More than half a century after The Nation published an expanded special issue highly critical of the FBI, we have obtained a 180-page internal FBI monograph, dated April 1959, that is entirely devoted to a refutation of it. The title–“The Smear Campaign Against the FBI: The Nation, October 18, 1958”–reveals the thesis of the monograph (obtained from the valuable website GovernmentAttic.com), which was that The Nation‘s FBI issue was part of a communist plot to discredit the bureau.
That was a frequent charge by red hunters in those McCarthyite times. Actually, the FBI’s enmity toward The Nation went much further back. The magazine’s FBI file, obtained in 1984, weighed in at a whopping 2,000 pages and covered the years 1922-82. For the racy details see the article on the file by Penn Kimball, a Columbia University professor of journalism, in the March 22, 1986, issue of The Nation. Kimball sums up his impressions as follows:
The claim that the Bureau simply transmits the data collected by its field agents without evaluation is exploded by the evidence in its own files. The gossip, hearsay and guilt by association was passed along to favored members of Congress, alumni in other executive agencies and select members of the press. The F.B.I. launched special field investigations of Nation contributors, pressured teachers who used the magazine in their classes and cooperated with government agencies seeking to discredit opponents of their policies–all in the name of Americanism.
In his memoirs, Maverick: Fifty Years of Investigative Reporting, Fred Cook, a veteran newspaperman, prolific contributor to the magazine and author of the 1958 article on the FBI, recounts his personal experience of the bureau’s retribution. After it appeared, he became the object of an FBI investigation, his friends and neighbors were interrogated by agents, his mail was tampered with. The Nation file contains an angry memo by director J. Edgar Hoover suggesting that he may have taken Cook’s piece personally:
1. I can’t understand with all our alleged contacts and informants we had had no inkling of Cook’s article in the Nation.
2. I think we should discreetly get a line on this man and his background and associations for current article just didn’t “bloom”–it is planned literary garbage barrage against FBI by a dedicated Hiss apologist. H.