Spreading the Word on Len Boudin


LEONARD BOUDIN, attorney for Daniel Ellsberg '52 in the Pentagon Papers case and professional champion of unpopular causes, admits he was "amused a little bit" when he read a profile of himself prepared for the White House three years ago by E. Howard Hunt and released last week by the House Judiciary Committee. If you don't take the whole thing too seriously, the profile, written with the intent of discrediting Ellsberg and Boudin in the press, is more than just a little amusing. With a title like "Devil's Advocate" and subheadings to the tune of "The Strange Affinities of Attorney Leonard Boudin" and "The Odor of Espionage" the memorandum sounds very much like one of Hunt's silly spy novels and not at all like a government document.

Despite whatever inherent humor the profile might have, Boudin and his friends weren't exactly left in stitches after The New York Times decided to publish it in full last Friday with no explanation of its contents, no disclaimer about the profile's accuracy and with no attempt to put the Hunt memo in any historical context. In fact, Boudin thinks that The Times--inadvertently, no doubt--has succeeded where Hunt, John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson have failed: spreading false, irrational, inflamatory rhetoric about him in the mass-circulation media.

The most serious allegation against Boudin in the Hunt memorandum is, unsurprisingly enough, also the most far-fetched. Referring to unnamed--and presumably non-existent--sources, Hunt writes, "It has been said with some certainty that over the years Leonard Boudin has been a contact of both the Czech and Soviet espionage organizations, the latter best known by its initials, KGB. Because of the secrecy normally surrounding meetings between foreign agents and American citizens, it is impossible to say whether Boudin was providing information to Communist governments or--as seems more likely--receiving instructions or advice concerning the defense of clients in whom the Czechs or Russians had a special interest."

After the sins of Watergate have been exposed, after Hunt has been proved an expert in the art of deception and after Charles Colson has written a letter apologizing for the attempt to drag Boudin's name through the mud, who is going to believe anything the White House has to say about Leonard Boudin, let alone charges that he was a spy for the KGB? That is question which interests Boudin and his associates very much, and it is the question on which the propriety of The Times's decision to run the memo with no explanatory material hangs.

Boudin, now in Peter Bent Brigham Hospital recuperating from recent surgery, says he isn't all that confident that there aren't a lot of people who are "sophisticated" enough to see through the lies and innuendo in the Hunt profile. The fact that "congressmen are still haggling over Nixon's impeachment after the evidence makes it obvious this man can't remain in office," Boudin says, is just one indication of how ignorant people can be. "And if this is what congressmen behave like," he adds, "what about the average American?"


Charles R. Nesson '60, professor of Law and another of Ellsberg's attorneys, agrees that there are still some people who will look for Reds under their beds if government officials tell them to. If that's the case, The Times may well have been more careful about the way it handled the Hunt memorandum. As Nesson points out, "The profile was defaming when it was written, it was defaming when Colson tried to circulate it in the press, and it was still defaming when The Times printed it."

Boudin, who seems in conversation to be an extraordinarily gentle man, is hardly the person most upset by the memorandum and its subsequent publication. "It doesn't feel terrible to be the subject of that kind of attack," he says, "and I'm not going to be terribly affected by it." But Boudin's friends and advisers, particularly the ones who remember the lives wrecked by Joseph McCarthy, are not so willing to let sleeping dogs lie.

"It's a damned outrage," Vern Countryman, Royall Professor of Law, says of the way The Times chose to handle the Boudin profile. "Some of us complained during the McCarthy era when newspapers printed anything McCarthy released. McCarthy couldn't have done all that damage if the newspapers didn't give him so much space. This is the same kind of stuff."

"Newspapers have the notion that anything the government releases is okay to print," Countryman, who is organizing a letter of protest to The Times, says. "At least newspapers shouldn't print any tripe without checking its accuracy."

Boudin agrees that the question comes down to "a judgement as to what a newspaper is supposed to do." He wonders whether, despite the work it's done on Watergate, the press is still "an irresponsible agent of the government." The editors of The Times, he says, "never thought of the consequences publication of the document had no me and they never considered my own right to privacy."

David Jones, chief of The Times's national desk and the man responsible for deciding to run the Hunt profile of Boudin, takes an odd and off-handed approach to the question of an editor's responsibility. On the possible invasion of Boudin's privacy Jones says. "That was something for Colson to worry about: The memorandum was a matter of public record and we printed it."

Jones says he decided to publish the memorandum because it was "illustrative of the type of activity Mr. Colson was engaged in." He goes on to say, "We tried to make it clear that the profile was a document put out by the Judiciary Committee to illustrate Colson's activity, that it was an article about Colson and not Boudin, but maybe we didn't make that as clear as we might have."

After The Boston Globe ran the text of the CIA's famous profile of Daniel Ellsberg last week, it printed a public apology to Ellsberg for publishing with little background material the vicious half-truths that the government collected in order to shore up its case at the Pentagon Papers trial. Boudin, Countryman and Nesson all think that it would have been appropriate for The Times to run the same sort of public apology when it ran the Boudin memorandum. Nesson says that it's still not too late for The Times to follow The Globe's example and Boudin said Wednesday that he was still expecting some sort of apology from The Times. But Jones says that no apology is forthcoming. "I'm just not sorry about the whole thing," Jones said Wednesday.

NESSON, while allowing that "The Times was in a tough position," says he "expected much more sensitivity" from the New York paper. That expectation is hardly an unreasonable one. It is clear that Jones is right about what the Hunt profile really indicates. The memo is more evidence of the Nixon administration's perversity, its unconcern for the processes of justice, its self-conscious and evil willingness to stoop to the pernicious tactics of the red scare. The memo is evidence of a certain sickness of mind and of a cynicism that Nixon has based his entire career on. Because the memo is all of those things, The Times had a right and an obligation to publish it.

But The Times--perhaps because of assumptions it makes about its readers or perhaps out of sloppiness--didn't bother to recognize the possibility that people might not see the memorandum for the hack job it is. It never placed the profile in the context of a contrived and systematic attempt to discredit the Ellsberg defense and only in a news story three pages away did it quote anyone as questioning the profile's accuracy. The Times presumed that everyone has realized just how demented Richard Nixon and his government are, and that's not a safe assumption for anyone, let alone a newspaper, to make.

Nixon is not, after all, going to be impeached for red-baiting and he is not going to be impeached for the fear and the mistrust he has spread across the nation. He will be impeached for a bunch of penny-ante crimes, but not for what he has done and tried to do to the opponents of his wars and of his authoritarianism. A lot of people still admire Nixon for the way he put it to the left in this country; Watergate--because, in part, of the way papers like The Times have construed and reported it--will not change any of that.

The Times probably should make some sort of apology to Boudin, and probably should try to make some sort of amends for the way it presented the Hunt memorandum. But in the long run, with so much else going on, it won't make very much difference either way whatever The Times finally decides to do. But Leonard Boudin is a decent and honest man, and for that reason Nixon would like to take him down too when he gets swept away by Watergate. It would be a shame if by its own foolishness the press allows Nixon that one last act of cruelty.