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Newspaper, FBI report agreement in Withers FOIA

WASHINGTON (AP) – A Tennessee newspaper and the federal government said they have agreed in principle to settle the paper’s lawsuit seeking documents about civil rights-era photographer Ernest Withers’ work as an informant for the FBI.

In a court filing late Wednesday night, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis and the FBI said they were in the process of finalizing and executing a settlement agreement. To allow time to do so, they asked the court to suspend deadlines in the case until March 8. No details of the settlement were included in the filing.

U.S. District Amy Berman Jackson granted the request Thursday morning.

In 2010, The Commercial Appeal’s publisher, Memphis Publishing Co., and one of its reporters, Marc Perrusquia, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI. Last year, under a court order, the FBI released 348 pages that were heavily redacted in places. In a court filing, the paper called the release insufficient.

“The Commercial Appeal and Marc are pleased with the agreement we have tentatively reached with the FBI,” Charles D. Tobin, a lawyer for Memphis Publishing Co. and Perrusquia, said in an email Thursday. “The process underscores the public’s right to know more about this troubling time in our government’s history. We have no comment on the details of the settlement until the agreement is signed.”

The Justice Department did not respond to phone and email messages Thursday.

About a year ago, the judge in the case said that documents confirmed that Withers, who died at 85 in 2007, secretly served as an informer for the FBI. Withers was known as “the civil rights photographer” for iconic images of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others protesting for racial equality in the South.

In 2010, The Commercial Appeal reported that Withers was an informant who regularly tipped off authorities about civil rights leaders, many of whom trusted him so completely that he was allowed to sit in on their most sensitive meetings.

Withers’ photographs had chronicled the seminal Emmett Till murder trial in 1955, racial integration at the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis that brought King to the city where he was assassinated. Withers marched with King and was beaten by police while covering civil rights leader Medgar Evers’ 1963 funeral.


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