Mass media distort history, says former FBI top official

January 19, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Americans are accepting "a barrage of distortion" of historical fact by quick-buck artists in television, movies, tabloid magazines and newspapers, a former top FBI official said yesterday.

Former FBI Deputy Director Cartha "Deke" DeLoach told the Baltimore Rotary Club that "everybody from Elvis Presley to anybody's grandmother" has been blamed for assassinating President John F. Kennedy, despite evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

The weeks leading up to the 30th anniversary of the JFK shooting produced a spate of films, books and shows rehashing events or purporting to present new facts, but few squared with the reality, Mr. DeLoach said.

"They sensationalize it for the money. These are wild and woolly claims by fast-buck artists," said Mr. DeLoach, who left the bureau in 1970 after 29 years.

The film "JFK" is a particularly egregious example of distortion because it presents as historical fact the disproved conspiracy theory offered by Jim Garrison, once an FBI agent and later the New Orleans district attorney. Oswald was himself assassinated before he could be tried, so the Kennedy case file remains open, Mr. DeLoach said. Because leads keep coming in, the FBI is forced to spend much time and money checking them. "There are a lot of kooks out there," he said.

In another controversial case, James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to killing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but now says otherwise, despite the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Mr. DeLoach said.

The FBI spent $4 million investigating the King assassination and proving Ray's

guilt, said Mr. DeLoach, who headed the investigation, "and now Ray has been allowed to write a book and there have been TV shows that he wasn't guilty."

zTC This irresponsible use of the First Amendment is "not literary freedom but literary license," said the former FBI official who flew to Baltimore from Hilton Head, S.C., for the luncheon at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. "The gullibility of the American public is a shame today, and something should be done about it."

The best solution, he said, is educating the public to demand responsibility in the media.

On another issue, Mr. DeLoach took issue with a 1992 biography of J. Edgar Hoover in which British author Anthony Summers contended that the late FBI director had been a transvestite homosexual. Mr. DeLoach attacked Mr. Summers as "a slanderer, liar and coward."

Mr. Summers used "weak sources, many of them now dead," and relied primarily on a woman once convicted of perjury and on a former Mafia money man, Mr. DeLoach said. For 15 years, Mr. DeLoach said, he worked an office away from Mr. Hoover and found him "a tough, two-fisted religious man who built an organization that has stood the test of time and will stand the test of time."

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