FBI papers show broadcaster Harvey’s long ties to Hoover

Paul Harvey submitted his scripts to J. Edgar Hoover, while the FBI director helped the radio commentator with research. They shared deeply conservative convictions. Paul Harvey submitted his scripts to J. Edgar Hoover, while the FBI director helped the radio commentator with research. They shared deeply conservative convictions.
By Joe Stephens
Washington Post / January 23, 2010

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WASHINGTON - For the better part of six decades, Paul Harvey spun tales on the radio in his staccato baritone, entertaining up to 24 million listeners a day with folksy vignettes ending in unexpected twists.

And now, the rest of the story.

Previously confidential files show that Harvey, who died last February at 90, enjoyed a 20-year friendship with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, often submitting advance copies of his radio script for comment and approval. Harvey wrote Hoover and his deputies regularly. Hoover, in turn, helped Harvey with research, suggested changes in scripts, and showered the broadcaster with effusive praise.

But the real twist, suitable for one of Harvey’s signature “Rest of the Story’’ vignettes, is how they met, on opposite sides of an espionage investigation.

The news is contained in nearly 1,400 pages of FBI files, released to The Washington Post in response to a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The records underscore that the men shared deeply conservative convictions and a hatred of communism. And Harvey’s vast audience was of intense interest to the image-obsessed Hoover.

The Cold War beginning of the Harvey-Hoover bond was an incident from 1951, when Harvey was 32. A police officer’s son from Topeka, Kan., Harvey had already made a name for himself as a radio and television commentator in Chicago, specializing in human-interest stories and strong opinions delivered in shirtsleeve English. He routinely hammered officials for being lax on security, in particular those in charge of the Argonne National Laboratory, which conducted nuclear testing 20 miles west of Chicago.

After wrapping up his television broadcast on the evening of Feb. 5, 1951, Harvey set out to prove his case and to make some career-enhancing headlines for himself. Harvey drove his black Cadillac Fleetwood toward the Argonne lab, arriving sometime past midnight. He tossed his overcoat onto the barbed wire topping a fence, and scampered over.

Harvey planned to scratch his signature on “objects that could not possibly have been brought to the site by someone else,’’ according to a statement later given by an off-duty guard who accompanied him. The signature would stand as proof that Harvey had easily defeated the lab’s security.

But seconds after Harvey hit the ground, security officers spotted him, documents show. Harvey ran until, caught in a Jeep’s headlights, he tripped and fell. As guards approached, Harvey sprang to his feet and waved.

Guards asked whether Harvey realized he was in a restricted area. “Harvey replied no, that he thought he might be at the airport because of the red lights,’’ one report says. Harvey told the authorities he had been headed to a neighboring town to give a speech when his car died.

On the drive to the lab’s security office, an FBI memo says, “every once in a while, Harvey would remark that his car was stalled out there and he would like to have a push.’’

Under questioning, Harvey eventually dropped his cover story but refused to elaborate, saying he wanted to tell his tale before a congressional committee.

Guards searched his Cadillac and found a nickel-plated .380-caliber Colt automatic. It belonged to a Naval Intelligence officer whom Harvey had brought along as a witness.

The search also revealed a four-page, typewritten script for an upcoming broadcast. Harvey, it turned out, had planned from the outset to feed the nation a bogus account of his escapade: “I hereby affirm the following is a true and accurate account,’’ the script began. “My friend and I were driving a once-familiar road, when the car stalled.

“Suddenly I realized where I was. That I had entered, unchallenged, one of the United States’ vital atomic research installations. . . . We could have carried a bomb in or classified documents out.’’

Word of the stunt soon made headlines. The US attorney for Illinois empaneled a grand jury to consider an espionage indictment. The Atomic Energy Commission suggested privately that Harvey might avoid prosecution if he praised the commission’s professionalism on the air, reports show. A member of Congress worked to kill the investigation, and Harvey went on the air to suggest he was being set up.

An FBI official noted in one memo that “this looks like a publicity stunt and I don’t think we should carry the ball if we can avoid it.’’ Agents conducted interviews, kept tabs on developments and sent updates to Hoover and his deputies in Washington. But the bureau avoiding taking sides, apparently waiting to see whom public opinion would favor.

Two months after the incident, a federal grand jury officially declined to indict Harvey.

Nothing in Harvey’s file suggests Hoover did anything to help. But Harvey appears to have been grateful for something.

In April 1952, US Representative Fred Busbey, an Illinois Republican and longtime friend of Harvey’s, asked the FBI whether he could bring the broadcaster by to thank Hoover.

Records of the Saturday morning meeting show that Harvey acknowledged he had acted foolishly. Harvey told those present that he had always considered Hoover a great American but that, seen in person, the director far exceeded his expectations. So began a friendship that continued until Hoover’s death in 1972.