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Letters to Radical Son By: Frank Sullivan
FrontPageMagazine.com | Sunday, April 13, 1997


Editor's Note: We have received mountains of mail pertaining to David Horowitz's Radical Son, many containing personal anecdotes about radical politics. Occasionally, we will run such letters in these pages. If you have any to contribute, please send them our way.


 

April 13, 1997

Dear Mr. Horowitz,

This is a letter of appreciation for writing Destructive Generation and Radical Son. You have provided me with information I have sought for the more than 28 years since the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It was my lot at that time to be in charge of public relations for the Chicago Police Department. I had come upon that role earlier that year by appointment of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. I had been the City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, for which I had worked for 11 years, when Daley asked me to assist a newly appointed Superintendent of Police who lacked the experience working with the media that had been a strong point of his predecessor, Orlando W. Wilson, former dean of the School of Criminology of the University of California.

I accepted the job because it paid more money and because I had grown disillusioned with the journalistic integrity of my newspaper. Its staff had become dominated by reporters who considered themselves primarily part of the Movement and secondarily newsmen. Information which I provided my desk was almost instantly forwarded by these reporters to the various radical groups confronting Chicago authorities. I thought it was no way to run a newspaper.

Nevertheless, as the Director of Public Information for the police I brought with me the same outlook I had had as a reporter, namely that injustice and abuse of authority should always be challenged. I respected what the police were trying to do (protect the citizenry) but I was aware of the ease with which police power can be abused.

I do not intend to bend your ear with a return to the turmoil that was Chicago leading up to and during the Convention. I will say, however, that basically the mayor and the police were correct according to my views then and today 28 years later. I was at the corner of Balbo Drive and Michigan Avenue the night of the major confrontation. Obviously, I knew that it was the center of the nation’s attention.

The next morning I awoke to hear Hugh Downs on the Today program say that there was no other word to describe the Chicago police except "pigs." The producers finished the show with scenes of police officers hitting and arresting 600 men and women who had defied all police orders and physically challenged them.

Taking the elevated train to work I avoided reading the newspapers. As a newsman I had always sought balance, but on that morning I did not want balance. I did not want to read all the details. I had seen them and I knew it was a moment for little balance. It was a time to speak out for the police and to verbally attack those persons who I had thought deliberately sought a confrontation.

Let me add here that as a reporter I knew a confrontation with police officers was quite an easy accomplishment. I had been thrown into snow piles by FBI agents—they did not like my repeated inquiries at the scene into how much money had been taken in a bank robbery. I had been arrested by Chicago police. (They told me only television reporters were permitted in the street and I disagreed), et cetera, et cetera. I was not shocked, therefore, that when a mob was in defiance of federal court orders it could have a confrontation with police if that was its objective. But I never knew any of that from the inside—until your books.

I guessed at it and I even said it many times, but I never had someone who had been on the other side say that the confrontation had been carefully planned.

That next morning, arriving at work, I asked the shy and silent Superintendent of Police if it would be all right for me to call a press conference to say a few words in defense of the police. He had no intention to do so himself and said that it would be all right for me.

That conference, needless to say, was filled with media people from all over the country eager to get at the jugular of the terrible police organization that had been seen the night before on television. I began by saying that there was never any justification for any police officer to interfere with news people gathering news. Any such interference would be inexcusable. Then I went on to accuse the three networks of engaging in "colossal propaganda" against the police during the days and weeks leading to the convention. I named the names—Cronkite, Sevaried, McGee, Huntley, Brinkley, Mudd. Cronkite, I said, even before the convention opened had described Chicago as a "police state."

The people who had been defying the police were described by these network anchors as "kids," as "yippies." I said they were men and women who hated our country, that they were not interested in bringing the war to a just end but to achieve victory for the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. The Chicago Police, I said, had no political views but they had been castigated by the media as if they did.

In the course of all this I made what I thought was a mistake. I described the leadership as Communist, and I named Tom Hayden. For years that troubled me. I thought maybe I should have said fascists. Maybe it should have been New Left, but what kind of derogatory term would that have been? Anyway, it was not until Radical Son that I concluded the word "Communist," while perhaps not precise, was still close to the mark.

I concluded my remarks by saying that people watching me on television all over the country knew that some day a mob might come down their streets and challenge their police and that they would want their police to stand and hold its ground the way the Chicago police did. (Why is it wrong for us to use some demagoguery now and then?)

I was just one little public employee but a nerve had been hit. The people at the networks were not accustomed to voices on the other side and that night they responded in an unusual way. Both NBC and CBS issued statements from their news directors saying, in effect, that I was full of shit. Rueven Frank’s statement was read by Chet Huntley and Richard Salant’s by Walter Cronkite.

The next week was the first for 60 Minutes and Harry Reasoner reported the mail against CBS and in favor of Chicago officials was running 8 to 1.

Not only are you the first to state what should have been obvious to discerning newsmen—that the confrontation was sought for political purposes—you are the first writer to inject the name Sydney Peck into the events. It was Peck, allegedly representing Dellinger, who did all the negotiations with the police in the hours before Balbo and Michigan. It was he, again on behalf of Dellinger, who rejected all offers of compromise places for a rally and insisted that there must be a four-mile march to the convention hall at the time the presidential candidate was being nominated.

In the years that followed 1968 there were annual look-backs on both local and national TV—on the 1st anniversary, the 5th, the 10th, the 20th (nothing for the 15th) and the 25th. On all of those occasions representatives of the street combatants would rehash their positions. Then came the Democratic convention of 1996. I thought it would be accompanied by a repetition of those retrospectives. I was wrong. Television news again surprised me. They simply stated, in effect, the controversy was over. The "demonstrators" had won. The late mayor and the police had lost. The current mayor, the late one’s son, even went so far as to publicly "embrace" Tom Hayden and state that what happened in 1968 did not really involve his father and the Chicago police. It was all about Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson! And history moves on.

You might be amused about what happened on the Larry King Show during the convention, or to be accurate, what didn’t happen. I received a call from Washington about a week before the gathering from Britt Kahn, a producer for King. Larry, she said, was going to have a live program about the street conflicts of 1968 and would like me to be on it with Hayden, Davis, Ginsberg, and Dellinger. I told her four to one was OK with me and that I would be there.

The plans called for me to meet that quartet at a downtown hotel and ride out through all the security check points with them on a bus. An hour before I was to leave for the hotel and the trip to the convention hall, Ms. Kahn called. She was quite embarrassed, she said. Larry had decided to dump me and just have the other side’s view of that long-ago convention.

A week later the producer did something I thought was brave. She wrote me a note saying she thought the cancellation of a view opposite that of Hayden et al was not good journalism. And she signed her name. Guts.

Before I conclude this ridiculously long missive, I want to note that you may be the only writer who pointed out the incredibly small number of people who came to engage in conflict in Chicago in ’68. That, of course, was Daley’s objective all along. That is why he would not drop the long-time ban on sleeping in the parks overnight. He did not want to do anything that would encourage more people to come to challenge police authority. And I noted that in my post-convention conference—that they were a "pitifully small number" of people who hate our country.

While on the subject of Daley—believe me a confrontation was the last thing he and the police wanted. I can assure you from the inside that everything possible was done to avoid a fight. The fact that it happened is a matter of tactics, which, mercifully, would take too long to discuss. Suffice it to say that it is not desirable to put a thousand police officers out in the street with a thousand or so people who want to fight. That a conflict arose under those circumstances did not surprise me.

"The ensuing melee changed the shape of American politics." You are so right. But the media allies of the confronters, as you know, have even tried to distort that truth in many ways. The Democrats lost because millions of people though the party was being radicalized and failed to vote Democratic. It was so close, one speech by Humphrey praising Daley could have slowed the flow away from the Democrats. (And what liberal Democrats would have deserted Humphrey for Nixon?)

Finally, I was asked by a publication last August to write an article about the police view of ’68 to be balanced by the views of a "demonstrator." I agreed. When I saw the printed version I noted that the quotations I used regarding Tom Hayden and his urging of guerrilla warfare from Destructive Generation had been deleted.

I left the police in 1972 to become Daley’s press secretary and, after his death in 1976, operated my own public-relations business until 1990. Now, in semi-retirement, I assist wealthy and elderly Jewish men in writing their autobiographies, usually involving the Holocaust. How this line of work came to be is another story, but I am genuinely touched that these men have entrusted me to work with them on something that I believe to be so important.

In conclusion, as they say, this wordy letter and my purchase of Radical Son were prompted by your masterful presentation on C-SPAN last March. God, how we all need the insights you have gained through the years. I hope there will be much more.

Sincerely,

Frank Sullivan




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