The Story Hollywood Should Be Clamoring For: Betty Medsger’s The Burglary
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” -Margaret Mead
How cool is that quote? I mean, it’s powerful. It makes you want to act. It’s short. Simple. Clear. It’s also a fitting quote for Betty Medsger’s new book The Burglary (which is why it appears in the epigraph and on the back cover).
I recently finished the book and I couldn’t wait to write a post about it. I am a member of the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) and when I saw an email from Betty (also a JAWS member) over our listserv about her new book and the NY Times and NPR coverage of it on the day of the launch I was intrigued.
First, I couldn’t believe the story.
In 1971, a group of college professors and other just very normal people broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole all of the files. They did this to expose the illegal practices the FBI was using to spy and harass American political dissidents. Betty was one of the reporters who received anonymous mailings of the files and who helped expose the big hot (unconstitutional!) mess that J. Edgar Hoover had created during his four decades as head of the FBI.
They just broke in?
The FBI was spying on and harassing us?
Why have I never heard of this before?
You can read the NY Times piece on it, but honestly you need to buy and read the whole book. It’s eye opening and shocking. It makes me question everything. It makes me angry. It makes me see that this NSA stuff is really just history repeating itself.
What better way to convince you to read it than to share some of my favorite gems from the book? Here goes:
In his search for hope, Davidon found it where he had never expected – among Catholics. If he and the people who worked with him on the Media burglary had not become involved in 1970 with the Catholic peace movement, there would have been no burglary. People in that movement had invented the concept of burglary as a resistance method.
What? Catholics? Awesome.
The break in (1970 draft board raid in Delaware) technique they settled on at that office must be unique in the annals of burglary. Several hours before the burglary was to take place, one of them wrote a note and tacked it to the door they wanted to enter: “Please don’t lock this door tonight.” Sure enough, when the burglars arrived that night, someone had obediently left the door unlocked.
I hear the Catholics had it on good authority that if you ask, you shall receive.
Hoover moved the FBI away from law enforcement… The person in charge of law enforcement created a culture of lawlessness. -Athan George Theoharis
How did we let this happen? (again?)
As soon as you get into an area where you are dealing with people ideas, you are dealing with something extraordinary…As long as they’re not breaking any laws, they should be free from government surveillance and… from being on some government list. – Neil J. Welch
Ahem, NSA. Are you listening? (Of course you are).
They had to resort to this kind of activity – criminal acts against the government – in order to get some exposure of the government’s wrongdoing. What I’m saying is that they wouldn’t have to do that if there were some proper method of accountability on the part of the government. – Neil J. Welch
Agreed. In my opinion, the main point of the book.
The book reads like a thriller novel at first – going over the preparation, the burglary itself and then the manhunt after it was over. Medsger then goes into more of a deep dive of what the Media burglary files exposed and the subsequent committees and investigations into the FBI. Finally, and probably my favorite part, we get a story about each burglar and what made them do it and what they’ve been doing since (best part – it’s generally really mundane life stuff like jobs, kids, grandkids).
And now I’m just waiting for the Hollywood film.