NY Times Maligns FBI on Civil Rights Cases

Thursday, 26 Aug 2010 09:51 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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When it comes to the FBI, The New York Times has the same story line: The bureau is either incompetent, over-reactive, or spying on innocent Americans.

In most cases, the paper manages to convey those points by omitting key facts or downplaying them. For example, in revealing President Bush’s NSA intercept program, the paper used such trigger words as “eavesdropping” and “domestic spying” to suggest a massive program with sinister motives. Not until the 22nd paragraph did the story say that the intercept program targeted only calls with an overseas nexus.

But the Times reached a new low with a story this week by Shaila Dewan. Headlined “Despite FBI Fanfare, Time Runs Out on Cold Civil Rights Cases,” the story suggested that the FBI is not aggressively pursuing unsolved civil rights cases from years ago. The story cited Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ declaration in February 2007 that the FBI had started the Cold Case Initiative to bring to justice the perpetrators of civil rights crimes. Since then, there have been no federal indictments, the paper said.

Even with fresh murder cases, it often takes years to develop the evidence. But the story quoted civil rights advocates as saying they are disappointed that more cases have not been solved. In the fourth paragraph, the story said, “Though 40-year-old murder cases are incredibly difficult to solve, no Federal Bureau of Investigation field agents are assigned to pursue the cases full time.”

In fact, agents rarely are assigned to work only one case at a time. But in a correction appended to the online version of the original story, the paper acknowledged that, in the past, agents have been assigned full time to pursue cold civil rights cases. Nor did the Times story mention that six cases investigated since the announcement by Gonzales and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III of the Cold Case Initiative have been referred to state authorities for prosecution.

Not until the 17th paragraph did the story say that, since 1994, more than 20 civil rights cases have, indeed, been prosecuted successfully. That was a result of FBI investigations, but the story did not mention that fact. Instead, it said, “Those prosecutions were driven by the persistence of surviving family members and the painstaking work of journalists and documentary film makers.”

Tell that to the FBI agents who overcame incredible odds to bring about the convictions of former Ku Klux Klan members Thomas E. Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2001 and 2002, respectively, for participating in bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on Sept. 15, 1963. As outlined in my book “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI,” that case was brought to a successful conclusion by the hard work, ingenuity, and persistence of FBI agent William L. Flemming after G. Robert “Rob” Langford, the special agent in charge in Birmingham, decided on his own to reopen the bombing case.

In investigating more than 100 additional unsolved civil rights cases since 2007, the FBI often found that witnesses or suspects had died, that the original allegation was unfounded, or that the laws that existed at the time would not permit a successful prosecution. In other cases, the FBI is still uncovering new evidence.

But, as with any FBI investigation, the bureau does not share what it is doing with civil right advocates The New York Times quoted.

When cases have been closed without indictments, the FBI has reported results of investigations to families of victims so they might have some measure of closure. That has been done under the direction of Cynthia Deitle, a tenacious agent who heads the bureau's cold case effort and has made it her life's work

That bigots who murdered black Americans years ago may have gotten away with their crimes is tragic. But by dishonestly portraying the efforts of FBI agents trying to right those wrongs, The New York Times has done a disservice to journalism and to the truth.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.

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