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6 Famous Congressional Investigations


1. Delving into an Early Army Disaster

On November 4, 1791, some 900 U.S. army troops under the command of Gen. Arthur St. Clair, a Revolutionary War veteran, were killed or wounded in a surprise attack by Native American warriors on the Ohio frontier. The following year, in what was the new nation’s first congressional investigation, a House committee was formed to look into the debacle, which became known as St. Clair’s Defeat. As part of the investigation, the committee asked President George Washington for paperwork pertaining to his administration’s management of the failed expedition. The president questioned his cabinet about whether he had the right to refuse to hand over the information, and they advised him to submit the documents that “the public good would permit and ought to refuse those the disclosure of which would injure the public,” thereby establishing the principle of executive privilege. (Washington opted to give Congress the documents they requested.) When the investigation wrapped up, the committee placed much of the blame on the War and Treasury departments and exonerated St. Clair.

2. Investigating a Famous Shipwreck


On April 15, 1912, more than 1,500 people aboard the Titanic perished after it hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic. The Senate quickly formed a special subcommittee and subpoenaed surviving members of the Titanic crew, along with the chairman of the company that owned the ship, J. Bruce Ismay (who was aboard the doomed ocean liner but escaped on a lifeboat), before they could return to England. The hearings began on April 19 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, with Ismay the first of 82 witnesses called during the course of investigation, which lasted into late May. (The disaster hit close to home for two members of Congress: Sen. Benjamin Guggenheim lost a brother when the ship went down and Rep. James Anthony Hughes lost his son-in-law.) As a result of the investigation, Congress enacted various maritime-safety regulations. The 1997 movie “Titanic” generated such intense interest in the ship’s sinking that the following year a book publisher issued a reprint of the transcripts of the 1912 congressional hearings in their entirety.

3. Bringing Down a Cabinet Member for Bribery

In 1923, the Senate launched an investigation into the Teapot Dome scandal, which involved charges that Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall had secretly leased oil reserves on federally owned lands to two private oil companies in exchange for bribes. Fall was a U.S. senator from New Mexico when his friend President Warren Harding made him interior secretary in 1921. Afterward, Fall leased the Teapot Dome oilfield in Wyoming, along with oil reserves in California, without seeking competitive bids. President Harding died suddenly in August 1923 before the scandal and investigation fully played out; however, his reputation was tarnished by his interior secretary’s actions. In 1929, Fall was convicted of accepting a bribe and sentenced to a year behind bars. He had the dubious distinction of being the first U.S. citizen convicted of a crime committed while serving in the presidential Cabinet. The scandal led to important Supreme Court rulings in the 1920s that recognized the substantial power of Congressional investigative committees.

4. Fighting Waste in War Production

In early 1941, with World War II underway in Europe and America beefing up its national defense operations, Harry Truman, a senator and former small-business owner from Missouri, pushed for the formation of a congressional committee to investigate favoritism in how defense contracts were awarded. Formed that year, Truman’s committee found numerous instances of waste and corruption in defense manufacturing and spending. The committee’s efforts saved taxpayers billions of dollars, curbed graft and raised Truman’s national profile. When President Franklin Roosevelt ran for a fourth term in 1944, Truman was selected as his running mate, replacing Vice President Henry Wallace on the ticket. Less than three months after being sworn as veep in January 1945, Truman ascended to the White House when FDR died. Truman left the committee in 1944 when he was running for vice president, but the group continued its work. (Howard Hughes was called to testify about the use of government money to develop his “flying boat,” the Spruce Goose, which was intended for use in the war but instead made one brief test flight in 1947.) The committee officially disbanded in 1948.

5. Taking on Gangsters While the Nation Tuned in

In the early 1950s, growing concerns about the rise of organized crime in the U.S. sparked a Senate investigation that had millions of people glued to their TVs. Over the course of the inquiry, from 1950 to 1951, committee members, led by Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, visited 14 U.S. cities, interviewed hundreds of witnesses and uncovered evidence of links between gangsters and corrupt public officials. At a time when TV was rapidly gaining popularity, committee hearings were broadcast live and featured testimony from such memorable figures as mob boss Frank Costello and gangster Bugsy Siegel’s ex-girlfriend Virginia Hill. The investigation made Kefauver nationally famous and earned him the admiration of citizens across the country. (He made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and four years later was the running mate of presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, who lost to President Dwight Eisenhower.) While the high-profile inquiry boosted Americans’ awareness about organized crime, it resulted in little in the way of actual crime-related legislation.

6. Uncovering Illegal Spying on Americans

From 1975 to 1976, prompted by news reports that the CIA conducted a massive, illegal surveillance operation against anti-war activists and other dissident Americans, a Senate committee looked into allegations of intelligence-gathering abuses by the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency (NSA) and Internal Revenue Service. Headed by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, the sweeping investigation revealed a range of abuses carried out by intelligence agencies, including plotting to assassinate foreign leaders; illegally monitoring Americans’ mail and telegrams; trying to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into committing suicide and, in violation of a presidential order, stockpiling deadly shellfish toxin and cobra venom. The committee’s findings led to such reforms as the creation of the court formed under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).


Before Zuckerberg, These Six Corporate Titans Testified Before Congress

As Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about a privacy breach that allowed British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to collect data from some 87 million of the social network’s users, he becomes part of a long tradition of Congressional oversight of big business.

Zuckerberg is hardly the first Silicon Valley executive to appear before Congress as part of a larger mea culpa. In 2007, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang faced congressional reproach for his company’s role in the jailing of Chinese journalist Shi Tao. A few years later, Google’s then-chairman, Eric Schmidt, testified before a Senate antitrust panel in response to concerns around the company’s business practices and unprecedented power to control the access and flow of information.

Tales of remorseful industry tycoons testifying under oath are hardly new. Here are six other meetings between famous business leaders and congressional committees.

1. Andrew Carnegie testifies before the Stanley Steel Committee

In January 1912, Andrew Carnegie appeared before Kentucky Senator Augustus Stanley as part of an antitrust investigation into U.S. Steel. The magnate was in the twilight of his life his position in American industry was long established. A little more than a decade earlier, his Carnegie Steel Company had consolidated with other major businesses to create an industrial behemoth: U.S. Steel, the first billion-dollar corporation in United States history.

But the anti-monopoly fervor would not stand for such an enormous company, and Stanley, considered a champion of the Progressive Era, chaired the proceedings. They began on a whimsical note, with Stanley apologizing to Carnegie for asking him to stand as a witness. His response was a source of much laughter on the floor: “I was delighted to get that official document to hand down to my heirs. The signature of Chairman Stanley will count for something.”

By the following day, the sweet atmosphere had curdled into sour congressional resentment. Carnegie declared he was “blissfully ignorant” of the financial arrangements that prompted U.S. Steel’s merger and went as far as to say he “never saw the inside of a book of the Carnegie Steel Company.” After another day of fruitless hearings, one congressman could not hide his exasperation: “We have been sitting here for two days and have learned nothing.”

Stanley may have won praise for his incisive character–one early report declared he could “pick a man’s pocket with his eyes”– but he could not crack Carnegie. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of U.S. Steel. Even though Carnegie did not live to see the final decision, the ever-artful steel magnate had gotten the last laugh long before.

2. J.P. Morgan defends Wall Street

A political cartoon making light of Morgan's famous line from his hearing. (Wikimedia Commons)

On December 19 and 20, 1912, the famed banker and “Money-King” John Pierpont Morgan appeared before the Pujo Committee in New York’s marbled city hall. Tasked with investigating the scope and power of Wall Street’s wealthiest members, counsel to the committee Samuel Untermyer faced down the famously brusque and laconic businessman with a deliberate and unrelenting line of questions.

While Morgan contended that the “money monopoly” advanced by the Committee was an impossibility, he admitted to quashing competition among railroad lines at the same time he declared liking “a little competition.” In another famous moment, Morgan argued his banking house assumed no legal responsibility for the value bonds it issued. Instead, “it assumes something else that is still more important, and that is the moral responsibility which has to be defended as long as you live.” Morgan would go on to wrongly suggest that he had “not the slightest” control over any department or industry in America and did not even have “final authority” on decisions made by the company he directly oversaw.

Despite Morgan’s poor and somewhat arrogant showing, Untermyer and the Pujo Committee, named after the Louisiana congressman who chaired it, could not prove their grand economic conspiracy. Still, they revealed a tangled mess of involvement: 78 major corporations banked with Morgan, controlling billions of dollars in capital and significant positions of power on many boards. In response to the hearings, President Wilson would sign the Federal Reserve Act, freeing the federal government of its reliance on Morgan and his allies. More broadly, Untermyer’s masterful cross-examination led to a rise in public support for the 16th Amendment and the Clayton Antitrust Act. On a more somber note, perhaps, Morgan’s son and other bank executives later claimed that Untermyer’s inquisition led to his father’s death just a few months later in March 1913.

3. John D. Rockefeller Jr. reckons with the Ludlow Massacre

J.D. Rockefeller, Jr. takes the stand before Congress. (Library of Congress)

Between 1913 and 1915, the Senate Commission on Industrial Relations conducted a sweeping examination of labor conditions in the United States, calling forth hundreds of witnesses from the across the nation. Led by Frank Walsh, a former child factory worker and fiery labor attorney, the Commission interrogated many American business tycoons, including oil kingpin John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Although Walsh’s examinations were far-ranging, he was especially interested in the Ludlow massacre, a confrontation between a group of miners and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, a firm owned by the Rockefeller family. The previous April, members of Colorado’s National Guard had set fire to tents where striking miners were living with their family and fired machine guns into the camp. Nineteen people died in the resulting events, including 12 children. Armed warfare erupted and President Woodrow Wilson had to send federal troops to finally restore order.

The violence triggered a national scandal: protests broke out across cities from San Francisco to New York. Before one hearing on the events in Colorado, a witness said Rockefeller had committed treason and should face murder charges. Yet Rockefeller showed nothing but restraint during his testimony, with The New York Times characterizing him as “wary and bland” during the long hearings. Despite subsequent examinations, Rockefeller remained poised, even as Walsh accused him of having direct knowledge of the strike and directing its outcomes.

By the time the Commission prepared its final report in 1916, disagreement abounded its eight members published three different sets of conclusions and recommendations. Still, some historians say the events proved an inspiration for the New Deal programs advanced by Franklin Roosevelt a few decades later and describe Ludlow as a pivotal event in American labor history.

4. Joseph Bruce Ismay faces the Senate following the sinking of the Titanic

Senate Investigating Committee questions Joseph Bruce Ismay, a figure at the center of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. (Library of Congress)

Less than a week after the sinking of the RMS Titanic, both houses of Congress launched sweeping investigations into the tragedy. On April 19, the first day of hearings, Joseph Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of White Star Line, the company that built the ship, came before a committee led by Senator William Smith.

In his opening remarks, Ismay announced that “We court the fullest inquiry. We have nothing to conceal nothing to hide.” But across multiple days of hearings, Ismay consistently abnegated himself of responsibility for the ship’s sinking, dodged questions on the specifics of building schematics, and boldly claimed that the Titanic had enough lifeboats for every passenger (it didn’t). Subsequent depositions challenged his remarks and the American popular press castigated him as spineless and rapacious for putting his life ahead of women and children (Back in Britain, his critics were kinder one weekly newspaper called him a “tragic figure.”) The towns of Ismay in Texas and Montana even debated changing their name to avoid any potential connection to the man.

One Boston historian summed up the popular sentiment with this bit of invective: “Ismay is responsible for the lack of lifeboats, he is responsible for the captain who was so reckless, for the lack of discipline of the crew … In the face of all this he saves himself, leaving fifteen hundred men and women to perish. I know nothing at once so cowardly and so brutal in recent history.”

Although Senator Smith could not prove the negligence of the large companies he so reviled, Ismay would face the consequences of the Titanic’s sinking for the rest of his life his trial in the court of the public opinion left an infamous and indelible mark.

5. Tobacco’s biggest names before the Waxman Committee

In an unprecedented 1994 hearing, the seven CEOs behind America’s largest tobacco companies appeared before the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. Recent public outcry, led by prominent campaigns in California and Florida spurred the business leaders to fear that the government might try to ban cigarettes outright. The executives faced more than six hours of grueling questioning from an altogether unsympathetic committee. During these examinations, they admitted that cigarettes could lead to health problems, but denied claims that they were addictive.

"As a matter of fact, it is too hard to smoke, and doesn't taste very good," said William Campbell, the president and chief executive of Phillip Morris, the company that manufacturers Virginia Slims.

While the transparency was surprising, few found the arguments convincing. “They are unbelievably smug,” wrote Diane Steinle, in an editorial for the Tampa Bay Times. “They don't blush, though they must know that their denials are without credence. They just continue to act as if smoking cigarettes were equivalent to sucking on a pacifier.”

In response, the Justice Department launched an investigation hoping to prove that the executives had made illegal misrepresentations about nicotine’s addictive properties. Over the following months, the Justice Department would allude to perjury, but executives tended to couch their statements in a way that made it difficult to prove such charges.

Still, the government issued subpoenas to company executives and convened a grand jury to interview witnesses. By 1996, all seven of the tobacco industrialists had left the business in response to the probe. Two years later, four of these tobacco companies agreed to pay $246 billion over a period of 25 years, still the largest civil-litigation suit in history. In addition to the massive payment, the agreement made significant changes to advertising and marketing restrictions, including banning cartoon characters and promotions on billboards.

6. Kenneth Lay’s audible silence during Enron’s plunge

It should come as little surprise that some congressional hearings result in no disclosures of significance. In 2001, Enron, one of America’s 10 largest companies, collapsed in what the New York Times editorial board declared “the most spectacular corporate demise ever.” In the following months, multiple senior members of Enron invoked the Fifth Amendment, including former CEO and Chairman, Kenneth Lay.

On February 12, 2002, he appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to face more than an hour of furious remarks from senators. “The anger here is palpable,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. “We are all reduced to a sense of futility.”

Lay sat through the proceedings unmoved, only speaking to deliver his prepared statement. “I come here today with a profound sadness about what has happened to Enron, its current and former employees, retirees, shareholders, and other stakeholders. I've also wanted to respond, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, to the questions you and your colleagues have about the collapse of Enron. I have, however, been instructed by my counsel not to testify.” He continued by asking for individuals “not to draw any negative inference because I am asserting my Fifth Amendment.”

His plea didn’t stop the public from making their discontent known. “These men apparently have lied, cheated and stolen, and they have done so with an air of entitlement that should freeze the blood of every hardworking American,” wrote one woman from Tampa, Florida, to The Washington Post.

“Until proven otherwise, Mr. Lay is legally innocent -- but without a doubt he's guilty of a host of outrages against our collective sense of decency. Let him squirm,” added Gary Parker in a letter to the editor, also to the Post. Despite the outrage, Lay would not spend a day in prison: He died in June 2006 while on vacation, about a month after he his conviction for 10 counts of fraud, conspiracy and lying to banks.

About Daniel Fernandez

Daniel Fernandez is an editorial intern at Smithsonian magazine. He studies journalism and history at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.


Top 25 most famous librarians in history

I saw this list of the 25 most famous librarians to ever live on the Books Inq. blog and thought you might enjoy it too.

1. Ben Franklin: Ben Franklin didn’t sit behind a circulation desk and help college kids find research materials, but he is still a legitimate librarian. In 1731, Franklin and his philosophy group Junto organized the “Articles of Agreement,” which set up the nation’s first library. Their library, called The Library Company, was first meant to benefit only the members of Junto, so that they could share books on the issues they discussed during meetings. It was organized as a subscription library, and members of Junto payed a small fee to retrieve books.
Franklin was actually the second librarian, and the Company grew to include more books than most university libraries at the time, plus artifacts like coins and fossils. Over time, The Library Company granted access to members of the Second Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention and others.

2. Melvil Dewey: Founder of the Dewey Decimal System, Melvil Dewey was born in New York in 1851. While a student at Amherst College, he worked in the school library to support his living expenses and stayed on as a librarian after graduation. After experimenting with different cataloging and organization methods for library collections, Amherst College published his work A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library. Dewey has been named the “Father of Modern Librarianship” and even helped created the American Library Association in 1876.

3. Eratosthenes: The Greek scholar Eratosthenes discovered the system of latitude and longitude and made significant contributions to astronomy. Eratosthenes was also the chief librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria.

4. Saint Lawrence: As one of the patron saints of librarians, Saint Lawrence, or Lawrence of Rome, was a Catholic deacon who was killed by the Romans in 258 for refusing to turn over the collection of Christian treasures and documents he was entrusted to protect.

5. Mao Zedong: Mao Zedong, the man responsible for uniting China during the 1940s and 50s when he organized the People’s Republic of China, was a librarian. In 1918, Mao lived in Peking China as a young man, he was as assistant librarian at Peking University. The chief librarian at Peking University was a Marxist, and succeeded in converting Mao to communism.

6. Seyd Mohammad Khatami: Seyd Mohammad Khatami was the fifth president of Iran and a former Iran Minister of Culture. He is also a former head of the National Library and Archives Organisation of Iran. He is considered to be a reformist in Iranian culture and politics, supporting freedom of expression and foreign diplomacy.

7. Golda Meir: Golda Meir was the fourth prime minister of Israel, from 1969-1974. She was also one of the twenty-four who signed the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948 am ambassador to the Soviet Union Minister of Labour from 1949-1956, and the inspiration for the Broadway play Golda, which starred Anne Bancroft. Before her distinguished political career, however, Golda Meir worked as a librarian.

8. J. Edgar Hoover: As the legendary director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover led domestic investigations from 1924-1972, as head of the Bureau of Investigation and when he founded the FBI in 1935. In his early life, however, Hoover went to night school at George Washington University and supported himself by working at the Library of Congress. There, he was a messenger, cataloguer and clerk. In 1919, Hoover left the Library of Congress and worked as a special assistant to the Attorney General.

9. John J. Beckley: John J. Beckley is recognized as being the first political campaign manager in the U.S. He was also the first Librarian of the United States Congress, serving from 1802-1807. In 1789, he was sponsored by James Madison to be the Clerk of the House and supported the new Republic party in 1792, backed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

10. Giacomo Casanova: The infamous spy, writer, diplomat and lover Casanova was born in Venice during the first half of the 18th century. Although he studied to become a priest at the University of Padua and the seminary of St. Cypria, Casanova is well-known for being a drinker and for having scandalous love affairs with numerous women. Later in life, he worked as a librarian for the Count of Waldstein in Dux, Bohemia.

11. Pope Pius XI, or Achille Ratti: Pope Pius XI served from 1929 -1939, during which time he established the feast of Christ the King and spoke out against social justice crimes and unethical financial corruption practices. Before he became pope, Ratti was a librarian and scholar, and at the Vatican, Pope Pius XI famously reorganized the archives.
Scholars, Artists and Philosophers

12. David Hume: Scotsman David Hume contributed greatly to 18th century philosophy and economics, writing important works like Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and A Treatise on Human Nature. He was an anti-Mercantilist, and according to The New School, Hume “was also one of the better articulators of the Quantity Theory and the neutrality of money.” In 1752, Hume became a librarian at the Advocate’s Library in Edinburgh, where he wrote his famous History of England.

13. Marcel Duchamp: Marcel Duchamp is considered to be one of the most significant and influential modern artists of the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Duchamp was born in the Haute-Normandie region in France, where he took drawing and painting classes as a child. In the early 1900s, Duchamp experimented with Cubism, nude works, and was active in the intellectual and artistic groups influencing the newest culture and trends in Paris at the time. Around 1912, Duchamp became tired of painting and worked as a librarian at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genvieve, during which he devoted his time to math and physics experiments.

14. Lewis Carroll: The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Dodgson grew up in Cheshire and Yorkshire, England, and after graduating from Oxford with a B.A. in mathematics, he became a sub-librarian at Christ Church there. He left that position in 1857 to become a Mathematical Lecturer. Dodgson first told the story of Alice Adventures in Wonderland to the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, in 1862. The book was published three years later and continues to be a popular and significant work of fiction today.

15. Beverly Cleary: Popular children’s book author Beverly Cleary wrote the Ramona Quimby books and Henry Higgins books and has received three Newbery Medals. But before she became a celebrated author, Beverly grew up in a tiny town in Oregon, where her mother asked the State Library to send books to their farm. During the Depression, Beverly went to junior college in California and later attended the University of California at Berkeley. She then attended the School of Librarianship at the University of Washington, Seattle, and became a children’s librarian.

16. Laura Bush: Former First Lady Laura Bush earned her Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin after working as an elementary school teacher. As the First Lady of Texas, she supported George W. Bush’s campaigns and started her own public projects regarding education and literacy. When George W. Bush became President of the United States, Laura supported librarian recruitment initiatives and toured many libraries around the world.

17. Madeleine L’Engle: American author Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is still a popular book among junior high students and almost like a rite of passage for young fiction readers. She has won multiple Newbery Medals and other awards, but later in life, she served as the librarian and writer-in-residence at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

18. Marcel Proust: At once one of the most celebrated and obscure novelists and critics of all time, Marcel Proust once decided to go to school to become a librarian. The French writer was born in 1871, and his most famous work, In Search of Lost Time is still studied today.

19. Jorge Luis Borges: Jorge Luis Borges is an Argentine writer who made significant contributions to fantasy literature in the 20th century. He shared the International Publishers’ Formentor Prize with Samuel Beckett and was a municipal librarian from 1939-1946 in Argentina, before getting fired by the Peron regime. One of his most famous short stories, “The Library of Babel,” depicts the universe as a huge library.

20. Joanna Cole: Joanna Cole’s The Magic School Bus series has served to educate and entertain elementary-aged children about the human body, space, and more. She has also worked as a librarian, a schoolteacher, book editor and writer/producer of the BBC children’s TV show Bod.

21. Jacob Grimm: Grimms’ Fairy Tales was first published in 1812, but the stories, including “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella,” and “Snow White,” are still classic children’s stories constantly reinvented as plays, Disney movies and more. Jacob Grimm worked as a librarian in Kasel, after graduating with a law degree. During this time, Jacob and his brother Wilhelm collected German folk tales from ordinary citizens in hopes of uniting area kingdoms on the basis of sharing a similar culture.

22. Philip Larkin: English poet Philip Larkin was born in 1922 in Coventry. He began publishing poems in 1940 and was even offered the Poet Laureateship of England after the death of Sir John Betjeman, but he declined. Besides writing poetry and novels, Larkin worked as an assistant librarian at the University College of Leicester, a librarian at the University of Hull and was elected to the Board of the British Library in 1984, the same year he received an honorary D.Litt. from Oxford.

23. Stanley Kunitz: Stanley Kunitz is a celebrated American poet who was named the United States Poet Laureate in 2000. He has also been awarded a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Levinson Prize, the National Medal of the Arts, and more. Before being named the U.S. Poet Laureate, Kunitz was Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress from 1974-1976.

24. Jessamyn West: Jessamyn West is taking information science into the future with her website, librarian.net. Besides creating the Library 2.0 and “cool librarian” site, West served on the American Library Association Council and strongly promotes the freedom of speech and expression.

25. Nancy Pearl: Nancy Pearl is kind of like a celebrity librarian. She has an action figure and travels around the country giving lectures and spreading the good news of books. She started the trend of city-wide book clubs when she organized the “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” program in 1998. She also has a Women’s National Book Association Award, served as Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book, and wrote an immensely popular, best-selling book called Book Lust.


Sex, Violence and Satan: 6 Unbelievably Dumb Congressional Hearings

In the wake of last December's school shooting, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) has proposed yet another congressional study on violent video games (he's joined in his effort by Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns). Such studies are typically accompanied by hearings where members of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body get to lecture and threaten artists and businesspeople in a display of bipartisan backslapping, all for the benefit of national TV cameras that would normally not pay much interest to the Senate Commerce Committee.

Blaming pop culture for America's societal ills has been a staple of hearings for decades, where the First Amendment is usually regarded as an archaic nuisance, parental responsibility is considered an impossible task, and everything from serial killers to suicide to deviant sex gets been blamed on artists whose work seems silly and campy with just a few years of hindsight.

On occasion, devil's advocates such as John Denver, Frank Zappa, and Dee Snider, have been invited to testify on free expression's behalf. They're commonly met with snide insults from lawmakers, who bristle at the mention of the word censorship.

As Congress gears up for another round of scare-mongering grandstanding, Reason TV presents "Sex, Violence and Satan: 6 Unbelievably Dumb Congressional Censorship Hearings."

In 2001 (2:27), the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's held a hearing on Children and Media Violence, where several representatives fretted over the music of Eminem, and Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) offered up an absurd anecdote about how Popeye cartoons caused his young son to commit a wanton act of violence.

In 1997 (3:01), during a Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs hearing on the Social Impact of Media Violence, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and others spent a lot of time talking about Marilyn Manson, explicitly blaming the band's music for a teenager's suicide and declaring them (along with Tupac Shakur, Cannibal Corpse and Snoop Doggy Dogg) to be the musical equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theatre. For good measure, Lieberman also castigated Hilary Rosen, then-president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for failing to acknowledge in her testimony just "how terrible this music is."

Also in 1997 (4:09), The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on the ineffectiveness of the TV ratings system they had recently imposed on the industry. Presented as evidence were clips of Friends and Beverly Hills, 90210, testimony from Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) on how a violent television show gave one of his sons nightmares, and the direct threat ("Don't force us to legislate!") from Lieberman to the TV industry. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), most recently seen defending unauthorized bombings of Libya and other foreign countries during his confirmation hearings to become Secretary of State, suggested a "pre-see," where the scripts of all television shows would be "printed in the papers" so people could judge the content of the show before they watched it.

In 1993 (5:34), Joe Lieberman and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs took on the scourge of ultra-realistic 16-bit video games and plastic toys. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and a Nintendo "Super Scope" were exhibited as evidence. A visibly distressed Lieberman said that the Nintendo game accessory "looks like an assault weapon."

Also in 1993 (6:05), Attorney General Janet Reno responded to mail from elementary school students begging her to end violent programming during the Senate Commerce Committee's hearing on Violence in Television Programming. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) lauded MTV's decision to move its hit show Beaver and Buffcoat (he meant Beavis and Butt-head) to a later time slot. Such action, said Hollings (who admitted he had never watched the cartoon), was evidence of the effectiveness of the hearings "we've been having for 40 years."

In 1985 (7:15), Tipper Gore, the wife of then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.), Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker, and several other well-connected "Washington wives," founded the Parents Music Research Council (PMRC). The PMRC used their husband's bully pulpits to hold hearings on the dangers of "Porn Rock."

This most famous of hearings led directly to the "Warning: Parental Advisory" labels affixed to album covers (remember those?) and also featured memorable confrontations between Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and Sen. Gore, a passionate defense of the First Amendment by Frank Zappa, extended discussions about Satanism in heavy metal and Dungeons and Dragons, and unintentionally hilarious recitations of lyrics from artists as diverse as Prince, KISS, and scat-rockers The Mentors.

Written and Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

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4 The Eggnog Riot of West Point

Founded in 1802, the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York is the oldest military academy in America. In 1826, the head of the Academy was Sylvanus Thayer, the military equivalent of the crusty, old, fun-hating dean from a college comedy. Thayer decided that, to elevate the institution to greatness, he first had to enhance discipline, decorum, and academic achievement, all of which shared a common enemy: alcohol.

So he did the unthinkable, and decreed that alcohol was forbidden on academy grounds, even at the cadets' traditional eggnog-fueled Christmas boozefest. Faced with the threat of a safe and sober Christmas, the cadets simply smuggled in four gallons of whiskey and got drunk in their dorms.

Completely unsupervised, the cadets drank with a zeal that would kill an Irish fraternity. Captain Hitchcock, one of the teachers on watch duty, tried to knock down the door of one of the party rooms, only to have a cadet pull out his personal sidearm and try to shoot the teacher. And then the party hit that turning point where everybody stops having fun and the drama starts. Cadets stopped hilariously rolling down the halls, using the walls, furniture, and windows as bayonet practice, and started ripping up banisters and chopped up stairs to defend against a non-existent siege by the authorities.

By Christmas morning, the hungover and half-naked cadets were finally ready to retire and anoint their bedroom floors with the eggnog curdling in their stomachs, only to discover that they had pretty much destroyed the entire North Barracks overnight. Thayer was not in the Christmas spirit, and a random selection of 19 of the drunkest offenders were expelled. Students at the time included Confederate figures Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. By luck of the draw, they were not among the banished and went on to graduate with honors. Which means if one crusty, old dean had been just a little more severe in his punishment, the Civil War might have played out a whole lot differently.

Related: Cracked Round-Up: Margaritas and Eggnog Edition


6 Famous Writers Inspired by the Occult

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The occult makes many of us feel uncomfortable, perhaps because we’re so hardwired as humans to hate uncertainty. Yet writing, like life in general, is full of uncertainties often there’s no saying what words or images will enter our strange minds and work their way onto the blank page in front of us. Whether you’re writing about demonic possession or a fictional character growing up in suburbia, writing is an inherently mysterious process. To understand it better and learn more about their sense of self, many writers, artists and thinkers have looked to the occult, that strange territory between art and science.

The late Victorian period is largely remembered as a period of disenchantment, but it also witnessed a revival of occult and magical belief. In the drive for modernity came a crisis of faith people sought new means of spiritual development, of communicating with the dead and manipulating reality. As spoils from the far flung reaches of the British Empire returned to the British Museum, including the Rosetta Stone, new and established beliefs and practices (re)-emerged.

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930)

Like his character Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle was a man of reason. He was a trained doctor and a celebrated author in the most logical genre of fiction. Yet he also became a prominent public proponent of spiritualism, a new religious movement whose adherents believed the spirit survived death, and could be contacted through séances. Spiritualists found comfort in the belief that death was only the death of the material self.

Like Charles Dickens, Doyle was a member of The Ghost Club, a paranormal research organization.

Deaths in his family, including the death of his son in 1918 during the Battle of the Somme, and his brother in 1919 of pneumonia, likely reinforced his beliefs, though Doyle became a spiritualist before these bereavements. In earlier life, like many of his contemporaries, he dabbled in mesmerism and expressed interest in other esoteric ideas, but according to biographer Christopher Sandford he may have politely turned down an invitation to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Like Charles Dickens, Doyle was also a member of The Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation and research organization. In 1983, Doyle joined the British Society for Psychical Research, and in 1925, he became president of The College of Psychic Studies in London, an institution which still opens its doors to students eager to develop spiritual awareness.

Bram Stoker (1847–1912)

Some say Bram Stoker was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Whether or not the rumors are true, he was likely exposed to some of the order’s ideas through friends who were, including J. W. Brodie-Innis and Pamela Coleman Smith.

We learn little of Count Dracula’s early life, but we know he had a deep knowledge of alchemy and black magic. Like many writers of his era, Bram Stoker was likely familiar with mesmerism, or animal magnetism. Based on the theories of Austrian doctor Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), mesmerism claimed that practitioners could manipulate a “universal fluid” that ran through all matter. It piqued the curiosity of several prominent scientists, and for a while “caused not a few Victorians to re-evaluate traditional magic,” writes Thomas Waters in Cursed Britain. Among Count Dracula’s supernatural abilities are telepathy, the power of illusions and hypnosis, likely derived from this widespread belief in mesmerism. Philip Holden notes “it is difficult to find a late Victorian novel that does not in some way touch upon hypnotism, possession, somnambulism, or the paranormal.”

To literature scholar Christine Ferguson, the clearest occult borrowings in Dracula are structural. Professor Abraham Van Helsing enlists a team of vampire hunters, who swear an initiatory oath of secrecy in order to gain the tools necessary for fighting against vampirism, or black magic. This process of concealing and revealing occult knowledge, says religious studies scholar Kocku Von Stuckrad, is an integral part of Western occultism.

One reading of Dracula: Modernity cannot kill vampires or their hunters, or the connections humans have with the old gods and spirits. It just turns them into secret occult beliefs, practiced underground, from which only a select few have the tools and knowledge to defend themselves.

W. B. Yeats (1865–1939)

In 1891, “a neurotic German” named Mrs Ellis banned W. B. Yeats from her Bedford Park home because she thought he was bewitching her husband Edwin Ellis, with whom Yeats collaborated. She may well have been right.

Most significant for Yeats was his time in the secret initiatory order The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn.

Yeats was one of his era’s great searchers. Inspired by Irish folk tales and the work of Blake and Swedenborg, he studied Eastern and Western religions, joined the Theosophical Society, and in later life explored spiritualism. Most significant for Yeats, perhaps, was his time in the secret initiatory order The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn. Initiates (among which were Annie Horniman, Florence Farr, Arthur Machen, Aleister Crowley and allegedly E. Nesbit), worked their way through levels of magical study and practiced ceremonial magic in pursuit of the “hidden knowledge.” The curriculum drew from multiple antique sources, including medieval grimoires, tarot, papyri from the British Museum, freemasonry, the work of Elizabethan alchemist and astrologer John Dee, and an 1887 book written by the order’s co-founder MacGregor Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled.

Writers and critics mocked Yeats for his fascination with the uncanny, often distinguishing the poet from the magician. Among them, Terry Eagleton in the [London] Independent wrote: “Yeats was a lot sillier than most of us. Few poets of comparable greatness have believed such extravagant nonsense.” But in 1892 Yeats wrote this in a letter to his mentor John O’Leary: “The mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.”

Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) & Ted Hughes (1930–1998)

In a letter to her mother dated October 23, 1956, Sylvia Plath wrote that when she and Ted Hughes moved in together, they hoped to make a team “better than Mr. And Mrs Yeats.” He would be the astrologer, she wrote, while she would read the tarot.

In the early days of their relationship, Plath was curious about Hughes’s knowledge of astrology. (Years later, during a visit to his family home in Yorkshire in 1960, she heard the rumors about his mother Edith, who—according to Plath’s biographer Paul Alexander—”studied magic and passed the knowledge on to her children.”)

She and Ted regularly consulted a homemade Ouija board they’d made from a wine glass, cut-out letters, and a coffee table. Through private seances they met many spirits, among which were Keva, Pan, and G.A, Alexander tells us the latter suggested he could predict the weekly football pool, but ultimately got it wrong. The spirits were more helpful in providing artistic inspiration. Plath’s verse poem Dialogue over a Ouija board: a Verse Dialogue, Hughes claimed, was basically a transcript of a conversation he and she had with spirits Sibyl and Leroy. Plath thought the poem so obscure that it wasn’t published until after her death in Collected Poems.

Plath made a ritual bonfire from Ted’s fingernails, dandruff, and manuscripts.

In 1962 Hughes left Plath for another woman. Plath made a ritual bonfire from Ted’s fingernails, dandruff, and manuscripts. Here the history becomes mythical: some say she did this to kill her cheating husband—an act of witchcraft. Her poem “Burning the Letters” suggests she was trying to ascertain the name of Ted’s lover. By some accounts, a single piece of paper fell by her foot revealing the name. According to Ted Hughes biographer Elaine Feinstein, the woman telephoned their house once the bonfire was lit, and Plath answered. Either way, soon after lighting the fire, Plath learnt the other woman was Assia Wevill.

Reaching out to another world, or the lower reaches of her internal world, helped Plath write some of her best poems. As the poet Al Alvarez writes, perhaps this also came at a cost. With a history of mental illness and one prior suicide attempt, Plath had already been to hell and back—but Hughes’s own demons may have helped Plath sink further into the darker chambers of her mind.

William S. Burroughs (1914–1997)

William S. Burroughs was obsessed with finding order in the chaos. In pursuit of visions, he scried in mirrors and experimented with psychedelics and other drugs, which he documents in The Yage letters. He explored aforementioned animal magnetism in his first published essay. He also accidentally killed his wife when drunk. (His explanation? Demonic possession—he was being controlled by the “Ugly Spirit.” He always sought, as “order addicts” tend to do, an explanation for the seemingly unexplainable).

From the Dadaists and Surrealists, Burroughs borrowed and helped popularize the cut-up method, whereby he would cut up a complete text and rearrange the pieces to create a new one. In his science fiction series The Nova Trilogy, he explored his obsession with control and addiction and explained how and why he employed this method. He aimed to destroy “word and image locks,” which he believed enter, shape, and control our minds by locking us into conventional patterns of thinking, and keeping us trapped in a false reality. The Ticket That Exploded (1962) is the second book in the trilogy, and in it Burroughs introduces the concept that language “is a virus from outer space.” He tells us “modern man has lost the opportunity of silence,” and challenges us to “Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence … You will encounter an organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word. In the beginning was the word. In the beginning of what exactly?”

The cutup method, he believed, could free us from this language virus by exposing a true, hidden meaning. This he believed could break down our conception of time, among other things:

When you experiment with cut-ups over a period of time you find that some of the cut-ups in re-arranged texts seemed to refer to future events. I cut-up an article written by John-Paul Getty and got, “It’s a bad thing to sue your own father.” This was a re-arrangement and wasn’t in the original text, and a year later, one of his sons did sue him…Perhaps events are pre-written and pre-recorded and when you cut word lines the future leaks out.

Shirley Jackson (1916–1965)

Jackson’s dark, psychologically unsettling plots were not born out of dark nights in gothic mansions in the woods she imagined many of them in the drudgery of domesticity. “The Lottery” was one such story, conjured up while running errands in her ordinary town. It was so shocking to readers of the New Yorker at the time that many cancelled their subscriptions. Jackson had a knack for seeing and exposing everyday evil.

Jackson was marketed as a witch by her first publisher, who wrote that ‘Miss Jackson writes not with a pen but a broomstick.’

Unsurprising, then, that she was marketed as a witch by her first publisher, Roger Strauss, who wrote that “Miss Jackson writes not with a pen but a broomstick,” and by her husband, who wrote of Jackson in the biographical note to accompany The Road in the Wall: “…She is an authority on witchcraft and magic, has a remarkable private library of works in English on the subject, and is perhaps the only contemporary writer who is a practicing amateur witch, specializing in small-scale black magic and fortune-telling with a Tarot deck…” This was a persona Jackson sometimes wore with zeal, sometimes denied.

Did this private library really exist? Jackson knew well the history of the Salem witch trials. In her non-fiction work the Witchcraft of Salem Village she showed how the town fell into mass hysteria, pinning the blame for its troubles on a number of women and some men, all trialled, some executed. Scapegoating, reminiscent of witch hunts, is a recurring theme in her works, including her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle and her short story “The Lottery.”

Her biographer Ruth Franklin tells us Jackson also read tarot cards. The protagonist of her novel Hangsaman, Natalie Waite, is an obvious nod to the maker of the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith deck, conceived by the occultist Arthur E. Waite and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith. The novel draws on the symbolism of a card from the major arcana, The Hanged Man, which can indicate spiritual transformation.

Seeing reality from the perspective of the hanged man is central to Jackson’s fiction. In a lecture on writing (“Experience and Fiction in the posthumous collection Come Along with me), Jackson wrote: “I like writing fiction better than anything, because just being a writer of fiction gives you an absolutely unassailable protection against reality nothing is ever seen clearly or starkly, but always through a thin veil of words.” Franklin emphasises that “…on some level writing was a form of witchcraft to Jackson—a way to transform everyday life into something rich and strange, something more than it appeared to be.”


40 years ago, Church Committee investigated Americans spying on Americans

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Church Committee calling CIA Director William Colby to testify on revelations that U.S. intelligence agencies had engaged in controversial covert action against foreign leaders and U.S. citizens. Chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), the committee held a series of hearings and published 14 reports as it investigated the legality of intelligence operations by the CIA, NSA, and FBI, including attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, spying on Martin Luther King, Jr., and monitoring the political activities of other U.S. citizens. Today, the reforms put in place following the Church Committee hearings are up for discussion in the wake of the Edward Snowden intelligence leaks and the revelation of how much data the government, especially the NSA, was collecting on U.S. citizens.

Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Stuart Taylor, Jr. detailed the history of U.S. government surveillance programs, and the Church Committee’s response, in his Brookings Essay, “The Big Snoop: Life, liberty, and the Pursuit of Terrorists,” writing that:

The Church Committee’s investigations also led to passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. The FISA court was originally designed to guard executive branch surveillance programs from the public while ensuring the other branches of government could oversee activities.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, attitudes toward government surveillance changed. “ The emergence of this new menace to America and its allies,” Taylor wrote in his essay, “brought an upsurge in political and public support for aggressive surveillance of potential terrorists, and a muting of the concerns that had arisen in the 1970s about the past sins and excessive zeal of U.S. intelligence agencies.”

In the summer of 2013, the original concerns that led to the Church Committee returned to the fore as Edward Snowden, in Taylor’s words, “became the poster boy for an acutely American conundrum: the tension between the government’s constitutional commitment to the privacy of individuals and its responsibility for the safety of the nation.”


Watergate Scandal Timeline

On September 29, it was revealed that Attorney General & Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell had controlled a secret Republican fund used to pay for spying on the Democrats. On October 10, the FBI reported that the break-in at the Watergate was part of a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage on behalf of the officials and heads of the Nixon re-election campaign. Despite these revelations, Nixon's re-election was never seriously jeopardized, and on November 7 the President was re-elected in one of the biggest landslides ever in American political history.

Watergate Burglars' Trial Begins
On January 8, 1973, the five burglars plead guilty as their trial began. On January 30, just ten days after Richard Nixon's second inauguration, Liddy and McCord were convicted on charges conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping. Nixon had dodged a bullet in the months between the break-in and his re-election, but the Watergate Scandal did not die out after the burglars were tried.

[Photo: left to right: Virgilio Gonzales, Frank Sturgis, attorney Henry Rothblatt, Bernard Barker, and Eugenio Martinez].


Nixon's 1st Watergate Address, 4/30/73

On May 18, 1973, Watergate Burglar James McCord testified before the Senate Committee [ James McCord testimony excerpt 1 | excerpt 2 ].

On May 19, 1973, Archibald Cox was appointed Special Prosecutor to oversee the investigation into possible presidential impropriety. He was sworn in on May 25.

On May 22, 1973, President Nixon issued a statement about the Watergate Investigations.

On June 3, 1973, Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein wrote that John Dean planned on giving testimony to the effect that Nixon

On March 1, 1974, indictments were handed down for what the press dubs "the Watergate Seven": Former Attorney General and Nixon campaign manager John N. Mitchell, former White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, former White House counsel Charles Colson, White House Aide to Haldeman Gordon C. Strachan, aide to Mitchell and CREEP counsel Robert Mardian, and CREEP counsel Kenneth Parkinson. Former White House Counsel John Dean had taken a plea bargain back in October. Nixon was named an "unindicted co-conspirator" by the grand jury.

On April 30, 1974, the White House released edited transcripts of the Nixon tapes and promises 1,200 pages. The House Judiciary Committee insisted that the actual tapes be turned over. The public is shocked by the course language used in private by the President, even though the phrase "expletive deleted" is used in place of the actual words used.


6 Famous Congressional Investigations - HISTORY

The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency conducted its investigation of the comic book industry in the spring of 1954. The committee held three days of hearings in New York City (the location selected because most of the comic book publishers were based there), called twenty-two witnesses, and accepted thirty-three exhibits as evidence. When it was all over, the comic book industry closed ranks and adopted a self-regulatory code that is still in effect today in modified form.

The driving force on the committee was Sen. Estes Kefauver. Sen. Robert Hendrickson was the chairman of the Senate subcommittee during the period in which the committee held its comic book hearings, but the committee is often referred to as the Kefauver committee, and when the 1954 elections returned control of Congress to the Democrats, Kefauver was given the chairmanship of the juvenile delinquency subcommittee. Under his direction, the committee wrote its report on the comic book industry, issued in March 1955, and continued its examination of violence and sex in the mass media with hearings on film and television. Kefauver, a Tennessee lawyer who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1939, ran a successful race for a Senate seat in 1948. He rose to national prominence for his investigation of organized crime in the United States beginning in 1950. That investigation attracted a great deal of public interest and acquired a prestige probably unparalleled by any other congressional probe, and Kefauver used the publicity in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. While he lost the 1952 nomination to Adlai Stevenson, Kefauver hoped that the hearings on juvenile delinquency, a much less politically sensitive issue, might provide a platform for another try at the presidential nomination.

It was during the course of the Senate investigation of organized crime that Kefauver first turned his attention to comic books, gathering information on the comic book industry from a survey sent to judges of juvenile and family courts, probation officers, court psychiatrists, public officials, social workers, comic book publishers, cartoonists, and officers of national organizations who were interested in the issue. That survey was sent out in August 1950. The questionnaires were drawn up with the assistance of psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who was acting as a consultant for the Senate committee. The survey included seven questions:

  1. Has juvenile delinquency increased in the years 1945 to 1950? If you can support this with specific statistics, please do so.
  2. To what do you attribute this increase if you have stated that there was an increase?
  3. Was there an increase in juvenile delinquency after World War II?
  4. In recent years, have juveniles tended to commit more violent crimes such as assault, rape, murder, and gang activities?
  5. Do you believe that there is any relationship between reading crime comic books and juvenile delinquency?
  6. Please specifically give statistics and, if possible, state specific cases of juvenile crime which you believe can be traced to reading crime comic books.
  7. Do you believe that juvenile delinquency would decrease if crime comic books were not readily available to children?

Of those responding to the survey, nearly 60 percent felt there was no relationship between comic books and juvenile delinquency, and almost 70 percent felt that banning crime comics would have little effect on delinquency. Since the report failed to make a strong case against comics, it was issued with little fanfare and the committee took no further action. Despite the fact that earlier Senate investigation failed to produce any recommendation or action, it provided a starting place when the judiciary subcommittee on juvenile delinquency turned its attention to the mass media.

As is the case with most congressional hearings, staff members for the juvenile delinquency subcommittee conducted an extensive background investigation before the actual hearings began. The groundwork for the comic book hearings was done by Richard Clendenen, executive director of the subcommittee. He was the chief of the juvenile delinquency branch of the United States Children’s Bureau and the bureau’s leading expert on delinquency. Prior to his position with the Children’s Bureau, Clendenen worked as a probation officer in a juvenile court and was an administrator at various institutions for emotionally disturbed children and delinquent children. In 1952, the new director of the Children’s Bureau, Martha Eliot, made juvenile delinquency her priority and created a Special Delinquency Project that Clendenen headed. Eliot loaned Clendenen’s services to the Senate subcommittee, partly because the subcommittee was underfunded and partly to give her agency a voice in the investigation Clendenen joined the staff in August 1953. Clendenen began by requesting from the staff of the Library of Congress a summary of all studies published on the effects of comic books on children. He also sent several prominent individuals samples of the comic books under investigation and solicited their opinions on the effects of such material. He was aware of the work done by the New York Joint Legislative Committee to study comics and that done by the Cincinatti Committee on Evaluation of Comic Books, and their reports were included in the committee’s records.

The Post Office Department was given an extensive list of comic book titles, along with names of publishers, writers, and artists, to investigate. The purpose of the Post Office Investigation was to determine whether any of the titles listed had ever been ruled “unmailable” and whether any of the individuals listed had ever come under Post Office Department scrutiny. Postal regulations were sometimes used as a censorship tool by the federal government. The Post Office investigation failed to turn up any violations, and that line of inquiry was dropped. The subcommittee staff also conducted interviews with various publishers in order to learn more about the operation of the comic book industry. Publishers were asked to provide copies of the titles they published and circulation figures for each publication. In addition, the staff was interested in finding out about how a comic book was “processed” from the creation of the story idea through its execution, and who reviewed the manuscripts and artwork.

Once the preliminary investigations were complete, staff members drew up a list of witnesses. The list was finalized on Wednesday, April 21, shortly before the start of the hearings, and the staff provided committee members with brief background statements for each of the major witnesses, spelling out the position each was expected to take on comic books and delinquency and suggesting the direction that questioning might take. Among the witnesses were experts on juvenile delinquency, including psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, comic book publishers such as William Gaines, and a number of distributors and retailers who were to testify about the distribution and sale of comic books. The committee also heard from witnesses who had been active in other investigations of comic books, including James Fitzpatrick, then chairman of the New York committee to study comics, and E.D. Fulton, who engineered a ban on crime comic books in Canada.

The hearings opened with a statement from Senator Hendrickson, who outlined the purpose and goals of the committee. Hendrickson announced that the hearings would be concerned only with crime and horror comic books, acknowledging that authorities agreed the majority of comic books were “as harmless as soda pop.” He argued that freedom of the press was not at issue and that his committee did not intend to become “blue-nosed censors.” And he claimed the committee approached the issue with no preconceptions rather, the task of the committee was to determine whether crime and horror comic books produced juvenile delinquency.

The testimony of the first witness, committee staffer Clendenen, set the tone of the hearings. He began his presentation by showing examples of the crime and horror comics under investigation by the committee. He had originally prepared a show of twenty-nine slides to accompany the plot summaries of several comic book stories, but due to time constraints he discussed only seven comic book titles, accompanied by thirteen slides. The slides consisted of both comic book covers and sample panels from individual stories contained in the books. Clendenen told the senators his examples were “quite typical” of crime and horror comics, but in fact he deliberately selected comic book titles that had already been singled out for criticism by Wertham and others. In addition, the plot summaries written by Clendenen emphasized the violence. With most of his examples, Clendenen included a count of how many people died violently in the comic book.

For example, while discussing “Frisco Mary,” a story from Crime Must Pay the Penalty (March 1954), Clendenen showed two slides, the cover of the comic, which had nothing to do with the story, and a single panel taken from page five of the story, which Clendenen described in his prepared statement as, “Shot of Frisco Mary using submachine gun on law officer.” The story is about Mary Fenner, known as “Frisco” Mary, and her gang. Rather than being a victim, like many women depicted in the crime stories, Mary takes charge of the gang and commits much of the violence in the story. In the scene Clendenen selected, Mary leads her gang in a bank robbery, and their crime is interrupted by the arrival of the sheriff. The lawman is shot by the gang member in the getaway car, and Mary steps up to finish off the job in the slide Clendenen presented, where she remarks: “We could have got twice as much if it wasn’t for this frog-headed rat!! I’ll show him!” She is chided by a fellow gang member for being too trigger-happy. After some careful detective work, police discover the gang’s hideout. The police take Mary and her husband, Frank, into custody. The rest of the gang, afraid that Frank will “rat them out,” break him out of jail and shoot him down. The police then shoot the gang members, remarking, “Well--that finishes the Fenner gang--and saves the state the cost of a trial.” Mary, the sole remnant of the gang, is tried and executed in the gas chamber.

Clendenen’s account of the story was as follows:

One story in this particular issue called “Frisco Mary” concerns an attractive and glamorous young woman who gains control of a California underworld gang. Under her leadership the gang embarks upon a series of hold-ups marked for their ruthlessness and violence. Our next picture shows Mary emptying her submachine gun into the body of an already wounded police officer after the officer has created an alarm and thereby reduced the gang’s take in a bank holdup to a mere $25,000. Now in all fairness it should be added that Mary finally dies in the gas chamber following a violent and lucrative criminal career.

This story is a good example ot the type of crime comics that critics found objectionable. The lead character, Mary Fenner, is extremely violent and kills without hesitation or remorse. Her victims are innocent, unarmed men who are foolish enough to get in her way. There is always a big monetary payoff for the crime, and the gang members escape unscathed (until the end of the story). The police, too, are violent men who do not hesitate to shoot the fleeing robbers in the back and then gloat. This story, like many, justifies the violence by making sure the criminals are punished in the end. But Mary’s fate is buried in a caption, without any illustration, and the end of the story, finishing with, “She breathed out her life in a California gas chamber--discovering, but too late--that crime must pay the penalty!” After nine pages of glorifying the violence and rewards of the criminal life, the short tag at the end of the story seems almost inconsequential.

Next, Clendenen introduced the survey of literature on comics and juvenile delinquency compiled by the Library of Congress, noting that the expert opinion and findings of the studies reflected a diversity of opinion regarding the effects of crime comics on children. The four experts testifying before the committee reflected that diversity. Two experts who took the position that crime comics were harmful were Harris Peck, a psychiatrist and director of the Bureau of Mental Health Services for the New York City Children’s Court, and Wertham, who of course had been campaigning for years for laws against comics. Two experts who asserted that there was little evidence of harm caused by the comics were Gunnar Dybwad, the executive director of the Child Study Association of America, and Lauretta Bender, a senior psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital. One other group was invited to testify about the effects of comics--the comic book publishers themselves. The committee heard from four industry representatives: William M. Gaines, publisher of Entertaining Comics Group William Friedman, publisher of Story Comics Monroe Froehlich, Jr., business manager for Magazine Management Company, publishers of Marvel Comics and Helen Meyer, vice president of Dell Publications.


IV. Key Considerations When Advising the Corporate Client on Protecting Privilege and Work Product

Given these recent developments, external and internal counsel should take certain steps when advising the corporate client on these protections.

First, counsel should brief corporate clients on the operation and importance of attorney-client and work product privilege as quickly as possible once the client is alerted to a government investigation. In addition to explaining to the corporate client how both the privilege and work-product work and why these protections exist, counsel should be sure to advise clients that neither the privilege or work product is sacrosanct. There are many scenarios, often not fathomable at the beginning of an investigation, that may lead to a later disclosure and the loss of privilege, such as disclosure to cooperate in a government investigation, to preserve the reputation of the company, a change in control at the client, or later conduct that waives the privilege.

Second, lawyers should work to develop a communication structure to ensure that privileges and work product are protected. One area that should be clearly resolved when determining the communication structure is the role of a client’s general counsel or other internal counsel. In-house counsel often wear two hats, leaving privilege at risk. In the corporate context, the privilege applies to employee communications with corporate counsel “concern[ing] matters within the scope of the employees’ corporate duties,” where the employees are “aware that they were being questioned in order that the corporation could obtain legal advice. [14]” If corporate counsel also discusses business matters with employees, privilege claims may be weaker.

Further, as part of this communication structure, lawyers should work with clients to establish a centralized communication structure at the beginning of an investigation, with outside counsel included on all key communications to ensure the efficacy of the privileges.

Third, as is often the case in government investigations, lawyers must involve third parties such as auditors, experts, or public relations consultants. Whether information and documents shared with these third parties will retain privilege or be afforded work-product protections depends on the circumstances. The best practice in these situations is to execute a written common interest agreement between the third-party and outside counsel that clearly sets out, at a minimum, (1) the scope of the engagement (2) the existence of a common interest (3) the lawyer’s need for services in delivery of specified legal advice to client (4) an agreement that the third-party will maintain confidentiality, including by safeguarding and marking records and (5) an agreement that the third-party will direct substantive communications to the lawyer.

Similarly, lobbyists can be another tricky issue with respect to attorney-client privilege. Many lobbyists were dual hats, as both lobbyists and lawyers. Whether communications between a lawyer-lobbyist and a client are protected by the attorney-client privilege depends on a fact-specific inquiry of whether “legal advice” is being given. [15]

Attorney-client privilege protects communications in which the lawyer-lobbyist is “acting as a lawyer.” [16] The types of communications that likely would be protected include the legal analysis of legislation, [17] such as the interpretation and application of legislation to factual scenarios legal advice on pending legislation [18] and legal advice on how to proceed with lobbying efforts. [19] Conversely, the attorney-client privilege does not protect communications with lawyer-lobbyists that do not provide legal advice. [20] Examples of communications that likely would not be protected include summaries of legislative meetings [21] updates on legislative or lobbying activity and updates on the progress of certain legislation. [22]

As a result, when corporate clients work with lobbyists, it is important to define the scope of work, particularly in what capacity the lobbyist will be advising the client. A well-defined statement of work with a lawyer-lobbyist may faciliate protecting attorney-client communications in the instance that the lawyer-lobbyist is providing legal analysis on legislation. However, if the lobbyist is not providing legal counsel, then, the engagement letter should be clear on that as well.

Fourth, when the government, whether prosecutors, regulators, or Congress request information that requires the client to waive its protections, outside counsel should carefully consider government requests for information balanced against the risk of waiver. Usually, counsel can work with the government to negotiate waiver concerns neither the United States Department of Justice nor the SEC require a privilege waiver in connection with cooperation credit. To the extent a client decides to share information, keep it as high-level as possible.

Fifth, counsel should advise clients to proceed cautiously with joint defense and common-interest agreements. Joint defense or common-interest agreements allow parties to mount a common defense in civil or criminal matters while maintaining privilege over communications. [23] These can be with other investigated parties (e.g., other suspected co-conspirators), other co-investigators (e.g., Audit Committee or an outside audit firm), or client constituents (e.g., officers or employees). Lawyers should work with corporate clients to assess balancing the benefits of joint defense and common-interest agreements against potential loss of cooperation credit. If a client enters into any such agreement, counsel should reinforce for the client that privilege is vulnerable to attack, and anything shared as a result of the shared defense could end up in the government’s hands.

As these examples illustrate, privilege and work product considerations may conflict with a client’s ability to fully defend itself in the face of a government investigation. It is important to discuss privilege issues with clients regularly, assess potential concerns at each stage of a government investigation, and develop both strategic and tactical approaches to either maintaining these protections or strategically determining to waive them.

[1] See eg. Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383 (1981).

[2] Fed. Rules Civ. Pro. R. 26(b)(3)(a).

[3] See eg. ABA Model Rule 1.6.

[4] Order on Defendants’ Motion to Compel Production from Non-Party Law Firm, SEC v. Herrera, et al., No. 17- 20301 (S.D. Fl. Dec. 5, 2017)

[5] Order on Defendants’ Motion to Compel Production from Non-Party Law Firm, SEC v. Herrera, et al., No. 17- 20301 (S.D. Fl. Dec. 5, 2017)

[7] Memorandum from Sally Quillian Yates, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Dep’t of Justice (Sept. 9, 2015) (‘‘Yates Memo’’), available at http://www.justice.gov/dag/file/769036/download

[10] D. Jean Veta & Brian D. Smith, Congressional Investigations: Bank of America and Recent Developments in Attorney-Client Privilege, Bloomberg Law Reports (Nov. 6, 2010).

[11] Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491 (1975).

[12] Senate Permanent Subcomm. on Investigations v. Ferrer, 856 F.3d 1080 (D.C. Cir. 2017).

[14] Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383 (1981).

[15] In re Grand Jury Subpoenas dated March 9, 2001, 179 F. Supp. 2d 270, 285 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) U.S. Postal Serv. v. Phelps Dodge Refining Corp., 852 F. Supp. 156, 164 (E.D.N.Y. 1994) Todd Presnell, The In-House Attorney-Client Privilege, 9 No. 1 In-House Def. Q. 6 (2014).

[16] Todd Presnell, The In-House Attorney-Client Privilege, 9 No. 1 In-House Def. Q. 6 (2014) In re Grand Jury Subpoenas, 179 F. Supp. 2d at 285.

[17] Robinson v. Texas Auto. Dealers Ass’n, 214 F.R.D. 432, 446 (E.D. Tex. 2003) vacated in other part, No. 03–10860, 2003 WL 21911333, at *1 (5th Cir. July 25, 2003).

[18] Weissman v. Fruchtman, No. 83 Civ. 8958(PKL), 1986 WL 15669, at *15 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 31, 1986).

[19] Black v. Southwestern Water Conservation Dist., 74 P. 3d 462, 468-69 (Colo. App. 2003).

[20] Presnell, supra 15 In Re Grand Jury Subpoenas, 179 F. Supp. 2d, 285 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

[21] North Carolina Elec. Membership Corp. v. Carolina Power & Light Co., 110 F.R.D. 511, 517 (M.D.N.C. 1986) Todd Presnell, supra 15.

[23] “The rule . . . is that where two or more persons who are subject to possible indictment in connection with the same transactions make confidential statements to their attorneys, these statements, even though they are exchanged between attorneys, should be privileged to the extent that they concern common issues and are intended to facilitate representation in possible subsequent proceedings.’’ Hunydee v. United States, 355 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1965)

Laura K. Schwalbe

Counsel, Harter Secrest & Emery

Laura vigorously defends clients facing government investigations, coordinates internal and independent investigations, and represents clients in complex litigation. Clients trust her trial experience and her knowledge of government agencies to guide them through their legal challenges.

Angelle Smith Baugh

Senior Associate, Covington

Angelle Smith Baugh is a senior associate in Covington’s Election and Political Law and White Collar Litigation practice groups. She has significant experience in broad-based crisis management, advising clients on legal and political matters presenting complex risks.

Margaret Cassidy

Founder, Cassidy Law

Armed with a law degree, several years of prosecutorial experience, the knowledge she gained from working in business, an entrepreneurial spirit and love of the law, Margaret Cassidy founded Cassidy Law to provide businesses legal counsel to proactively manage legal risks through ethics and compliance programs and to defend clients under government investigation or prosecution so they may grow smartly and ethically.