The newly released records show that Clark R. Mollenhoff, a former Washington reporter and columnist who was then special counsel to Nixon, wrote Hoover on White House stationery that Nelson was planning another "highly critical series of stories on the FBI."
Mollenhoff said: "This reporter is very persistent and will undoubtedly be influenced to some degree by the strong anti-FBI views of Ed Guthman, national editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Dave Kraslow, who is manager of the Washington Bureau."
Guthman had previously served as an aide to Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, whom Hoover detested. Kraslow had brought to light FBI wiretapping at Las Vegas casinos.
Reports from FBI field offices hammered away at the theme that Nelson and The Times had it in for Hoover.
Wesley Grapp, head of the bureau's Los Angeles office, called the paper a "melting pot of garbage" and said The Times "was out to get the director, Mr. Tolson, me, and any other official they could pick up the slightest bit of gossip on."
In June 1970, a reporter for an Alabama newspaper told agents that Nelson had been sent to Washington to write "derogatory" articles about Hoover.
The reporter, whose name was redacted, told the FBI that at a conference in Cambridge, Mass., a drunken Nelson had "indicated 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," according to an FBI memo.
The reporter added that he had "nothing but the highest regard for the FBI and Mr. Hoover," the memo said.
According to another memo, three reporters for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin told the FBI that Nelson "is out to destroy the FBI."
The Times soon felt repercussions. When FBI agents arrested black radical Angela Davis in October 1970, the bureau alerted all major news organizations except the Los Angeles Times.
"When you get rid of that son of a bitch with a vendetta against the FBI, we'll cooperate with you," FBI spokesman Thomas Bishop told a Times editor, the records show.
By January 1971, Hoover was sufficiently concerned about Nelson's intentions that he brought the matter up with Atty. Gen. John Mitchell, his boss. "We have received several recent reports reflecting extensive efforts on his part to embarrass the FBI and me," Hoover wrote.
In a second letter to Mitchell that month, Hoover said Nelson drank excessively and had boasted of his intention 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."
Two months later, an FBI spokesman reported that he had blown off a request from Nelson for information regarding five bureau employees.
"Right," Hoover wrote approvingly. "This jackal Nelson is to be given nothing."
When the director received a memo informing him that a group of former agents called "Friends of Hoover" had turned down Nelson's request for an interview, Hoover jotted "excellent."
A top FBI official in New York described stonewalling Nelson, and Hoover scribbled "properly handled."
In the summer of 1971, Nelson covered a White House ceremony honoring Hoover. A top bureau aide, J.P. Mohr, delighted in the irony.
"I'll wager Nelson was most reluctant to write this column," Mohr wrote.
"It really must have burned him up!" Hoover replied.
Nelson was not cowed, however. In August 1971, he wrote about Hoover's expensive fleet of cars, including a bulletproof limousine. A copy was sent to Hoover, who scribbled on it: "Some more of Nelson's venom."
In October of that year, Robert D. Nelson, vice president and general manager of The Times (and no relation to Jack Nelson), met with Hoover at FBI headquarters, hoping to clear the air.
The effort was unsuccessful, and two weeks later Kraslow sat down with the director. 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.
The reporter also challenged Hoover's assertions that he drank too much. "Those are serious charges for the director of the FBI to level against a man, especially in conversation with his employer. They are the kind of charges which, if substantiated, could wreck a man's career."
They did not wreck Nelson's. He went on to become chief of The Times' Washington bureau and one of the most respected journalists in the capital. He died in 2009 at age 80.
Hoover was found dead on the floor of his bedroom in May 1972, the victim of a heart attack. A week later, he would have marked his 48th anniversary as head of the FBI.