This is a seriously great piece of journalism by Justin Elliott for TPM. Long story short: the FBI kept a file on the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, as it did in the Hoover era on many liberal and black Americans for the crimes of being liberal or black or both. It’s only a bit of an overstatement to say that if you were one such American back then whom J. Edgar Hoover persecuted, you’re probably looked on today as a great individual. Franklin certainly is. Here’s what the FBI thought, per Justin:

“Dr. Franklin is an apologist for the late Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, a prominent crusader for civil rights and a sponsor of communist fronts who joined the Communist Party at the age of 93,” wrote an unidentified FBI official in a letter to the White House in July 1965.

Untold numbers of Americans — I mean that literally; we don’t really have any idea — had FBI files during the Hoover era for similar non-transgressions. And there’s a collective-action problem here. Put simply, there’s a misalignment of interests and resources across the news industry and the civil-liberties community that makes the likelihood of uncovering all of these files (or most individual files, to be precise) unlikely. Exhuming John Hope Franklin’s FBI file isn’t the sort of thing that lights a fire under most editors. And yet the historical record is obviously better served by such patient FOIAing, for something that probably isn’t going to get a fraction of the readership as the latest Politico-borne inanity.

The more I think about this, the more inspired I feel, and the prouder I am to have been affiliated with TPM, and particularly TPMmuckraker. It deserves a place in TPM’s pantheon beside Trent Lott and Alberto Gonzales. This is muckraking journalism in the best traditions. I know it won’t get the old schoolers to stop bitching about the lack of standards or rigor on the internet. But after a piece like this, who cares what they think?

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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