through the publicity and not merely publicized.”
The Seattle newspaper did some digging into the FBI’s manipulation of news outlets and discovered the Memphis newspaper aided the COINTELPRO agents.
“[T]he Commercial Appeal’s reporters might also want to request FBI documents about their own publication’s role in the FBI’s campaign to discredit and divide civil rights and black power movement leaders.”
The Post-Intelligencer also quotes from secret COINTELPRO memorandums from the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Memphis FBI office to Hoover to back up its claims. One COINTELPRO memo from February 26, 1969 candidly discussed manipulation of news in Memphis.
“Due to the success of the counterintelligence program whereby the Memphis Office has been furnishing a reliable newspaper source of the Memphis Office information regarding the black militant organization known as the Invaders, as set out hereinafter, the Memphis Office is giving consideration to increasing this type of counterintelligence activity and a preliminary contact has been made with a representative of the Memphis “Commercial Appeal” who has always been cooperative with this Bureau in an effort to determine his interest in writing articles….This contact appears to be receptive.”
Hoover gave the okay to planting stories in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and on May 8, 1969 another COINTELPRO memo from Memphis to Hoover bragged about success.“Cooperative reporters on the Commercial Appeal, daily morning newspaper, and Press Scimitar, daily afternoon newspaper, Memphis, have written a series of stories pointing out the violence-prone nature of the Invaders.”