John le Carré: Spies and hacks
Tuesday 12 January 2021
Andrew Gray’s piece on the closeness of the fiction of John le Carré and the fact of Reuters certainly struck some notes of harmony for this reader.
That prompts me to report that a press officer at a French arms company would often say that he assumed I worked for a certain American intelligence agency.
To which I would point out that I sought to get my stories on the front page, which was not very secret.
And yes, it was rather annoying to hear that allegation, which reflected French love for conspiracy.
It is interesting to note that in le Carré’s The Secret Pilgrim, George Smiley drew a close parallel between work of a spy and a hack (in the old sense of the word):
“Nine times out of ten a good journalist can tell us quite as much about a situation as the spies can. Very often they’re sharing the same sources anyway. So why not scrap the spies and subsidise the newspapers?”
Perhaps one of the differences is that a Reuters corro would give direct attribution where possible, while a spy might not disclose it, thereby glamming it up.
The Power of News, the official history of Reuters, revealed the news agency previously received secret funding from the British government.
The government paid the agency through the BBC after negotiations with the Information Research Department, an anti-Soviet propaganda office closely linked to British intelligence, Reuters reported last year.
Then again, that is a case of following the filthy lucre rather than a corro digging up the dirt and tipping off the intelligence world rather than simply filing a story. ■