Why the AJC is reporting the MLK sex allegations

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David J. Garrow, an authority on Martin Luther King Jr., offered his explosive story on King to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and reportedly to other U.S. publications before it was published in Great Britain.

The AJC turned down Garrow’s offer.

The piece, which reveals new sexual allegations against the civil rights icon, was published in Standpoint, a United Kingdom-based cultural and political magazine.

It was also offered to The Atlantic and The Washington Post, according to Standpoint.

The AJC declined to run the piece because it was based on information that would in some cases be impossible to independently verify, said AJC editor Kevin Riley.

He said the AJC chose to report on Garrow’s article now that it has been published. AJC editors decided that the piece should be covered as a news story in King’s hometown, distilling it for an Atlanta audience, he said

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An historian, Garrow approached the AJC in December, offering the newspaper the chance to buy and then publish the explosive allegations and effectively putting its own credibility behind his work.

This was a difficult situation, Riley said, because the newspaper would have been unable to independently confirm the details.

“Without access to the original source material we were unwilling to publish the story,” he said.

The details about orgies and a rape witnessed by King are recounted in FBI memos that were released last year as part of declassification of more than 19,000 documents about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But they are mostly summaries of source documents.

Primary documents — all of the audio recordings and most transcripts — remain under seal at the National Archives until 2027, based on a judge’s order.

Garrow’s piece is much longer than the typical newspaper article, and filled with details revealed in the FBI summaries. Sources normally checked by journalists, including witnesses or people directly involved — the alleged rapist died nearly two decades ago — were beyond reach.

Said Riley: “Without access to the underlying tapes and people involved, we didn’t feel we could confirm the information to the standards the AJC demands when we break important investigative news stories.”

“Garrow is a respected historian whose work on King is essential reading,” said Riley. But the work is about events over half a century ago, which is not the typical domain of a newspaper.

Riley said the details and significance of the FBI’s surveillance of King will become clear over time.

“We will follow the story, as we should, but we didn’t feel it was appropriate to attach this information to the AJC. It is part of Garrow’s scrutiny of an important Atlanta figure — not our own reporting,” Riley said.