After I posted my item on the FBI and the Weather Underground yesterday, I received some good advice from several people, both in the comments and in private e-mails: that I should ignore attacks from the likes of Michael Graham and Cliff Kincaid.
I’m not going to take that advice, because I still have a few facts I want to lay out. I will try to keep this as brief as I can (i.e., not very), and reasonably dispassionate. I hope and expect this is the last time I will write about the Weather Underground.
Yesterday I reported that the FBI had revised a Web page that identified convicted murderer Katherine Ann Power as a member of the Weather Underground; the agency explained that its original reference to her had been made “inaccurately.” Power and four accomplices murdered Boston police officer Walter Schroeder (photo) in a 1970 bank robbery. Though Power and one of those accomplices, Susan Saxe, were campus radicals at Brandeis University, neither had ever been credibly linked to the Weather Underground.
After Graham, a talk-show host on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), posted his item showing that an FBI site claimed Power was a Weather Underground member, I started digging. In two posts (here and here), I found that the underlying FBI document linked from that Web page made no mention of Power, Saxe or the Schroeder killing; that books on the Weather Underground contained not a hint of any link to the Schroeder case; and that, at both the time of the murder and Power’s 1993 arrest, there was never any mention of a possible connection to the Weather Underground.
At that point I contacted the FBI press office to seek an explanation for why it had identified Power as a member of the Weather Underground. For a week, I exchanged e-mails with FBI press officer Paul Bresson. I first called and wrote to him on March 30. Later that day, he wrote:
I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this was simply a caption error. When she was announced on our Top 10, we made no reference to her association with the WU then. Seems like we would have.
He also told me that the FBI’s “resident historian” would look into the matter further. Then, yesterday morning, I noticed that Power’s photo had disappeared from the FBI page, and a notice had been added saying that her inclusion had been made “inaccurately.” I asked Bresson whether the FBI would issue a statement. He responded:
No. It was a caption error. Not unlike what happens in the media from time to time.
Again, thanks for pointing it out.
I also sent an e-mail to Power last week, but did not receive a response.
If you go to Graham’s blog, you will find that he is still running the Power photo as proof of her membership in the Weather Underground. He has also neither revised, corrected nor apologized for an item in which he refers to me as “some moron who claims to teach at Northeastern University” because of my insistence that Power was not connected to the Weather Underground.
Personal insults aside, it’s fair to ask whether Graham should be held accountable when, in fact, an FBI Web page did identify Power as a member of the Weather Underground. I think the answer is yes, for three reasons:
- There was nothing on that FBI Web page about Power or the Schroeder murder — just one photo identifying her as a member of the Weather Underground. That should have led Graham to investigate further.
- The Web page linked to an underlying FBI document representing the agency’s own, extensive 1976 history of the Weather Underground. Again: Not a mention of Power, Saxe or the Schroeder murder.
- Though Graham’s fellow WTKK host Michele McPhee has been claiming for some time that the Schroeder murder was somehow linked to the Weather Underground, there is no credible evidence. Hints here, rumors there? Sure. But that’s not the same as on-the-record facts.
How did I get dragged into this? Last fall I was struck by a post-election interview that NPR’s Terry Gross conducted with former Weather Underground leader William Ayers. Ayers came across as smarmy and self-satisfied. But he is also a respected education reformer, and his and his family’s lives had been put in danger because of the pounding he’d been subjected to over his ties to Barack Obama. And despite some reprehensible activities in his youth, including bombings, neither he nor the Weather Underground had ever been credibly tied to any killings. So I wrote it up for The Guardian.
Now let me try to deal as briefly as I can with Cliff Kincaid, of the media-watch organization Accuracy in Media. Laughably, his piece, which was posted yesterday morning, still contains two links to the now-revised FBI page. No correction, and no comments allowed.
It’s hard even to find a point of entry in Kincaid’s column. I’m reminded of a lawyer who once told jurors that if they found something rotten floating at the top of the barrel, they were under no obligation to stick their hands in to see if there was something better underneath. Kincaid’s double reliance on a now-corrected FBI error is enough.
But let me look at one additional piece of evidence that he recommends: a 1975 report (PDF) by the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws. The document is not searchable, but Kincaid provides a helpful guide, instructing readers to go to pages 33 and 36.
On page 33 the report briefly mentions the Schroeder murder and says this: “Police charged both Susan Edith Saxe and Katherine Ann Power of the Weatherman group with complicity in the murder and robbery.” That’s it. There is no indication of where this information came from.
The reference on page 36 says this:
Three female members of the Weather Underground were on the FBI “List of Most Wanted Fugitives” for a full three years without being apprehended. They were Bernardine Rea Dohrn [Ayers’ wife], Susan Edith Saxe, and Katherine Ann Power.
But that’s wrong. Recall what FBI spokesman Bresson told me: “When she [Power] was announced on our Top 10, we made no reference to her association with the WU then. Seems like we would have.”
Finally, in my original Guardian column I briefly mentioned that Time magazine had knocked down an assertion that the Weather Underground had been linked to the 1970 murder of a police officer in San Francisco. Beyond that, I know nothing about that case, but Kincaid mentions it.
As it turns out, just a few weeks ago, on March 12, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the city’s police union publicly accused Ayers and Dohrn of having been involved in the bombing. According to the story:
The union’s accusation surprised some authorities. According to a source familiar with the probe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, investigators have found no evidence that links the Weather Underground to the bombing.
A week later, the Chronicle reported that police chief Heather Fong had ordered the union to stop talking about the case, which is being actively investigated and which could soon result in an arrest or arrests. So maybe we’re on the verge of a definitive answer.
Two final points.
Let’s not forget how all this foolishness started. People who wanted to bring President Obama down during the campaign sought desperately to transform Ayers from a washed-up radical into a washed-up, murdering radical. The goal was to tie Obama to a cop-killer, despite the lack of any credible evidence.
And let’s not forget Walter Schroeder, who left nine children. His brother John, also a Boston police officer, was murdered three years later. For all the anger and angst Ayers, Power, Saxe and their like have inspired over the years, it was the Schroeder family that suffered the most, and, I’m sure, is suffering still.
Update: Kincaid has written a hilarious response. He’s actually going to FOIA records about my contacts with the FBI.