On Thursday, CNN aired "Escape from Jonestown," presented by CNN special investigations unit corespondent Soledad O'Brien. This week marks thirty years since the horrific deaths of more than 900 people, roughly a third of them children, at Jonestown. The massacre was orchestrated by "Reverend" Jim Jones. What CNN barely referenced was Jones's connection to several leading Democratic politicians of the time. O'Brien did identify Jones as a believer in socialism and, with a survivor, passingly alluded to his influence in the Democratic Party:
O'BRIEN: In 1975, Jones moved his church headquarters from Redwood Valley down to San Francis, to a larger stage, where he became a political force and a face in photo-ops.
GOSNEY: Roslyn (sic) Carter was campaigning for Jimmy Carter. I believe that was 1976. And there was going to be a rally downtown. Literally, we stuffed the building. We were -- we were the rally.
Jones was much more than a face in a photo-op. Democratic San Francisco Mayor George Moscone appointed him to the city's housing authority. Willie Brown, who later served as Democratic Speaker of the California Assembly, in 1976 introduced Jones as a combination Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein and Chairman Mao.
That same year Senator Walter Mondale, later elected vice president, invited Jones to meet with him on his campaign plane. The People's Temple chief also had a personal meeting with Jimmy Carter's wife, Rosalynn.
Jones referenced that in 1977 when he wrote to the First Lady and recommended the U.S. government give Cuba medical supplies. He mentioned his "deep appreciation for the privilege of dining privately with you prior to the election." She replied by saying she'd enjoyed the experience and hoped the U.S. would adopt his suggestion on Cuba.
When Jones moved his operation to Guyana, he brought with him written accolades from several liberal Democrats.
Wrote Walter Mondale: "Knowing of your congregation's deep involvement in the major social and constitutional issues of our country is a great inspiration to me."
Alaska Senator Mike Gravel thought the People's Temple "was almost too good to be true." California Congressman Don Edwards expressed the wish that "there were more like the people of the People's Temple Christian Church."
Joseph Califano, an official in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and secretary of health, education and welfare for Jimmy Carter wrote Jones: "Knowing your commitment and compassion, your interest in protecting individual liberty and freedom have made an outstanding contribution to furthering the cause of human dignity."
Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey said that Jones' work "is testimony to the positive and truly Christian approach to dealing with the myriad problems confronting our society today."
No, Jim Jones was more than just a face in a photo-op. He benefited from the attention and praise of several notable Democratic politicians of the era. In a two-hour program, that relevant part of history should have been reported.