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Bill Baggs - Editor in Chief of The Miami News (1957-1969)


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Even though Bill Baggs was involved with Operation Mockingbird during its earliest days when he helped the CIA debunk and destroy Senator Joseph McCarthy after he went after Cord Meyer, it is unfair, in my opinion, to characterize him as some sort of right wing across the board CIA-supporter and an agent of the Military Industrial Complex. In fact he was one of the biggest supporters of the candidacy of John F. Kennedy, his close personal friend, and a very early advocate AGAINST the Viet Nam War. Baggs once went on a peace mission to interview Ho Chih Minh and he was a strong proponent of Civil Rights for everyone. He used to be compared to Jane Fonda for his liberal attitudes, for his anti-War stance and for his support for The Civil Rights Act of 1964 in fact. He was nicknamed "Hanoi Bill" just like Fonda was called "Hanoi Jane". So here is my attempt to set the record straight and offer some further insights into the man who gave me my start in investigative journalism.

Bill Baggs

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William Calhoun "Bill" Baggs was editor of The Miami News from 1957 until his death in 1969. Bill Baggs was one of a group of Southern editors who campaigned for civil rights for African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. Others in this group included Ralph McGill at the The Atlanta Constitution, Hodding Carter at the Greenville Delta Democrat-Times and Harry Ashmore at the Arkansas Gazette.[1] [2] Baggs became an early opponent of the Vietnam War. In 1967 and 1968 Bill Baggs traveled to North Vietnam with Harry Ashmore on a private peace mission. While there, they interviewed Ho Chi Minh about what conditions would be necessary to end the war.[3] Unknown at the time, Bill Baggs was also one of the journalists involved in the CIA's Operation Mockingbird particularly during the latter stages of The McCarthy Era which he opposed very firmly and convincingly as a reporter. He joined philosophically with both Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner of the C.I.A. at Operation Mockingbird in supporting and defending Cord Meyer when Senator McCarthy began to target the C.I.A. which he claimed harbored more than 100 closeted Communists which turned out to be a gross distortion of the actual facts. [4] Bill Baggs was a very active anti-Communist himself, publishing numerous anti-Castro articles during the very early days of the Castro regime in Cuba beginning in 1959. Baggs cultivated numerous news sources from within the anti-Castro Soldier-of-Fortune community in South Florida including Gerry Patrick Hemming, Roy Hargraves, Eddie Collins and William Whatley as well as Alex Rorke and several others. He also worked with eventual Watergate burglars Frank Sturgis and Bernard Barker to develop news leads and sources about the South Florida anti-Castro exile community long before they were involved with Watergate.

Baggs also conferred with South Florida C.I.A. case officers like David Atlee Phillips and E. Howard Hunt on various topics related to the intrigue among South Florida anti-Castro Cuban exiles. One of his reporters, Hal Hendrix known as "the spook" at The Miami News, once broke the story about the alleged coup d'etat against Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic, the day before it actually happened which was an obvious embarassment for both the C.I.A., and The Miami News but especially for Hal Hendrix.

Baggs was a longtime supporter of liberal Democrats like Rep. Claude Pepper and Senator Dante Fascell and was instrumental in writing articles and editorials supporting legislation which helped the numerous retirees who were already dominating the population in the South Florida area and represented the core readership base of The Miami News. He was often a target of criticism launched by the right wing for his early efforts at advancing Civil Rights, for opposing the Viet Nam War and for defending and promoting various social welfare programs for the elderly, the infirm and the disadvantaged in South Florida and throughout the nation.

Bill Baggs worked tirelessly on his very early pioneering conservation efforts to rescue the section of Key Biscayne from over-development by real estate developers. That section was later named Bill Baggs State Park in his honor. And he also worked indefatigably on his lifelong resuscitation project The Miami News which was an afternoon newspaper that always trailed The Miami Herald, the dominant morning paper, in total circulation and advertising revenues during his tenure as Editor-In-Chief.

Bill Baggs died of a heart attack in 1969 at the age of 48 due at least partially to his devotion to the success of The Miami News on a 7-days a week basis throughout the year. He was often the first employee to arrive every morning before 5:30 A.M. and the last one to leave at night after 6:00 P.M. after the paper had been published and distributed to be available for rush hour traffic starting at 4:00 P.M. when the newsboys hawked the paper at traffic lights throughout South Florida. Bill Baggs was a genuine admirer of President John F. Kennedy and was noticeably saddened after his assassination. The fact that he personally knew several of those South Florida Soldiers of Fortune and C.I.A. case officers who later admitted playing a role in JFK's demise like Frank Sturgis, Gerald Patrick Hemming, Roy Hargraves and E. Howard Hunt would have caused him no small amount of consternation and pain. His close associates said that he was never the same after the death of his longtime friend and political hero.[5]

Cuba kept on simmering, and the White House kept on patrolling the news with the same steely determination that had put a naval blockade in the Caribbean. But one U.S. daily seemed totally undisturbed by the specter of Government news control.

Without any handouts or help from Washington, where it does not even keep a reporter, the Miami evening News has been steadily producing some of the best Cuban coverage in the U.S. A full two weeks before President Kennedy alerted the nation to the presence of offensive Russian missiles in Cuba, the News had the story on Page One: SOVIETS BUILD 6 CUBAN MISSILE BASES. Hours before the White House response to this new threat, the News headlined—CUBA BLOCKADE IN THE WORKS? By 90 minutes, it beat a Defense Department statement that Cuba-bound Soviet ships were turning back. Where does the News get such intelligence? "Whenever anyone asks me that," said Editor William Calhoun Baggs last week, "I just say a little roseate spoonbill told us."

A Bunch of Individuals. For all its fast journalistic footwork, the News is undeniably Miami's second daily. The paper's circulation of 145,263, while steadily rising, is less than half that of Miami's dominant morning Herald (320,547). The News trails hopelessly in ad linage, 7,533,733 to the Herald's 21,376,317 (for the first half of 1962). It runs about 125 daily columns of news to the Herald's 200, musters an editorial staff of 100 to the Herald's 173. But such odds have only inspired the News to act as if it were the first, best, biggest and only paper in town.

Its self-confidence is very much the image of its deceptively easygoing editor. By newsroom standards, Bill Baggs, 40, makes an ideal boss. He keeps a brass cuspidor within reachable trajectory of his desk, shows visitors the bullet hole that some disgruntled subscriber drilled through his office window, and lets his staffers strut their stuff. "Hell. I don't have much to do," he says, and proves it by writing a daily column and occasional editorials, and by often accompanying his men on out-of-town assignments. "The best ideas that show up in the paper come from guys out in the newsroom. What we don't have is a team. We have a bunch of individuals."

Baggs is the most individual of the bunch. He is a Southerner by birth, son of a well-to-do Atlanta Ford dealer, but his convictions know no geography. His outspoken views on the race issue have antagonized Floridians from Jacksonville to Key West. "There is nothing much but anguish," wrote Baggs in a typical News editorial, "when you feud with so many of your readers and friends. But there are times when you have no other choice. Which brings us quickly to the practice of enforced segregation in the public schools of Florida. It is wrong." His opinions pull such a heavy poison-pen response from racists that Baggs requisitioned a rubber stamp to answer most of the letters. The stamp reads: "This is not a simple life, my friend, and there are no simple answers."

Cuba kept on simmering, and the White House kept on patrolling the news with the same steely determination that had put a naval blockade in the Caribbean. But one U.S. daily seemed totally undisturbed by the specter of Government news control.

Without any handouts or help from Washington, where it does not even keep a reporter, the Miami evening News has been steadily producing some of the best Cuban coverage in the U.S. A full two weeks before President Kennedy alerted the nation to the presence of offensive Russian missiles in Cuba, the News had the story on Page One: SOVIETS BUILD 6 CUBAN MISSILE BASES. Hours before the White House response to this new threat, the News headlined—CUBA BLOCKADE IN THE WORKS? By 90 minutes, it beat a Defense Department statement that Cuba-bound Soviet ships were turning back. Where does the News get such intelligence? "Whenever anyone asks me that," said Editor William Calhoun Baggs last week, "I just say a little roseate spoonbill told us."

A Bunch of Individuals. For all its fast journalistic footwork, the News is undeniably Miami's second daily. The paper's circulation of 145,263, while steadily rising, is less than half that of Miami's dominant morning Herald (320,547). The News trails hopelessly in ad linage, 7,533,733 to the Herald's 21,376,317 (for the first half of 1962). It runs about 125 daily columns of news to the Herald's 200, musters an editorial staff of 100 to the Herald's 173. But such odds have only inspired the News to act as if it were the first, best, biggest and only paper in town.

Its self-confidence is very much the image of its deceptively easygoing editor. By newsroom standards, Bill Baggs, 40, makes an ideal boss. He keeps a brass cuspidor within reachable trajectory of his desk, shows visitors the bullet hole that some disgruntled subscriber drilled through his office window, and lets his staffers strut their stuff. "Hell. I don't have much to do," he says, and proves it by writing a daily column and occasional editorials, and by often accompanying his men on out-of-town assignments. "The best ideas that show up in the paper come from guys out in the newsroom. What we don't have is a team. We have a bunch of individuals."

Baggs is the most individual of the bunch. He is a Southerner by birth, son of a well-to-do Atlanta Ford dealer, but his convictions know no geography. His outspoken views on the race issue have antagonized Floridians from Jacksonville to Key West. "There is nothing much but anguish," wrote Baggs in a typical News editorial, "when you feud with so many of your readers and friends. But there are times when you have no other choice. Which brings us quickly to the practice of enforced segregation in the public schools of Florida. It is wrong." His opinions pull such a heavy poison-pen response from racists that Baggs requisitioned a rubber stamp to answer most of the letters. The stamp reads: "This is not a simple life, my friend, and there are no simple answers."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...l#ixzz0e8v21TYF

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...l#ixzz0e8v21TYF

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