King looked the Kennedy in the eye and promised he would. But King
merely pretended to break off contact with Levison while actually continuing to confer with him through intermediaries. The president, however, was
aware of King's back-channel communication arrangement with Levison—because his brother had already authorized wiretaps and bugs on Levison himself. Distressed, the Kennedy wondered what else King was hiding.
Later that summer, because of White House-authorized surveillance on at least one King associate, the Kennedys learned the minister was having
extra-marital affairs. When tape recordings of King's "bedroom activities" surfaced, J. Edgar Hoover apparently listened. Leonardo DiCaprio deftly
plays the curious old man hearing these tapes. (What Eastwood finessed is an improvement from Black's screenplay that reads, "Hoover is listening, his
forehead is misty, he may even be masturbating.") In fact, the recordings revolted Hoover.
leads us to believe that all of this voyeurism came at the instigation of Hoover. But the date of October 10, 1963, offers a different narrative: that
was when Attorney General Robert Kennedy, angered by King's recalcitrance to comply with the president's demand to oust Levison, ordered Hoover to have bureau agents wiretap
King's telephones, including the one in the preacher's Atlanta home.
"I asked the FBI to make an intensive investigation of Martin Luther King," Robert Kennedy later privately acknowledged to
journalist Anthony Lewis, "to see who his companions were and, also, to see what other activities he was involved in. This is also the reason that
President Kennedy and I and the Department of Justice were so reserved about him, which I'm sure he felt. We never wanted to get close to him just
because of these contacts and connections that he had, which we felt were damaging to the civil rights movement and because we were so intimately
involved in the struggle for civil rights, it also damaged us. It damaged what we were trying to do."
Of course, the assassination of John F. Kennedy later that fall cast a pall over the future of civil rights until Lyndon Johnson began pushing it again
the following year. Nevertheless, the new president—now recipient of the results from the bugs and wiretaps that were capturing Martin Luther King's
every move—was watchful of the minister, though apparently for additional reasons. Johnson seemed to consume the King surveillance with gusto,
especially the personal stuff. "He listened to the tapes that even had the noises of the bedsprings," Time correspondent Hugh Sidey reported in 1975.
Johnson would say, "Goddammit, if you could only hear what that hypocritical preacher does sexually."
also leaves one to conclude that Hoover's disapproval of King was all-encompassing. At one point in the picture, the supposedly repressed Hoover comes
unhinged, fulminating against King, and - in a risible fictionalization - he even crafts a poison-pen letter to the minister pretending that he's
black. "You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all us Negroes," dictates the movie's Hoover. "White people in this country have
enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don't have one at this time that is anywhere near your equal."