Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) has said the House Assassinations Committee may investigate some of the reporters assigned to cover the inquiry.
Indicating that he would strongly support such a probe, Fauntroy said in remarks taped for broadcast today on "America's Black Forum" (WMAL-TV) that he was especially "annoyed" at certain members of the press for stories suggesting that the commitee has come up with nothing new thus far in its investigations of the murders of President Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The chairman of the subcommittee investigating the King assassination, Fauntroy did not name the "few" journalists he had in mind, but he vowed to find out if any of them were CIA agents engaged in some sort of conspiracy to undermine the committee with unfavorable publicity.
"That's a possibility, let me say that," Fauntroy declared. "That's not beyond the realm of possibility, and certainly knowing as we know that there are agents who are journalists and who write to shape public opinion, I don't dismiss that."
In any case, he predicted that the "activities" of certain reporters who had written critical stories about the committee will be subjected to congressional investigation.
" . . . I'm annoyed," Fauntroy said, "that certain members of the press, no many, but a few whose activities are going to be the subject, I think, ultimately of some of our inquiries - have suggested that we're coming up with nothing new."
Pressed to elaborate on the kind of media investigation he was talking about, Fauntroy replied that there are "certain members of the press who've been writing about the assassination for years and who have surfaced in the commentary on our activities now and have been successful, I think, in shifting the focus of the American people from the substance of what we are investigating to what I call sideshow issues."
A similar theme has been voiced repeatedly in recent weeks by Mark Lane, the ubiquitous critic of past assassinations investigations and director of the Citizens Commission of Inquiry who worked closely with Fauntroy last year in lobbying for House approval of the Kennedy and King probes.
On at least one radio talk show recently, Lane singled out for criticism this reporter and Jeremiah O'Leary of The Washington Star and David Burnham of The New York Times.
Created last September largely as the result of a determined effort by Fauntroy and the Congressional Black Caucus, the committee soon became mired in controversies over its proposed budget, its prospective investigating techniques and its former chief counsel, Richard A. Sprague, but it finally won House approval last month to continue the investigations. It is now seeking to nail down a $2.5 million budget to carry the inquiries through the rest of the year.
Committee members, meanwhile, have been frequently inclined to deny any shortcomings and, instead, to blame many of their problems on the press.
Asked just what reporters he was talking about on "America's Black Forum," Fauntroy did not answer directly.
"It's hard to say," he insisted. "I can only indicate that former CIA director William Colby identified in 1973 some 40 CIA agents who are paid journalists."
Black Forum moderator Glen Ford reminded Fauntroy that "the CIA claims that it no longer has journalists in its employ. You don't believe that?"
Fauntroy: "I don't know."
Ford: "You clearly don't believe that. You just said that you know that there are journalists - agents who are journalists."
Fauntroy: "I don't know that there are agents. I don't know that they're not agents. I'm going to find out."
Insisting at another point in the interview that the committee has "come up with a great deal of [new] information," Fauntroy cited information relayed to the committee recently by Rep. Gene Snyder (D-Ky.).
Fauntroy described the report as one from a police officer in Snyder's district identifying three FBI agents "who offered him, on two occasions, $500,000 to kill Martin Luther King Jr."
"Well, that's a new lead by anybody's terminology," Fauntroy declared, adding later that he wanted to know "if, in fact, there were people offering $500,000 to kill Dr. King in 1968. Because if they're out there then, they're out there now."
Actually, the offer was supposed to have been made, not in 1968, this year King was killed, but in September of 1965, some 2 1/2 years earlier.
"In no way was it relevant," says Harold Weisberg, another longtime critic of the assassinations probes and an investigator for James Earl Ray, who is now serving a 99-year prison term for King's murder.
Weisberg spoke with the retired police officer in question in 1975 and dismissed the account then. The officer had been suspected of being a member of a dynamite ring operating out of Bowling Green, Ky., when the offer was supposedly made by a Louisville, Ky., police plant.
"Assume everything he (the officer) said was true," adds James Lesar, who has been Ray's lawyer. "It's clear the police were offering him this money because they think he's part of a dynamite bomb ring. They're trying to set him up, trying to entrap him. What more do you need to know" Can anyone believe, assuming $500,000 was available in 1965 in kill King, that it would have taken 2 1/2 years to get the deed done?"