One memo said that another reporter told the FBI that a drunken Nelson told them at a conference in Massachusetts that he "had a statement from somebody in the 'Department' stating that Mr. Hoover was a 'homosexual' and that he was planning to use this information in the article." In a series of memos, Hoover called Nelson "a mental case," "a rat," a "jackal" and a "lice-covered ferret."
Hoover was so worried about the article he thought Nelson planned to write that he brought up the issue with Attorney General John Mitchell in 1971. "We have received several recent reports reflecting extensive efforts on his part to embarrass the FBI and me," Hoover wrote. In a second letter, Hoover wrote that Nelson drank excessively and had bragged that he was going to write "that I am a homosexual."
Hoover continued: "While I have no reluctance to stand on my record and to let the facts of both my personal and official life speak for themselves, I nonetheless wanted you to have this background information regarding stories that should soon appear."
Dave Kraslow, an editor in the Washington bureau of the L.A. Times, met with Hoover to try to clear the air:
In a recent interview, Kraslow, now 85, said Hoover complained bitterly about Nelson's supposed plan to identify him as a homosexual.
"The spittle was running out of his lips and the corners of his mouth," Kraslow said. "He was out of control."
In a written account of the meeting from 1971, Kraslow said Hoover had threatened to sue Nelson for criminal libel "should such a lie ever appear in print," and "he was careful to point out it was not intended as a threat, but as a promise."
"I defied him to produce any informant who would stare me in the face or who would stare Jack Nelson in the face and say that Jack Nelson had on any occasion intimated that Hoover was a homosexual," Kraslow wrote.
Kraslow refused to fire Nelson. Rather, he asked his reporter to write a rebuttal, which was sent to Hoover.
"I emphatically deny that I have at any time under any circumstances ever said or remotely suggested that Mr. Hoover was a homosexual," Nelson wrote on Oct. 19, 1971.
Nelson died in 2009 at age 80 after becoming Washington bureau chief of The Times.