Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories

 + (NOT) THE CONSPIRACY TRIAL OF THE CENTURY   Anyone expecting fireworks probably thought it fizzled. On December 9, a Memphis jury decided that yes, there was a conspiracy to assassinate Rev. Martin Luther King -- but no, there wouldn't be criminal indictments for anyone at all. The King family was awarded a token $100 and said they were satisfied with the outcome. So what was that all about?

The objective of the trial seemed obscure in the sketchy mainstream media reports. This civil suit only charged that Frank Liberto, a grocer with alleged mob links, paid Loyd Jowers to arrange the assassination. Possible co-conspirators were not named in the suit or the verdict.

Jowers had told ABC in a 1993 interview that he was a middle-man between Liberto, a man called "Raoul," and Earl Clark, a Memphis cop who he claimed was the assassin. Jowers owned the greasy-spoon cafe in the building where James Earl Ray stayed. He claimed that the plot was hatched in his restaurant, and that he was paid $100,000 in Mafia money. After the assassination, he said that Clark handed him the still-smoking rifle, which he later gave to the mysterious Raoul. Both Liberto and Clark are now dead, and "Raoul" has never been identified.

The lawyer for the King family was Ray's long-time attorney William Pepper, who has repeatedly charged that there was a wide conspiracy involving the FBI, CIA, Memphis police, Mafia, and military agencies. In his closing arguments, Pepper said that there was a squad of Army snipers prepared to finish the job if the first shot missed. (You can find the complete suit and trial coverage at the Court TV web site.)

There's lot in the Jowers story that doesn't hold up, including that friends of his believed that he made up the story in hopes of landing a book or movie deal. In our 1997 feature on the King assassination, it was noted that the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations decided King was killed as part of a St. Louis-based racist conspiracy that had no connections to Jowers. This was the more plausable version of events that Ray described in his 1992 book, "Who Killed Martin Luther King?" and in the "secret tapes" interview done shortly before his death in 1998. Although Ray's story also hinged on a mysterious man named "Raoul" who told him to buy a rifle and later gave him money to flee the country, Ray apparently never mentioned Jowers, Clark, or others in Jowers' scenario.

But last year, after White House lobbying by Coretta Scott King, Attorney General Reno agreed to open a limited Justice Dept. probe of the assassination. The investigation, which won't be completed until sometime in early Y2000, was restricted to looking at only the Jowers claims and possible conspiracy evidence found among papers in Ray's car. Despite having asked for the investigation, the King family apparently has little faith in the government. King's son Dexter said after the recent verdict, "We don't care what the Justice Department does. ... We believe this case is over. We know what happened. This is the period at the end of the sentence."

By no means was this trial intended to ferret out who actually pulled the trigger. Instead, the objective was to win a civil (as opposed to criminal) court victory -- in the words of attorney Pepper, to "send a message to all those in power that you cannot get away with this." This slim victory was all that the family could hope to achieve. (December 12, 1999)

 + THE EMPOWERED FBI   It was astonishing news, but only a handful of newspapers reported it: The FBI announced on November 11 that it was completely restructuring the Agency. Newly created are the "Counterterrorism Division" and an "Investigative Services Division." Cutting through the jargon, it means that the latter wing is concerned with national security, and the other division handles... terrorism. Is it that much a threat?

Since the end of the Cold War, both the military and the FBI have sought a new mission in chasing terrorists. As we noted in March , the military seems itching for an excuse to declare martial law: Defense Secretary Cohen has already approved a "Joint Task Force for Civil Support," whose commander would develop ways for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force to help in case of a domestic crisis, according to a story in The New York Times. Clinton told The Times that the military's role was "the last big kind of organizational piece" in strengthening the nation's defenses against new kinds of terrorism. Even before the new reorganization, the FBI counterterrorism group was working with a sister org within the CIA, plus 20 joint task forces with big-city police departments and 37 FBI legal attache offices overseas, according to a March story in the Washington Post.

The justification for the FBI's Counterterrorism Division is thin: "Although incidents involving weapons of mass destruction or attacks on our critical infrastructure have not, to date, originated with terrorist organizations, our contingency planning has identified the threat from terrorism as having the potential for posing the gravest risk to our communities and our infrastructure. Preparing to prevent or control worst case scenarios in the context of counterterrorism has therefore become necessary."

So who are these "terrorist organizations" targeted by the FBI? A newspaper search for Bureau statements finds only Muslim groups. According to The Dallas Morning News and other papers, the FBI has singled out donors to Islamic charities, lawyers and community leaders. Almost $1 million was seized last year from a Chicago- area thinktank supposedly tied to Hamas. Thanks to a 1996 law, it is now illegal to give "material support" -- including humanitarian aid -- to the 28 designated terrorist groups.

But while the feds single out Muslim groups overseas, the worst terrorists remain the American fanatic working alone. Besides Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, it was whitebread loner Tim McVeigh who created the worst act of domestic terrorism by blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

New head of the FBI counterterrorism unit is Dale L. Watson, a 20-year FBI veteran and past Deputy Chief of the CIA, but it appears that überchief Watson doesn't have a particularly good record for solving terrorist crimes. After 16 months of investigation, his group gave up on the mystery of TWA 800 -- long suspected of being a "terrorist" attack -- despite a mobilization of hundreds of agents. Nor has the FBI yet solved the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bombing, thought to be the work of a single anti-choice fanatic. (December 22, 1999)

 + END GAME FOR THE TIMBER WARS   After years of doomsday predictions that spotted owls would cost the Northwest as many as 150,000 jobs, the results are in: Protecting forests didn't lead to massive job losses for logging economies.

The report, "The Sky Did Not Fall: The Pacific Northwest's Response to Logging Reductions," found that the region actually prospered as restrictions were placed on logging. More than enough new jobs were added in Oregon and Washington to employ every single person in the timber industry, as companies like Hyundai and Sony brought manufacturing plants to the area.

"Timber employment in the Pacific Northwest did decline by 21,000 between 1990 and 1996," said Ernie Niemi, co-author of the report. "But that trend started long before the spotted owl. The timber industry lost 27,000 jobs in the 1980s, before most people even heard of the spotted owl."

Although this report lays to rest the critical argument in the Timber Wars, not a single major newspaper in the country used the Associated Press story about the conclusions. Nor did any paper use a follow-up AP story that explained Clinton's economic aid package to the region had little effect. Part of 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, the program was supposed to retrain loggers and help communities that suffered because of "spotted owl protection."

With thousands of articles and opinion pieces written on this topic (more than 2,000 in 1993-4 alone), it is astonishing that the press failed to note how the story ended. (December 22, 1999)

 + TELLING HALF OF THE STORY   Another common complaint about the press is that rarely does the media follow through. Something newsworthy happens and... then what? Readers are left scratching their heads wondering how it ended.

A classic example can be found in the October story that the DEA swooped down on a truckload of birdseed containing sterilized hemp seed, which has always been legal in the United States. About a dozen major papers reported the siezure, as U.S. Customs threatened $500,000 in fines and demanded the recall of 17 previous truckloads -- which, of course, had long been pecked away or mixed in with other harmless food or pet products.

In a deal brokered on November 4th by the Canadian Embassy in Washington, the DEA backed-off and instructed Customs agents to allow shipments to freely enter the United States. Owner of the Canadian hemp supplier, Jean Laprise called the agreement an important win. "An issue has been resolved for the entire industry," he said. "Getting the Canadian government involved was a major factor. DEA didn't suspect we had so many friends in politics and the industry... we got the Zero Tolerance policy reversed, and basically got DEA to abide by U.S. law."

But curiously, not a single major U.S. paper reported the results when the Canadian hemp company won. (December 8, 1999)

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