I have just read a biography of me that leaves my ego miserably deflated. Luckily for my reputation, it is a limited edition, under the imprimatur of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of one copy only. It contains 383 pages, 103 of which are almost illegible. The cost was $38.30. No billing was made for 20 more pages withheld in their entirety, which is fair enough, although a dime apiece for several pages like the one illustrated here smacks of sharp practice.
But my complaint lies elsewhere. I had expected that my FBI files, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, would confirm my recollection of myself as a stunningly dangerous fellow, writing unkindly of Joe McCarthy, Pat McCarran, Martin Dies and, before they were jailed, Andrew J. May and J. Parnell Thomas. Even more sinfully, I publicly expressed admiration for the scholarship of Owen Lattimore, the genius of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the public service of Leon Henderson and the merits of a host of similar New Deal subversives. Did not all that entitle me to an AAA-I, or at least AA-I, rating as a security risk?
Not at all. The files show only the most meager evidence that the FBI ever considered nominating me. I would like to think that those 20 withheld pages and some of the blacked-out lines portrayed me as a more sinister figure, but the only solace I can find on the record is that I was enrolled on the FBI Enemy/No Contact list at a precociously early stage in my journalistic career. And even that was not for being a dangerous leftist, but for reporting that J. Edgar Hoover ran the most anti-union outfit in town, keeping it uncontaminated by government workers' unions (as it remains today) by firing any employee known to be a member, and that, by methods any child could have deduced, he kept Congress in slathering public adoration of him.
Indeed, the files suggest, the FBI's exclusive interest in me derived from my wickedness not merely in not bestowing the fundamental osculation on its chief expected of every red-blooded American boy reporter, but also in actually hinting that Hoover and his Merry Men suffered from ethical halitosis. I and, much more important, my employer, The Washington Post, did not agree with El Supremo on who were his, and therefore America's, enemies. To the extent the files are interesting at all is their repeated recording of FBI refusals to give us information or service on even the most routine and innocent requests. Louis B. Nichols, a principal Hoover lieutenant, explained the situation to me early on (although the episode is not in my files). I had asked him for an explanation of the stonewall I was encountering. He said, "If you kick a man in the groin do you expect him to be nice to you?" One may question the principles on which the FBI operated, but not its fidelity to them.
To be sure, I was twice the object of the FBI's determined attentions, but only because it was ordered to make special investigations required for those under consideration for certain levels of government jobs. Each of those inquiries seems to have set a score of agents in four different field offices into frenzied activities for three or four weeks. Any fair-to-middling newspaper reporter could have done them in a week's time, with fewer inaccuracies and a great deal more information useful to a prospective employer.
The inconsequential results may not have been due entirely to the incompetence of the investigators. Hoover had forbidden them to interview anyone connected with The Washington Post, where I had spent most of my working life and who, therefore, presumably knew most about me. It was as if the sheriff of Nottingham, seeking information about Robin Hood, forbade his deputies to talk to anyone in Sherwood Forest.
The two investigations revealed that I was a good friend of Nobelist Edward U. Condon; that somehow I had been seen with someone (the blacked-out passages were particularly heavy here) who knew the presumed Soviet agent Nathan Gregory Silvermaster; that I found Alger Hiss impressive when I met him for the first time (in 1971); that I had been fined $25 for speeding when I was in college and that my son ran a stop light when he was in college, and that (according to an FBI informant there) I had once visited Commonwealth College in Mena, Ark. The stoolie neglected to report that I there declared that the madhouse was one of the most ludicrous Far Left ventures I had ever seen, for which I was publicly denounced as a "bourgeois liberal," a breed Lenin deemed "more vicious than the reactionaries themselves."
Oh, yes. I was reported to hold liberal views consonant with the New Deal and favored civilian control of atomic energy. Otherwise, I was the living embodiment of the Boy Scout oath and ran Nathan Hale a close second in the patriotism and loyalty sweepstakes.
Perhaps other FBI files make more sense, but mine gives the impression of the treasures of a deranged filcher of ashcans. They tell more about the FBI than about me, and as such should be more worrisome to the compilers than to the subject.