Jon Wiener: American writer (1944-) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Jon Wiener
American writer

Jon Wiener

Jon Wiener
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American writer
Is Historian Writer
From United States of America
Field Literature Social science
Gender male
Birth 16 May 1944, Saint Paul
Age 79 years
Spouse: Judy Fiskin
Jon Wiener
The details (from wikipedia)


Jon Wiener (born May 16, 1944) is an American historian and journalist based in Los Angeles. He is notable for waging a successful 25-year legal battle to win the release of the FBI's files on John Lennon. Wiener played a key role in efforts to expose the surveillance as well as the behind-the-scenes battling between the government and the former Beatle, and is a recognized expert on the FBI-versus-Lennon controversy. A professor emeritus of United States history at the University of California, Irvine, he is also a contributing editor to the left-leaning political weekly magazine The Nation and host of The Nation's weekly podcast, "Start Making Sense." He also hosts a weekly radio program in Los Angeles. In addition to being an advocate for liberal causes and transparency in government, he wrote two books about Lennon, and has described Lennon's song "Imagine" as being a "hymn to idealism" with relevance today. He has been criticized by reporters for having a left-oriented bias in his books, sometimes leading to a revisionism regarding Lennon's political orientation. Wiener interviewed Gore Vidal many times, and recently published a book of interviews with the late celebrity which spanned many years.

Early life

Wiener was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he graduated from Central High School. He received a bachelor's degree from Princeton and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard, where he worked with Barrington Moore, Jr. and Michael Walzer, and also wrote for the underground paper The Old Mole.


Academic career

Picture of a building and grounds.
The Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

At the University of California, Irvine, Wiener taught history courses on American politics and the Cold War. His scholarly works have been published in The American Historical Review, The Journal of American History, Radical History Review, and Past & Present. He led students on visits to the Nixon Library

Journalism and Political Commentary

Wiener with John Waters, an American film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist, and art collector, in 2010.

Since 1984, Wiener has been a contributing editor for The Nation magazine, where he has written about diverse topics including campus issues, intellectual controversies, and southern California politics. His writing has also appeared in The Guardian, New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and Los Angeles Times. On Wiener’s radio program, a weekly public affairs interview show on Los Angeles radio station KPFK 90.7 FM., his guests have included Gail Collins, Jane Mayer, Joan Didion, Gore Vidal, Barbara Ehrenreich, Frank Rich, Seymour Hersh, Amos Oz, Mike Davis, Elmore Leonard, John Dean, Julian Bond, Al Franken, and Terry Gross. In his writing Wiener has criticized government secrecy, American foreign policy, and corporations such as Wal-Mart.

Wiener is a political commentator, often advocating for left-leaning causes such as workers' rights, against plagiarism in academia by academics, and against corporations such as WalMart. He has written about domestic political subjects. Wiener has criticized American foreign policy in its dealings with Iraq and United States support for dictatorships. While Wiener is perhaps best known for his battling to expose the FBI's surveillance of John Lennon, he also was instrumental in getting the FBI to release documents about its surveillance of comedian Groucho Marx.

Wiener and the Lennon FBI Files

Chronology of Wiener v. FBI
Dates Event Notes
1969 Lennon releases the single
"Give Peace a Chance"
1971-1972 FBI closely monitors Lennon
1972-03-06 INS tries to deport Lennon
1973-03 Judge rules Lennon must leave
US in two months
1973-06 Lennon countersues US
1976-06 Lennon wins countersuit;
can stay in US
1980-12-10 John Lennon murdered
1981 Wiener researches book
on Lennon
1981 Wiener requests documents
Gets some, most held back
1981 Wiener sues FBI
to release documents
1983 FBI claims national
security danger
1991 9th circuit court: FBI
didn't show "adequate
grounds" for secrecy
1992 Justice Dept appeals
9th Circuit decision
to Supreme Court
1992 Court refuses appeal,
sides with Wiener/ACLU
1997 FBI releases more documents
except for ten documents
2000 Report: Lennon may have
secretly funded IRA
says MI5
doubted by Lennon supporters
2004 Federal judge orders
remaining ten
documents released
2004 FBI agrees to release
final 10 documents
2006-12-20 FBI releases final
eight or ten documents
2006 The U.S. Versus John Lennon
Documentary; Wiener is consultant
2006-12-21 Wiener discussed contents of
declassified material on NPR


According to one report, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover sent a memo to Nixon's chief of staff describing Lennon as a sympathizer of Trotskyist communists in England.
John and Yoko Lennon recording the song Give Peace a Chance in 1969.

The legal battle between Wiener and the United States government was waged over two and a half decades, and has been examined by other historians. In the late sixties, many young Americans became opposed to the Vietnam War, and John Lennon became an antiwar advocate who made then-president Richard Nixon nervous about his reelection prospects in 1972. The consensus view is that Nixon asked the FBI to begin surveillance of Lennon, possibly after Lennon went to New York on a visa and met up with radical anti-war activists. Government surveillance of Lennon had been extensive, although there was no documentary evidence of wiretapping, and lasted about 11 months.

It is likely that Lennon was unaware of the FBI surveillance during the early 1970s.

The attempt to deport Lennon

The Immigration and Naturalization Service, acting on a suggestion from Senator Strom Thurmond, and probably at the behest of Richard Nixon, ordered Lennon to be deported in the spring of 1972. According to Wiener's account, the key issue for the Nixon administration was that Lennon had been talking to anti-war leaders about a "tour that would combine rock music with anti-war organizing and voter registration," possibly as a way to court first-time eighteen-year-old voters, who were believed to have a tendency to vote for the Democratic party.

The Republican National Convention in August 1972; Nixon's wife Pat Nixon addressed the crowd. Nixon was reelected in November 1972.

Reporter Adam Cohen writing in 2006 in the New York Times agreed that the FBI surveillance of Lennon had been motivated not only by antiwar concerns but by concerns of a political nature. According to Cohen, what was most revealing was that the timing of these events suggested there was an underlying political motivation behind the surveillance and deportation proceedings. Numerous friends, including folk singer Bob Dylan, wrote letters to the Immigration and Naturalization Service advocating that Lennon should be allowed to stay. On December 8, 1972, after Nixon's reelection in November, the FBI closed its investigation of Lennon, partially because Lennon has shown "inactivity in Revolutionary Activities." According to Wiener, the FBI had succeeded in "neutralizing" Lennon's opposition to Nixon's reelection. John Lennon was murdered in December 1980.

Wiener vs. the FBI

Document with text almost all blacked out, dated 1972.
The FBI released heavily blacked out, or redacted, pages of the Lennon FBI file, including this one, initially in response to Jon Wiener's Freedom of Information request.
Document with portions of text blacked out, dated 1972.
Wiener received this less-heavily-blacked out copy of the same file page after more than a decade of litigation by the ACLU of Southern California.

In 1981, while conducting research for a book about John Lennon, Wiener learned of the F.B.I. surveillance, and that there were either 281 or 400 pages of files on the ex-Beatle. Wiener requested the release of the FBI's files on Lennon by citing the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI refused to release two-thirds or 199 pages of the files on the grounds that they contained “national security” information. The pages that were released were heavily blacked out with magic marker, or redacted.

In 1983, Wiener sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act with assistance from the ACLU of Southern California, including attorneys Dan Marmalefsky of Morrison & Foerster and Mark Rosenbaum of the ACLU. In response, the FBI turned over some documents, but withheld others claiming they contained "national security information provided by a foreign government under an explicit promise of confidentiality" and added that releasing the documents could lead to “military retaliation against the United States."

Wiener chronicled much of his frustration with getting documents in his 1984 book Come Together including many "Orwellian moments" during the "tortoise-like progress" of the lawyers. While Wiener lost many of the early "skirmishes", a turning point came in 1991 when the 9th Circuit appeals court ruled in his favor, and declared that the FBI had failed to provide "adequate grounds" to keep the data secret. As a result, the FBI had to keep filing affidavits which had "sufficient detail" which allowed Wiener to keep advocating for their release, and for judges to "intelligently judge" the contest, according to several reports. Then justice department lawyer John Roberts, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, appealed the decision, but the Supreme Court at the time sided with Wiener and the ACLU.

The case of Wiener v FBI escalated over many years. A settlement with the FBI was reached in 1997 before the case could be heard before the Supreme Court, and most documents except ten were released to Wiener as part of the agreement. According to Wiener, the government paid $204,000 in court costs and attorney fees. The justice department lawyers retained ten documents under the national security proviso of the FOIA. In 2006, the final eight or ten documents of Lennon’s file were released. According to Wiener, the ten pages revealed there had been contacts between Lennon and leftist and anti-war groups in London in the early 1970s but that there had been no signs that government officials saw Lennon as a serious threat, and only regarded solicitation of funds for a "left-wing bookshop and reading room in London" but that Lennon did not provide any funds for this purpose. Wiener wrote:

I doubt that Tony Blair's government will launch a military strike on the U.S. in retaliation for the release of these documents ... Today, we can see that the national security claims that the FBI has been making for 25 years were absurd from the beginning.

— Jon Wiener, 2006, in USA Today
A parrot, similar to this one, was reported to have said "Right on!" whenever discussion got heated.

Wiener expressed amazement that so much of the information had been withheld:

One of the items here is a report from an undercover agent on a meeting of anti-war radicals in the East Village ... The undercover agent reports — this is to J. Edgar Hoover — that at this loft in the East Village, there is a parrot, and whenever the conversation gets heated, the parrot shouts, "Right on!" Now, it's kind of mildly interesting, but why does J. Edgar Hoover need to know this? Why should this be classified "confidential"?

— Jon Wiener, in 2000, in an interview

Chronicling the Case

Wiener wrote about his legal battles in his book, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, published by the University of California Press in 2000. The book includes copies of 100 key documents from the Lennon file, including "lengthy reports by confidential informants detailing the daily lives of anti-war activists, memos to the White House, transcripts of TV shows on which Lennon appeared, and a proposal that Lennon be arrested by local police on drug charges." He also wrote about the case and its significance for The Guardian, The Nation, the L.A. Times, and The New Republic.

Wiener’s work provided the basis for the 2006 documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon. Wiener served as a historical consultant to the production and also appears in the film. He also appears in the documentary LENNONYC, which aired on the PBS show “American Masters” in 2010. He was interviewed about the Lennon FBI Files by Terry Gross on the NPR program “Fresh Air.” ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum said that the Wiener v FBI case revealed "government paranoia at a pathological level and an attempt to shield executive branch abuse of civil liberties under the rubric of national security."


Wiener is the author of six books. In Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud and Power in the Ivory Tower. he examined a dozen history scandals and concluded that media spectacles end careers only when powerful usually right-leaning external groups demand punishment. He also edited and wrote the introduction to Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight which included an abridged transcript of the 1968 Chicago Conspiracy trial; in that trial, Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Dave Dellinger and others faced charges stemming from anti-war demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention, and witnesses included Timothy Leary, Norman Mailer, Arlo Guthrie, and Allen Ginsberg; the book includes an afterward by defendant Tom Hayden and drawings by Jules Feiffer. Wiener's latest book How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America, based on his visits to Cold War monuments, museums, and memorials, emphasizes popular skepticism about America’s victory.

Critical reaction

Reactions by critics to Wiener’s writings has been varied. The New York Times Book Review wrote that Wiener’s book Come Together: John Lennon in His Time "stands out as one of the few books that don't want to deify, dish the dirt about or otherwise exploit the slain former Beatle." A second review of this book criticized Wiener's perspective for being "tunnel-visioned". He has been criticized by Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic. Wiener's Gimme Some Truth received positive reviews in The Washington Post, London Independent, and the Christian Science Monitor. A review of Wiener's book Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower criticized Wiener for having a left-leaning bias. One reviewer described Wiener's Gimme Some Truth book as "sobering".

Selected bibliography

  • I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics—interviews with Gore Vidal
  • How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. ISBN 9780520271418.
  • Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight. Edited with an introduction by Jon Wiener; afterword by Tom Hayden; drawings by Jules Feiffer. New York: The New Press, 2006. ISBN 9781565848337
  • Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower . New York: The New Press, 2005. ISBN 9781565848849
  • Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 9780520222465
  • Professors, Politics and Pop. London and New York: Verso Books, 1991. ISBN 9780860916727
  • Come Together: John Lennon in his Time New York: Random House, 1984. ISBN 9780252061318
  • Social Origins of the New South: Alabama, 1865-1885. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978. ISBN 9780807108888
  • “The Footnote Fetish.” Telos 31 (Spring 1977). New York: Telos Press.

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