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est. 2005
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Chapman Pincher


When Chapman Pincher wasn't modestly describing himself as "the world's greatest reporter," he liked to style himself "the Lone Wolf of Fleet Street." In the sense that he scorned the pack mentality common to the London journalists of his era, the label is apt, but much of what set Pincher's work apart was its reliance on symbiotic relationships with a broad network of official and quasi-official sources who used him to advance their agendas through the press. As a result, his articles resembled stenography as often as they resembled journalism, and on occasion he was forced to admit, after the fact, that he'd knowingly written false stories at government request. This approach to journalistic ethics once led the historian E. P. Thompson to call him "a kind of official urinal" into which secrets were leaked. Pincher took the criticism in stride, calling it his greatest compliment and describing himself as "open for use" as long as the story being told was new and exclusive.


Fittingly, Pincher's newspaper career began with a leak of his own. While working in military intelligence during World War II, he came across some classified documents about British rocket development and passed them along to his roommate, who happened to be the editor of the Daily Express. As soon as Pincher was demobbed, he became the paper's defense correspondent, drawing on his wartime military contacts for a steady stream of news tidbits. (In one of his earliest big scoops, he became the first journalist to report details of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, after discovering that the British military had declassified technical documents that the Americans were still keeping secret.)


The Cold War proved well suited for Pincher's journalistic temperament, which combined an innate conservatism with a middle-class contempt for the traditional old-boys' network; other than the spies themselves, Pincher may have done more than anyone to puncture the common official mindset that men of posh backgrounds simply couldn't have been traitors. However, like many of his sources (including the notorious CIA operative James Jesus Angleton), he showed signs of excessive paranoia, and his later career was clouded by his allegations that the Labour Party was full of Communist spies, including Prime Minister Harold Wilson. In particular, his claims that Sir Roger Hollis, the head of British domestic intelligence, was a KGB mole were hotly debated but never proven.


Though Pincher's reporting tended toward the right-wing, in keeping with the editorial slant of his paper, his 1967 revelation that the British government was illegally reading civilians' cables and telegrams without a warrant brought him support across the political spectrum. The story prompted a government inquiry and strengthening of the "D-notice" system to censor publication of news stories against the national interest, though Pincher and his paper were cleared of official wrongdoing.


Chapman Pincher died on August 6, at 100, shortly after publishing his autobiography, Chapman Pincher: Dangerous to Know. He had advised his son to tell the government and the press, upon his death, "No more scoops." Appropriately, it's a solo hit: six points for Drunkasaskunk (1 for hit + 5 for solo).


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