In the 1950s and '60s, newspaper readers around the world received many a story from the pen of global economics pundit Guy Sims Fitch.
Except they didn’t—because Fitch didn’t exist. He was a creation of the US Information Agency, a government operation that spread pro-capitalist propaganda across the globe and was headed by famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, after he retired from journalism.
It’s long been known that the CIA co-opted real journalists to do their bidding during the Cold War. Legendary reporter Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, wrote in 1977 that up to 400 journalists, including several Pulitzer prize winners, worked with the CIA not just to propagandize but gather intelligence and even act as go-betweens.
But the question of exactly why they needed a fictional writer sparked the interest of Gizmodo’s Matt Novak, who submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA to learn more about “Fitch.” The response?
“The CIA wants to make sure that the privacy rights of this fictional character aren’t violated. Or, perhaps, that the privacy rights of the people who wrote under that name aren’t violated,” Novak writes.
In the kind of Kafka-esque move one might expect from an intelligence agency, the CIA demanded that Novak first get the consent of all the reporters and editors who wrote under Fitch’s name–which, of course, Novak can’t do because all that information is presumably held in the very file he’s requesting.
We know that editorials and articles attributed to Fitch were written in at least a half dozen languages, and published in newspapers in Germany, Brazil, Australia, and elsewhere—and invariably promoted investment in US business. But, for now, we really have no idea who was behind Fitch, and just how many “Fitches” were out there. Or, rather, not out there.