Thursday, December 18, 2008

Omaha World-Herald manipulated news stories against Black Panthers in 'Omaha Two' case

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December 18, 2008
Omaha World-Herald manipulated news stories against Black Panthers in 'Omaha Two' case
By Michael Richardson

We will probably never know if the Omaha World-Herald manipulation of news stories about the August 17, 1970 bombing murder of an Omaha policeman was of its own doing or if the newspaper had been worked by COINTELPRO agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI in the 60's and 70's conducted a massive clandestine operation code-named COINTELPRO which illegally targeted domestic political organizations and activists for dirty tricks and often used news media to accomplish its nefarious deeds.

The COINTELPRO tactics employed to manipulate news included anonymous letters-to-the-editor, the release of confidential information to selected reporters, withholding information from news organizations, providing misinformation about COINTELPRO targets, and harassment of publications deemed hostile.

Three examples of news manipulation are evident in the World-Herald's 1970 reporting of the charges against Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) for the murder of patrolman Larry Minard. Officer Minard was killed instantly when a booby-trapped suitcase bomb exploded in his face while investigating a false report of a woman screaming in a vacant house. Poindexter and Langa were leaders of Omaha's Black Panther chapter called the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism and targets of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's secret war on the Panthers.

The summer of 1970 was an angry time in North Omaha. The year earlier, 14-year old Vivian Strong was shot to death in the back by an Omaha policeman who was later acquitted of a manslaughter charge. The NCCF was the leading police critic of the shooting death of Strong and daily confrontations between the police and members of the NCCF were the norm. Riots and bombings rocked the Midwest and did not spare Omaha. There were bombs exploded outside a police substation, at Horace Mann Junior High, and outside a business in the year preceding the fatal attack on Minard. The city was jittery and the World-Herald followed the events closely.

The newspaper was careful to follow all dynamite stories in the news. That summer a paper sack with dynamite was found in Bellevue, an Omaha suburb, and the World-Herald gave a running account of the investigation. However, in late July a car with three men and 41 sticks of stolen dynamite was seized by police after an earlier dynamite buy of 10 sticks from the three men, but the newspaper did not publish a single word about the arrests.

The omission could not have been ignorance of the dynamite bust. The paper not only daily examined official police log reports but reporters also regularly enjoyed inside access to the 4th floor criminal investigation bureau room at police headquarters according to a World-Herald article written shortly after the fatal bombing. The paper apparently kept quiet about the newsworthy arrest at the request of police. This is not an uncommon journalistic practice but usually results in the pledge of future cooperation and often a scoop. Reporters buy into secrecy to obtain more details and inside information not otherwise available. In this case, however, the World-Herald kept the secret forever.

The newspaper self-censored this news story again three weeks later when Larry Minard was murdered. The paper ignored police Captain Murdock Platner's testimony to a congressional committee speculating the dynamite seized in July was the same dynamite used in the Minard killing. The World-Herald kept quiet during the murder trial when the history of the dynamite used in the bomb was at issue. The paper continued the news blackout on the stolen dynamite arrests when charges were quietly dropped against the trio who had been peddling stolen dynamite, just days after the Minard trial ended. The Omaha World-Herald continues ignoring this dynamite arrest and has failed to report on the episode despite its key relevance to the case.

The second example of news manipulation is maybe just a sad comment on the times instead of COINTELPRO mischief but the blatant bias of the newspaper cannot be ignored. Suspects in the Minard case arrested by police were repeatedly labeled by the World-Herald as "militants" and there is a clear racial identification theme in the paper's stories about the case. Contrasting the many "Negro" references were gratuitous remarks about the police. Officer John Tess, one of the seven officers injured in the blast, was "blond, handsome" and his girlfriend "pretty".

The third example of news manipulation is directly tied to an issue now pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court in Poindexter's bid for a new trial--the FBI role in examining the emergency call tape recording that lured Minard to his death. "Voiceprint in Bombing to FBI Lab" declared the article headline in the World-Herald and quoted acting-Chief of Police Walter J. Devere saying the tape recording of the 911 call luring police to the ambush would be a good investigative tool. The killer's deep voice was captured on tape and a vocal analysis could have helped identify the unknown caller.

The World Herald showcased the "Voiceprint" story at the top of the front page just below the banner on August 18th. However, the next day at FBI headquarters, J. Edgar Hoover gave a secret order to the head of the FBI Crime Laboratory, Ivan Willard Conrad, to withhold a formal report on the tape recording thus thwarting any effort to identify the killer by voice comparison. Conrad noted Hoover's command by scrawling on a confidential COINTELPRO memo recommending withholding a formal report, "Dir advised telephonically & said OK to do."

The Omaha newspaper never followed up their lead story on the FBI's testing of the 911 recording and subsequent articles about the case dropped the subject. Hoover's secret command to compromise the investigation did not come to light until years later after Mondo we Langa obtained portions of his FBI file under a Freedom of Information request.

Omaha World-Herald readers continue to be unaware of the COINTELPRO involvement in the 'Omaha Two' case and the arrest and subsequent release of the three men caught in possession of dynamite just three weeks before Minard's killing.

Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, targets of Hoover's COINTELPRO directives, were convicted of Mindard's death despite their denial of any role in the killing. Both men are imprisoned at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary and continue to proclaim their innocence. Poindexter has a new trial request pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court over the withheld 911 call evidence and conflicting police testimony about dynamite allegedly used in the bomb. No date for a decision has been announced.


Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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