Paul Harvey’s Attempted Hoax Was Beginning of Beautiful Friendship

An enterprising Washington Post report by Joe Stephens (1/23/10) uses the Freedom Of Information Act to uncover the close and creepy relationship between folksy far-right broadcaster Paul Harvey and longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The documents Stephens uncovered show Harvey as just the kind of journalist that Hoover liked: sycophantic (“If the Republic has survived, history will record that it was largely due to your vigilance”) and servile (“For a number of years, you have been kind enough to send me your daily copy,” an assistant FBI director noted to Harvey in 1957).

On its side, the Bureau appeared to view Harvey as a cracked though useful tool: Despite “a history of emotional instability,” said one 1952 memo, Harvey had become “very effectively anti-Communist.” The broadcaster “devoted entire shows to Hoover’s heroism,” the article notes.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Stephens’ story is how Harvey and the Bureau got acquainted in the first place, a McCarthy Era “meet-cute” story: Harvey had been interrogated in 1951 (during the Truman administration) after jumping the fence at the Argonne nuclear laboratory in Illinois, hoping to demonstrate lax security at the federal facility, but instead being apprehended within seconds. The telling thing is that Harvey had written the script for his stunt beforehand, indicating that he planned to lie to his audience about what had happened:

I hereby affirm the following is a true and accurate account…. My friend and I were driving a once-familiar road, when the car stalled. . . . We started to walk. . . . We made no effort to conceal our presence. . . .

Suddenly I realized where I was. That I had entered, unchallenged, one of the United States’ vital atomic research installations. . . . Quite by accident, understand, I had found myself inside the ‘hot’ area. . . . We could have carried a bomb in, or classified documents out.

This combination of mendacity and right-wing politics would serve Harvey well throughout his career. See Extra!: “The Right of the Story: Paul Harvey Peddles Tall Tales–With a Conservative Kick” (9-10/97) by Dan Wilson.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.