Newly released FBI files say Jesse Helms was a "contact" for the FBI, willing to offer to the law enforcement agency the facilities of TV station WRAL, where he was a broadcast executive until the early 1970s.
Helms "is most cooperative and has offered the facilities of his station to assist the FBI at any time," according to an FBI memo from 1971. "He is a great admirer of the Director (J. Edgar Hoover) and the FBI and for a long period of time has been a staunch defender of the Director and his policies."
Helms, a five-term U.S. senator and one of the iconic figures of American conservatism, died on July 4, 2008. His death triggered the release of the FBI files, which are largely investigations into roughly 20 death threats and extortion attempts against the senator.
Prior to his election, Helms was an executive vice president and assistant CEO of the Capitol Broadcasting Company, which operates WRAL. He was known for his fiery editorials on the station's news broadcasts.
Steve Hammel, WRAL's vice president and general manager, said he is not aware of the station ever being used to assist the FBI. The FBI report was the first time he learned of the relationship.
"I have read the same report that you have read and I have no knowledge that the television station was used in any capacity like that," he said.
The FBI files sheds little light as to how Helms or the TV station may have assisted the agency. A 1973 FBI memo makes reference to "several telephonic contacts," between Helms and an FBI official, but does not mention any subjects. By then, the files show he had been "deleted" as a contact by virtue of his election to the U.S. Senate.
Like other conservative Southern journalists, Helms followed Hoover's lead in discrediting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and his movement as communist-influenced.
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