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In Fact...

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FRANK WILKINSON: AMERICAN HERO

About the Author

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Gara LaMarche, director of US programs for the Open Society Institute, writes: The journey of Frank Wilkinson, who died at 91 on January 2 at his home in Los Angeles, is a great American story. Born into a comfortable Republican family, Frank headed Youth for Hoover at Beverly Hills High School, but a trip to the Middle East after graduation from UCLA opened his eyes to dire poverty. Back in LA, Frank abandoned plans for the Methodist ministry and went to work for the Housing Authority, living with his family in one of the integrated projects he helped establish. In the 1940s, however, many viewed public housing as a socialist scheme, and Frank soon found himself hauled before investigating committees and questioned about his political beliefs and affiliations. When he refused to answer, Frank was fired and could only find work as a night janitor at a department store. In 1961 the Supreme Court narrowly rejected a First Amendment challenge by Frank and his co-defendant, Carl Braden, to the House Un-American Activities Committee's witch hunts, and they spent nine months in federal prison. Once out, Frank devoted himself full time to civil liberties campaigning. Along the way, he sued the FBI, which compiled a file of 132,000 pages on him, documenting efforts to harass him and disrupt his speeches. Frank Wilkinson was around long enough to cycle from pariah status to knowing that the world had changed enough to see him as what he was: an American hero. But the surveillance state he opposed, is back if indeed it ever went away. Frank's death in this season of headlines about illegal domestic spying reminds us of the history we thought we'd overcome and provides an enduring example of the courage we must find to renew the fight.

OUR ABRAMOFF CONFESSION

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea bargain agreement with the Feds revealed that in 2000 he and his firm were paid by the Magazine Publishers of America to lobby against the pending postal rate increase. In the spirit of full disclosure, transparency and all the rest, we hereby disclose our conflict of interest--as members in good standing of MPA we, too, were against the postal rate increase (although we believed that as a general proposition, MPA represents the interests of its largest and most profitable members, rather than small-circulation journals of opinion like us). Nevertheless, we feel called upon to make it crystal clear that, like members of Congress and others with whom he did business, we never met the guy, or received money from his foundation or sat in his sky box or ate free at Signatures. Nor did we as a quid pro quo for all those non-gifts ever publish a favorable article about Abramoff. We never benefited one bit from our dealings with him, which we didn't have anyway. Who knows, though--if we had had a few extra millions to buy Abramoff's time, independent journals might have received the postal rate decreases they deserved.

LETTERMAN HARDBALL

David Letterman is not known for tough, probing interviews on his late-night television show. Being funny and asking a sultry actress about her next picture is his usual shtick. But when Bill O'Reilly showed up, Dave began applying the needle, and by the time he finished his guest was tattooed. First, he scoffed at O'Reilly's one-man campaign against alleged Christmas disparagers, then it was on to the Iraq War, Cindy Sheehan's bona fides and other important matters. He summed up with, "I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap." As a result, the show turned out to be an informative use of Entertainment State airtime. Didn't ABC once try to sign up Letterman as a replacement for Ted Koppel? Maybe that wasn't such a farfetched idea after all.

VITAL STATISTIC

It's a new issue--Ivan Joseph--for Nation contributing editors Liza Featherstone (she writes on labor--the Wal- Mart variety) and Doug Henwood (he writes on the view from the left on business and finance).

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