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Radio Legend Paul Harvey Had Close Ties to FBI

(USA TODAY) - He was a broadcasting legend, a commentator with a voice instantly familiar to listeners both loyal and sporadic.But on the cusp of his national career, he was an FBI target whose network bosses fretted about whether he should be fired.

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But on the cusp of his national career, he was an FBI target whose network bosses fretted about whether he should be fired. Paul Harvey's FBI file, released to USA TODAY under a Freedom of Information Act request, shows how his relationship with the bureau evolved from perp to pen pal. The 1,375 pages also illuminate how the FBI cultivated one of the nation's most popular media figures by not only providing flattery from its most prominent officials but also by secretly putting words in his mouth.Harvey died last February at age 90 after a broadcasting career spanning seven decades. His voice reached 24 million listeners at the peak of his career, when his daily show was carried on more than 1,200 radio stations and his column appeared in 300 newspapers. His signature form was "The Rest of the Story," a folksy anecdote ending with an ironic twist, delivered with theatrical cadences and dramatic pauses.The federal files show that Harvey frequently gave the FBI advance copies of his scripts and columns, seeking information and advice. The FBI obliged, even writing portions of Harvey's commentaries for him, the records show. A 1986 commentary, for example, contained an FBI-written section about the bureau's "highly regarded" services to other law enforcement agencies.Harvey had written to FBI spokesman William Baker, enclosing a draft commentary praising then-director William Webster and asking, "Please help me add meat to these bones." Baker responded a month later, enclosing a copy of Harvey's draft with the FBI's handwritten corrections and additions. "I think your words portray us very well but, as you requested, my staff has added a little 'meat to the bones,' " Baker wrote. The resulting commentary, also distributed as Harvey's syndicated newspaper column, included the FBI's suggestions word for word.That kind of coziness between journalists and government was common in the 1950s, although it wouldn't be acceptable today, said Loren Ghiglione, an ethics professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism."I don't think that the public was necessarily well served by the relationship in that it wasn't transparent," Ghiglione said. "They didn't know what was going on or if there were quid pro quos as part of the relationship."Harvey's son, Paul Harvey Jr., did not respond to USA TODAY's e-mailed requests for comment.J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director from 1924 until his death in 1972, had similar relationships with other journalists friendly to the FBI, Ghiglione said. Those, like Harvey, on the Special Correspondents' List got behind-the-scenes help from the FBI and praise from Hoover for putting the bureau in a good light.Harvey's FBI file includes 66 letters from Hoover, most of them thanking Harvey for commentaries lauding the bureau and its director for fighting crime and communism. One example from May 1959: "All of us in the FBI count it as a great honor to have you as one of our closest friends. The staunch defense you have always put up in behalf of the FBI and your unwavering devotion to the best causes of your country have been a source of great inspiration to us," Hoover wrote.Harvey's reaction was enthusiastic. After Hoover thanked him for plugging tours of the FBI during a 1957 Inauguration Day broadcast, Harvey replied: "From some future pinnacle, if the Republic has survived, history will record that it was largely due to your vigilance." Harvey's relationship with the bureau wasn't always so friendly, however.In 1951, agents investigated Harvey after the young radio announcer climbed over a fence at the Argonne National Laboratory, a nuclear research site near Chicago. Harvey said he was trying to prove security at the site was dangerously lax - but he was arrested a few yards from the fence after his coat got snagged on the barbed wire atop it.Federal prosecutors took the case to a grand jury, which refused to indict Harvey. While the case was pending, an official at ABC News contacted the FBI, worried about its plans to promote Harvey to a slot on the network, according to an FBI memo. The FBI told the ABC executive, whose name was redacted from the files, "that this was a decision we could not make for him."One year and a day after the grand jury's decision, Harvey had his first face-to-face meeting with Hoover, escorted by Republican Rep. Fred Busbey, the records show. FBI official Louis Nichols wrote to Clyde Tolson, Hoover's right-hand man, that "Harvey has a history of emotional instability" but "he apparently has completely rehabilitated himself." At FBI headquarters, Harvey told Nichols that he was grateful for the FBI's "fair and impartial manner" during the investigation. After the meeting, Nichols wrote to Tolson, Harvey had said Hoover "far exceeded his highest expectations and if at any time he could do anything to assist the Director, he would appreciate being called upon."As Harvey used to sign off: Now you know ... the rest of the story. />