The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, September 16, 2002
ANOTHER GANG OF IDIOTS: Alexander Cockburn once wrote that there was more radical analysis in a single issue of Mad magazine from the 1950s than in a full year's run of The Nation. J. Edgar Hoover might have agreed: Newly declassified documents reveal that his FBI repeatedly investigated the mag, not just in the '50s but up through 1971. The Independent has published an interesting
story about this, in which my favorite anecdote involves not the FBI but the U.S. Treasury: "Perhaps the strangest of Mad's encounters was after it published a cartoon of a three-dollar bill bearing Alfred's grinning face. Some enterprising readers cut out the notes and used them, despite their having text on the back, in the rather primitive change machines of the time. Enter, at Mad's offices a few days later, two agents of the US Treasury, who not only confiscated the original artwork, but also, lest readers wreck the entire economy dime by dime, demanded the original printing plates. They left clutching the address of the printer." (Eat your heart out, Boggs.)

In another episode, Mad ran a mock ad for "J. Edgar Hoover Tonic": "Special agents go to work in seconds, cleaning out your system and getting rid of all those harmful foreign elements ... and you'll be pleased with what it does to your red cells!" An agent was promptly instructed to contact the magazine "and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure at the tasteless misuse of the Director's name."

The best thing you can say about this is that it is a profound waste of the agents' time. It is also, of course, official harassment. It may not be the worst abuse of the FBI's authority, but it is among the most telling -- not just about Hoover, but about unrestrained power in general. As voices in Washington (and elsewhere) call for cutting the restraints imposed on the FBI in the 1970s, you should reflect on stories like these. Those restrictions were put there for a reason.


posted by Jesse 12:39 PM
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