The Real J. Edgar Hoover
If the goal of the new movie J. Edgar was to tear down J. Edgar Hoover, the filmmakers did a good job. The film portrayed him in an unfavorable light, not as the person once considered a hero. It makes innuendos about his sexual orientation, his personality, and his lack of ethics as FBI director. American Thinker interviewed former FBI agents who worked under, and closely with, J. Edgar Hoover to get their impressions of the man.
Contrary to what the filmmakers are saying about the movie being historically accurate, it is obvious that rumors were used as facts. John Fox, the FBI historian, met with the filmmakers before the movie was made because he was hoping there would be an "accurate depiction of the Bureau as so many people get their first and primary impressions of the FBI and its work through entertainment media." Obviously, from watching the movie, they did not take notes during the meeting.
Both the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Inc. and the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation wrote letters requesting that the film portray Hoover as a strong public figure who, during tumultuous times, dealt with controversial issues. Unfortunately the movie did just the opposite.
The organization's members also feel that the movie should not have tarnished the lives of Director Hoover and former FBI Deputy Clyde Tolson by making unproven allegations that they desired a sexual relationship. The response, in a letter sent by Clint Eastwood, the director and a producer of the film, and Robert Lorenz, a producer, was that "we have not set out to present an open homosexual relationship between J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson ... Though no one can know his private side with certainty, we hope that a thoughtful, intelligent portrayal of the man will put his life story in proper historical context." True, the movie did not have any "open" homosexual scenes; yet the innuendos were so suggestive it left little doubt what the filmmakers were trying to convey.
For the former agents, the point is to get the facts correct. They do not deny that Tolson and Hoover had dinner together most nights, traveled to and from work together, and went on vacations with each other. However, they point out that after dinner, they were dropped off at separate houses. The are not denying that the two men had affection and respect for each other, but the facts do not support the conclusion that they were homosexual. Deke Deloach, a deputy director who knew Hoover well and worked closely with him for thirty years, told American Thinker that he talked to Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio at length about Hoover. He commented that he told both, "I traveled with him, we were in each other's homes for dinner, and I saw him more than I wanted to. There was never any indication of homosexuality. He would never do anything that would do disfavor to the FBI or himself." In that same light, all interviewed vehemently denied the accusation that Hoover was a crossdresser. As with the inference of homosexuality, the movie took extreme artistic license.
All interviewed agreed and emphasized that given the culture of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, neither the public nor the FBI agents would have tolerated a director who was gay. If the movie is falsely implying Hoover as gay, is it done to taint his reputation? If so, is Mr. Black, the screenwriter, saying it is embarrassing to be gay? William Branon, in charge of several offices throughout his career under Hoover's directorship, feels that Americans should understand that "homosexuality is viewed differently today [from how] it was back then. He would have been thrown out and disgraced. Disgruntled agents would have known about it and talked about it. It would have gotten out." Since the FBI was a rumor mill, those agents who chauffeured him or were on his security detail would have seen something. R. Jean Gray, a former agent on Hoover's security detail, described how "we would follow him, one car running behind and another running parallel. There were two cars, four guys. Off and on we would be watching him for years all night, depending on the credible threats. If someone would have seen something, it would have been spread around the bureau in ten minutes."
According to the former agents, Hoover should be seen as the father of modern law enforcement, taking over a corrupt organization and molding it into a very proficient investigative agency. The movie did spend some time, although not much, on Hoover's role in establishing the FBI as a scientific crime-fighting force. The former agents describe him as being "married to the FBI" -- stern, dictatorial, an absolute monarch, a Puritan, a patriot, and a premiere civil servant. William Baker, a former agent, and Branon both said that the director was "not loved, but respected. He was like a priest, completely devoted to the Bureau, that was his whole life." Deloach and Gray also described him as a caring boss. Deloach tells the story of how Hoover picked up the expensive hospital bill incurred when his son was gravely ill. Gray remembers that as a young agent, he requested a meeting with the director while at a refresher course. Not only did Director Hoover meet with him for 55 minutes, but "he also knew everything my squad was doing. It was absolutely amazing."
These people see Hoover as a man of great vision who surrounded himself with knowledgeable people. The movie did show how Hoover made significant changes to law enforcement by being bold and innovative. Baker points out that Hoover recruited men who demonstrated leadership abilities: those who had previous military experience, lawyers, and accountants, at a time when many people did not have advanced degrees. Craig Dotlo, a former FBI agent, says that Hoover should be remembered for making sure "no cases got buried and fell through the cracks. He had the foresight to create and develop an incredible index system that retrieved and coordinated information about suspected criminals before the computer age. In addition, he had police departments send in fingerprints to make matches and identify criminals. He made use of the latest developments in science and technology." Deloach told American Thinker that he proposed that Hoover have a National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which the director had qualms over, "thinking it was a waste of funds. He made me prove to him the importance of it, and after that[, he] embraced it."
Marion Ramey, deputy assistant director of the FBI, felt that Hoover was ahead of his time, establishing in 1935 a forensic science program, implementing a Miranda-type warning, and establishing a professional training program. He created in 1932 the first technical lab, which was able to identify different blood types and offered those services to other law enforcement agencies. Ramey said FBI agents were required to warn suspects of their rights and were given the opportunity to hire an attorney. John Fox, the FBI historian, confirmed these facts, stating, "The FBI tried to go above what was expected before it was required. Take for example the acknowledgement that an arrestee had certain rights and should be made aware of those rights. Hoover also in the mid-1930s formalized a training program of agents and established the FBI National Academy, which was eventually centered in Quantico." Of course, the movie failed to mention these facts.
All interviewed agreed that Mr. Hoover had flaws and was not perfect, especially in his later years. However, even these imperfections have to be analyzed in the context of the period of time and not by today's standards. Dotlo's biggest criticism of Hoover is that there was no diversity in the FBI -- hardly any minorities, and no female agents.
Others like John Fox concede that Hoover might have misused civil liberties, but there is another side to the story. Fox noted, "Given what the FBI is charged with doing, having significant criminal investigations and national security responsibilities, the FBI is at the center of that balance between liberty and security." All the former agents believe, and many have seen the memos, that Attorney General Robert Kennedy was the one who ordered the wiretaps of Martin Luther King and signed the approval papers. During that time period, King's advisory board included members who were in the "underground Communist Party." If anything, Hoover can be faulted not for gathering intelligence from electronic surveillance, but for taking the personal information and floating it out to different powerful people in an attempt to damage King's reputation. Fox points out that before 1968 there was no provision in the law requiring a warrant to gather evidence, and that "Hoover minced no words, publicly stating that the FBI would use wiretaps to solve crimes and deal with national security measures. There was the attitude that this was acceptable."
Although Director Hoover did not have the FBI overtly protecting those in the civil rights movement, he did pursue anti-civil rights groups such as the KKK, which the movie mentioned only in passing. Baker, whose first assignment was to investigate the KKK in North Carolina, conveyed that Hoover detested that organization and wanted to limit its ability to function. Deloach also told of agents in Mississippi who were physically and emotionally threatened -- "[p]eople were trying to run agents over. Agents had rattlesnakes put in their cars. There was an incident where a coffin was carried up to an agent's house when his wife and children were home. The family was told that the agent was executed and his body was in the coffin. At Hoover's direction, we broke our backs trying to stop this group." All the agents agree with Fox, who said that Hoover was very effective against the Klan by "breaking down their ability to conduct terrorist activities in the South."
Was Hoover a glory-hound, as the movie portrayed? Hoover was the public face of the FBI. Deloach describes him as "the engineer in charge of the train. He stood up front when things went right but also was up front to take the slings and arrows." Baker puts it in historical perspective, noting that the DOJ in the 1930s wanted a face for fighting crime, and Hoover became that face since there was no separation in the public's mind between the FBI and Hoover. Fox also pointed out that within the Bureau, agents were recognized for their successes, but "[p]eople don't put names and faces to the true heroes. The FBI agent was almost iconic and thought of as a single entity."
All the agents agreed with Ramey, who saw Hoover as "a great American hero, a very strong and powerful director, that molded the FBI into a great organization that served the public well. It will be unfortunate that this movie is going to be young people's lasting impression of Director Hoover." It is a tribute to Mr. Hoover that he was able to obtain national and world respect for what the FBI accomplished -- something the movie neglected to emphasize.