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LBJ recorded WH phone conversations censored?

Chris Newton

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Just wondering if others had experienced this issue...

I searched the LBJ Library at UT for conversations that included the key word "estes" and found several but when listening to the actual "mp3" found that the recording stopped midway through the conversation and was replaced by a long tone. The conversation resumed just long enough for LBJ and Deke Deloach to say their "good byes". Call on 12/03/64 at 9:40 AM.

Here's the search database for conversations:


...and here's the link to the Miller Center where the archived conversations reside:


...actual conversation I'm complaining about (tone from 4:10 to 5:35) tape length 5:48:


I'm not really surprised by this,(obviously a National Security Issue), but do you all think that the actual tape is censored or someone from the library censored the recorded file(the mp3 itself)? The UT database indicates that the call was NOT transcribed. How convenient.

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Guest Robert Morrow

LBJ recorded many if not all of his White House conversations. And he, or someone working for him, destroyed many of them. What is left is the self serving propaganda that Johnson wanted to leave for his historical legacy.

The exact same thing happened at the Kennedy Library and it is reported in the book "The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy" by Richard Burke, who was a very close aide to Ted and wrote a this tell-all book in 2003.

Burke mentions that he talked to one of the high level people at the JFK Library and was told that they were destroying unfavorable historical evidence related to JFK. (My hunch is Burke was speaking with Dave Powers - just a hunch.)

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Chris, They are not so much "censored," as redacted. What you're describing, and I've run into it myself, is how they redact audio tape. The original tape, either a dictabelt or reel to reel is played and a copy is made, almost always a 90 minute audio cassette. That tape is made publicly available to preserve the original. If there is a discussion that somebody somewhere thinks will affect national security then it's redacted. So, you will hear a tone instead of the conversation(s). Many, if not most of the material secretly recorded by JFK and LBJ are not transcribed. A lot of it is being transcribed now after they've been declassified. But, there are many instances where mistakes have been made, wrong words transcribed which change the whole conversation, even the wrong person identified as speaking, especially with the JFK tapes being transcribed by the Miller Center. This critique was brought up by Sheldon Stern, at the JFK Library during a conference on presidential taping systems. Stern worked at the JFK library as an historian for 23 years. He wrote an article criticizing the entire approach and methodology taken by Ernest May and Phillip Zelikow for The Atlantic Magazine. What JFK Really Said. I consider this article to be essential reading, and a warning to those who would use the JFK tapes and transcripts from the Miller Center.

The LBJ library declassified the tapes prior to the JFK Act going into full effect. They were afraid they would lose ownership and control of the tapes if they were still classified when the JFK Act began. There was language in the Act that would have resulted in them effectively being taken and put into the JFK records collection at Archives II.

It is very difficult to stay on top of what has been redacted in audio recordings. You need the tape with the redacted tones inserted, and documentation as to when that redaction was done, and you have to follow up and see if they say it will be released later on if they actually did so.

In my experience NARA isn't that interested in staying on top of it at all. It's too much manpower for them to be so, and I think they are just going to let stuff go in 2017. However, I expect the CIA and other agencies will try to keep things secret beyond 2017.


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Thanks Joseph for your thoughtful reply.

I'm sorry I used the word "censored" actually, because I'm fully aware of how things are redacted in courtrooms. My "day" job is that I'm a litigation support analyst and I've actually redacted thousands of documents and transcripts myself. It's pretty infrequent that we "redact" audio clips because the majority of playback in this day and age is full video. Although I have done some old school linear "redacting" of video we now use software tools such as the applications "Sanction" and "Trial Director" to "redact" (or more accurately "create designations") for playback in courtrooms and mediations. In the case of video the parts we don't want to play are simply removed entirely, audio and video.

I concur entirely with the critique by Mr. Stern. I've seen hundreds of mistakes in transcripts that were easily identified because we also had the video of the depositions. The problem here is that the stenographer certifies the transcript is true and correct (in the eyes of the courts) and not the video. Every time I hear (or read) the suggestion that the FBI or the Warren Commission wouldn't or couldn't change a deponent's testimony my eyes roll.

Thanks also for the insight into the politics of the Library itself.

I think I should have been a little more clear about my suggestion that the conversation was "obviously a National Security issue". I was being facetious. The conversation was about scandals affecting Johnson and my suspicion is that there was something embarrassing or worse that was redacted.

A related tidbit I discovered last night: DeLoach told an interviewer in his LBJ Oral History that "..the President, to my knowledge, never discussed the Bobby Baker scandal with me". I guess he never imagined we'd get to hear those phone calls.

The degree of collusion between the FBI and Johnson on matters that were strictly political in nature is very "revealing".

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