Another post-war British journalist was Kim Philby, who used work for various U.K. outlets as a cover for working for MI6. In fact, that was not the only cover: Philby was working as a double agent, spying for the Soviet Union. Philby eventually escaped to Moscow, bringing with him his wife, Eleanor, whom he’d stolen away from New York Times Beirut correspondent Sam Pope Brewer, and his step-daughter.
The thriller writer Frederick Forsyth said in 2015 that he had worked as a spy for MI5 while also working as a journalist in Africa in the 1960s.
U.S. journalists were perhaps only slightly purer. The powerful columnists Joe and Stewart Alsop effectively did the CIA’s bidding on many occasions during their long career, though Joe Alsop insisted their motivation was not money but patriotism.
“I was closer to the Agency than Stew was, though Stew was very close. I dare say he did perform some tasks—he just did the correct thing as an American,” he told Carl Bernstein in 1977. “I never received a dollar, I never signed a secrecy agreement. I didn’t have to.... I’ve done things for them when I thought they were the right thing to do. I call it doing my duty as a citizen.”
The longtime New York Times foreign-affairs correspondent C.L. Sulzberger, a member of the family that controls the newspaper, was also an CIA asset, Bernstein reported. (Sulzberger and the Times denied it.)
Has that practice stopped? It depends whom you believe. Journalists are sometime easily manipulated by intelligence sources (just ask former New York Times reporter Judith Miller), but wittingly working for the U.S. government, or any other, has become anathema. (Some conservatives criticize U.S. journalists for withholding information from the government, in fact.) In the U.K., the picture is less clear. As recently as 2000, the longtime Guardian investigative journalist David Leigh was complaining, “British journalists—and British journals—are being manipulated by the secret intelligence agencies, and I think we ought to try and put a stop to it.”
One can meddle in domestic affairs as well. In 2004, USA Today revealed that conservative radio host Armstrong Williams had received $240,000 from the Bush administration to boost the No Child Left Behind policy on his show, in what critics called a violation of anti-propaganda laws. (More recently, Williams emerged as Svengali to presidential candidate and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.)
In 2010, the Indian television journalist Barkha Dutt and several others came under controversy for their leaked conversations with a lobbyist who is said to have influenced the appointment of a Cabinet minister linked to a telecom scam. There has been no suggestion Dutt or others tried to influence political decisions, and they say they were simply attempting to glean information from a source. *
There’s a certain irony to the sort of journalistic moonlighting of which Solomon is accused. In an age when journalism jobs are disappearing, salaries are shrinking, and public approval of the business is at record lows, what motivation is there to remain in a reporting job? Becoming an arms dealer would likely be good for a salary increase—and probably an improvement in public esteem, too.
* This story has been updated to clarify the nature of the controversy involving the Indian journalists.