Inside Media: Fighting Gangs and Gangsters

July 26, 2008

Guest: John Fox

The gangsters' nicknames were colorful and catchy: "Creepy Karpis." "Machine Gun Kelly." "Baby Face Nelson." But the government agents who took the criminals down garnered their own brand of popularity, according to FBI Historian John Fox.

"With the emergence of the bureau as the premier law enforcement agency in America, the term ‘G-Man' became simply associated with an FBI agent," he said.

"It was a popular culture iconic image that really captured the American imagination, captured the imagination of journalists," he said, which led to a "very good" relationship between the bureau and the press.

"A journalist wants to tell a good story. We have a good story to tell. It's really a very good match," Fox said.

One of the best illustrations of this relationship is the arrest of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, who founded the group of hired killers known as "Murder, Inc." Walter Winchell, a famed reporter and gossip columnist in the 1930s, helped arrange for Buchalter to turn himself in to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover made the arrest, and Winchell, of course, got the scoop.

And Buchalter? "It didn't work out so well for him," Fox said.

Buchalter misunderstood the criminal charges he thought he would face and was executed in New York in 1944.

The media's extensive coverage of a notorious 1957 meeting of dozens of Mafia bosses in Apalachin, N.Y., and later congressional hearings on organized crime, helped raise public awareness of the nationwide problem, Fox said.

"By serving as that source of information for the American people, [the media] helped to elevate that as a priority for what the government should be tackling," he said.

"Inside Media," produced by the Newseum, is open to the public. Seating is on a space-available basis.

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