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The KCBS reporter who informed for the FBI

Students being dragged down the stairs during the May 1960 HUAC protests [source: foundsf.org]

Students being dragged down the stairs during the May 1960 HUAC protests [source: foundsf.org]

I am reading Seth Rosenfeld’s extraordinary book Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. There are many radio references in the 734 page tome. Among the most interesting to me are mentions of KCBS radio reporter Dick Leonard, who offered “clandestine help” to the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the trial of Robert Meisenbach. The government accused this student of inciting a riot at House Un-American Activities Committee hearings held in San Francisco in 1960. Specifically, Meisenbach stood charged with leaping over a barricade, grabbing an officer’s billy club, assaulting him, then leading a cohort of college and high school kids on a rampage against HUAC.

The allegations turned out to be baseless. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover eventually admitted as much. “I am astounded,” Hoover confided to his close associate Clyde Tolson in a memorandum. “I have again & again been assured that our report was fool proof but . . . it certain looks as if we didn’t definitely tie down the Meisenbach incident.”

If anything, the police rioted against the students, there to protest HUAC’s increasingly controversial and unpopular investigations. Still, shortly after the inevitable not-guilty verdict arrived, Hoover could not resist ordering his agents to check the backgrounds of the jurors for irregularities.

Rosenfeld writes that FBI staff:

” . . . got clandestine help from the KCBS radio reporter Dick Leonard, a secret source for the bureau whose wife worked on the clerical staff of the San Francisco FBI office. Leonard interviewed two jurors and the judge about the case, asking questions that might elicit admissions of bias in favor of Meisenbach. He also questioned them about their stopping by the student’s victory party at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Leonard then interviewed the state attorney general as to whether their visits were improper. They were not, but he gave copies of his interview tapes to the FBI.”

According to the book, Leonard subsequently interviewed Vietnam Day Committee anti-war activists about their internal operations and turned those tapes over to the government as well. I doubt that Radio Survivor readers need a lecture on the impropriety of this sort of collaboration, but Kudos to Rosenfeld for bringing such mischief to light.

Here’s a Dick Leonard clip from the Bay Area Radio Museum’s KCBS page.


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2 Responses to The KCBS reporter who informed for the FBI

  1. Fred Krock October 30, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    This is NOT the first time reporters have traded tips with law enforcement.

  2. Matthew Lasar November 1, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Do tell!

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