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“Our TV show”: Legitimacy, Public Relations and J. Edgar Hoover’s “The F.B.I.” on ABC-TV
Unformatted Document Text:  Cecil  —  “Our  TV  show”    —     6   into one clear, coherent, attractive public image, and it made that image the key to Hoover’s goal of leading and regenerating American law enforcement.” 12 The FBI brand of the 1930s diverted attention from questions of the legitimacy of the Bureau to assertions that it was America’s indispensable law enforcement agency weaving together the patchwork of local law enforcement that was largely seen as ineffectual during the Great Depression. The “10,000 Public Enemies,” of one 1930s Bureau-authorized books were countered by an army of agents around the country, their reluctant involvement in local cases informed by science and led by a rock-solid American, J. Edgar Hoover. 13 As the nation’s most important domestic law enforcement concerns shifted from Midwestern outlaws like Dillinger to spies at home during WWII and then to communists in the post-war era, the FBI diligently applied their formulaic approach to public relations and branding. The FBI told its story by asserting utility, responsibility and Hoover — thus hiding the ongoing project of quietly compiling information on Americans whose worldview did not match that of the Director of the FBI. The success of the Bureau’s legitimation and branding campaigns may be measured by the relative silence of dissenters during the Hoover era. Astute government watchdogs like journalist George Seldes and left-leaning social justice advocates like American Civil Liberties General Counsel Morris Ernst were taken in by the Bureau’s legitimation campaign. Seldes, who was investigated by the Bureau for decades, led off a chapter of his memoir lamenting that, “For many years I thought J. Edgar Hoover was a friend.” 14 Even as the ACLU and other left-leaning organizations were under surveillance, Ernst was duped into writing an article endorsing Hoover’s work (titled “Why I No Longer Fear the FBI”) in America’s favorite leisure-time journal, Reader’s Digest. Ironically, Ernst became a reliable informant for the FBI, providing information and correspondence from left-wing allies of the ACLU to Hoover for many years. 15

Authors: Cecil, Matthew.
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background image
Cecil  —  “Our  TV  show”    —     6  
into one clear, coherent, attractive public image, and it made that image the key to Hoover’s goal 
of leading and regenerating American law enforcement.”
12
 
The FBI brand of the 1930s diverted attention from questions of the legitimacy of the 
Bureau to assertions that it was America’s indispensable law enforcement agency weaving 
together the patchwork of local law enforcement that was largely seen as ineffectual during the 
Great Depression. The “10,000 Public Enemies,” of one 1930s Bureau-authorized books were 
countered by an army of agents around the country, their reluctant involvement in local cases 
informed by science and led by a rock-solid American, J. Edgar Hoover.
13
 
As the nation’s most important domestic law enforcement concerns shifted from 
Midwestern outlaws like Dillinger to spies at home during WWII and then to communists in the 
post-war era, the FBI diligently applied their formulaic approach to public relations and 
branding. The FBI told its story by asserting utility, responsibility and Hoover — thus hiding the 
ongoing project of quietly compiling information on Americans whose worldview did not match 
that of the Director of the FBI.  
The success of the Bureau’s legitimation and branding campaigns may be measured by 
the relative silence of dissenters during the Hoover era.  Astute government watchdogs like 
journalist George Seldes and left-leaning social justice advocates like American Civil Liberties 
General Counsel Morris Ernst were taken in by the Bureau’s legitimation campaign. Seldes, who 
was investigated by the Bureau for decades, led off a chapter of his memoir lamenting that, “For 
many years I thought J. Edgar Hoover was a friend.”
14
 Even as the ACLU and other left-leaning 
organizations were under surveillance, Ernst was duped into writing an article endorsing 
Hoover’s work (titled “Why I No Longer Fear the FBI”) in America’s favorite leisure-time journal, 
Reader’s Digest. Ironically, Ernst became a reliable informant for the FBI, providing information 
and correspondence from left-wing allies of the ACLU to Hoover for many years.
15
 


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