The Monkees, Redacted

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been in the news a lot lately. Many on the right think the FBI has recently become politicized–but the reality is that the agency has been involved in investigations of political matters for decades, ever since it was asked to look into loosely defined “subversives” back in the 1930s. Back in the J. Edgar Hoover days the FBI collected information on Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, and . . . the Monkees.

What a second–the Monkees? The zany, made-for-TV rock band that had a brief but memorable TV show, produced a series of number 1 albums, were a sensation among teenagers, and incidentally recorded some great rock music that still stands up? The FBI investigated those guys?

It did. According to the FBI’s “Vault” webpage–which, if you’re interested, allows you to search for FBI records on line–the agency has two records about the rock band: “a 1967 Los Angeles Field Office memorandum on anti-Vietnam war activities and a second document redacted entirely.” The 1967 field office memorandum was released to the public about ten years ago, and is very heavily redacted. (You can see the original report, in its redacted form, here.) The unredacted portion reports on a concert the Monkees gave in which photographs were broadcast on a screen behind the band that a redacted informant considered to be “left-wing intervention of a political nature”–which in reality reflected what was actually going on at the time, like racial rioting and protests against the war in Vietnam.

Now Mickey Dolenz, the last surviving member of the Monkees, is suing to try to get the FBI to release the full records about the band. The lawsuit seeks “any records the FBI created and/or possesses on the Monkees as well as its individual members.”

In the grand scheme of what is going on in the world, trying to determine what information the FBI collected about the Monkees is a small thing, but it also raises a big point about transparency and getting a fuller accounting of the FBI’s activities over the years. It’s hard to believe that the document from the Monkees’ FBI file that was released in 2011 merited the heavy redaction it received; what kinds of information could it possibly contain that would reasonably need to be kept secret, decades later? Now that another ten years have passed, there is even less cause for continuing secrecy. I’m hoping the lawsuit is successful and we get to see what the FBI considered so important and secretive. Perhaps the lawsuit, and the reaction to any documents that are released as a result of it, will cause a reassessment of the agency’s actions and, particularly, its continuing, overly aggressive redaction of documents that the public actually has a right to see.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Today America got its first close-up look at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Although the Memorial won’t be formally dedicated until this weekend, it was opened to the public today.

The Memorial features a 30-foot tall statue of a standing Dr. King hewn from granite, as well as a wall with quotations, a bookstore, and dozens of cherry trees.  The Memorial is in a beautiful location adjacent to the Tidal Basin and about halfway between the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.  Fittingly, it is in close proximity to the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave the “I have a dream” speech — arguably the most significant speech given by an American since Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think it is wonderful that a memorial to Dr. King has been included on the National Mall.  King was a profoundly influential figure whose words have inspired generations of Americans of all races and creeds.  He not only is the first person of color to be recognized on the National Mall, but also the first non-President.  Both of those firsts are long overdue.

A Disturbing Reminder

I saw on the RealClearPolitics website that today is the 28th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. It sent a shiver down my spine and brought back some weird memories. President Reagan was shot during the first week I was on the job as the press secretary and legislative aide for Congressman Chalmers P. Wylie. The shooting happened not too far from our offices at the Rayburn House Office Building, and I had to write about the shooting for the Congressman’s weekly radio broadcast. Fortunately, the President was not fatally wounded, and his brave and uplifting reaction to the shooting — I recall he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck” — helped everyone to get past a traumatic incident.

It seems odd now, but I grew up with political assassination attempts as a regular part of the landscape. President Kennedy was shot when I was in kindergarten; I remember the news coming over the loudspeaker system and my teacher crying. When I was 11, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Then George Wallace was shot, and there were two attempts on the life of President Ford, the killing of Harvey Milk, and finally the shooting of President Reagan. And then, seemingly as abruptly as they began . . . the shootings blessedly stopped. The worst incident that I can think of since the Reagan shooting was the recent Baghdad press conference where the Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush. This change obviously is a wonderful move in the right direction — but what caused it?