IT'S GRATIFYING TO know that the White House can call for - and get, pronto! - hundreds of background files from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I tried for more than three years to get one file from the FBI, and when finally I got it, it didn't do any more for me than a dime in a room full of dollar slot machines.
Two months ago, I at last received a two-and-a-half pound stack of documents that were devastatingly censored and blacked out - a complete waste of time and effort.It was so absurd as to be reprehensible.
I had filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the files of Bill Baggs, an editor of The Miami News who died in 1969. I was Baggs' managing editor and a disciple.
Baggs, along with colleagues Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution and Harry Ashmore of the Arkansas Gazette, had been major civil rights proponents in the '60s, a courageous but unpopular point of view among Southern white readers then.
Moreover, Baggs and Ashmore twice visited Hanoi as unofficial peace envoys, purportedly with messages from the Johnson administration, and met with Ho Chi Minh in an effort to end the war.
What I got from the FBI after all that waiting were 193 of 422 reviewed pages of documents - only having to do with an extortion attempt against Baggs by a member of the right-wing Minutemen, i.e., "Quit your Vietnam meddling, or else."
There were no documents about Baggs' activities regarding Vietnam, civil rights or the Kennedys. In the accompanying letter, it was noted more than a quarter-century after the events that some of the material was excised in the "interest of national defense or foreign policy," and that other parts were "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency," whatever that means.
How ridiculous was what was left? This ridiculous:
Despite the fact that the Minuteman was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced in open court for his extortion attempt, the FBI censor blacked out his name.
What little was left included a date, so I went to the newspaper microfilm, as anyone can do, looked up the issue of May 3, 1968, and found the story of the trial in which the accused was convicted and sentenced. And, of course, it included his name. So much for privacy.
Three years is a long wait for nothing. From now on, I'm sending my requests to the White House. The line is shorter there.