In twenty-first-century mainstream media, a real journalist is difficult to find. Instead, one finds multiple purveyors of corporate and government propaganda, entertainers who sensationalize the most meaningless tidbits about the lives of public figures, faux investigations of misdoings that focus on the symptoms and not the causes, and outright liars. Elected and non-elected officials use their forums to attack journalists and their employers; their intention being to cast doubt on any and every article published. The resulting confusion has created a situation where scientific facts have become opinions and illogical and even insane conspiracies are considered truths. Most of those who own the media do not seem to have a problem with this scenario. Even those who claim they do rarely bother to use their power and money to change a policy or take down a corrupt and authoritarian leader—most likely because there is little monetary incentive in doing such a thing.
If we look back in time, we discover that certain journalists used their investigative and writing prowess to challenge authority. Sometimes those reporters and the media outlet that employed them really did force an official to step down or a corporation to get investigated and reprimanded. Perhaps two of the best known such journalists were Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, whose reporting on what became known as Watergate helped force Richard Nixon from the White House. Together with their editor Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post, these reporters’ tenacity and access revealed a den of corruption in the Nixon White House and ultimately exposed an administration that was paranoid, power-hungry and even dictatorial. Although neither of these men are above reproach, the fact that they used their sources and access to remove Nixon provides us with an example of how mainstream journalism should go about its business.
Another journalist who used his access and writing powers to expose corruption, diplomatic duplicity and authoritarianism was a Greek reporter named Elias Demetracopoulos. His work for various Greek newspapers and as a stringer for the International Herald Tribune and various US newspapers exposed plots to overthrow governments, CIA involvement in those plots and numerous other abuses involving politicians and generals in Washington, Athens, and elsewhere. Although his politics tended toward liberal republicanism, he had friends and sources across the spectrum. His stories did not just anger the powerful but provoked an ongoing investigation into his connections, lovers, and family. Those seeking to bring him down—from the CIA to the Greek intelligence service KYP to various powerful politicians and capitalists—tried to kidnap him more than once. When his father died of cancer, the military dictatorship in Greece refused to let him go to the funeral. They had revoked his Greek citizenship earlier, leaving Demetracopoulos a man without a country.
A newly published biography of Demetracopoulos, titled The Greek Connection: The Life of Elias Demetracopoulos and the Untold Story of Watergate, is considerably more than the biography of a journalist. It is a tale of adventure, a history of the last eighty years and a tribute to a partisan of Greek democracy. The author, James H. Barron, is a journalist in his own right and a founder of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. The story he tells in this biography begins with Demetracopoulos’ youth. Describing a Greece occupied by the Nazis, Barron describes Demetracopoulos’ role in the Greek resistance forces; a role that included his transportation and use of explosives and a subsequent arrest and torture by fascist troops. The postwar conflict led by leftist elements of the resistance against the rightwing elements, former collaborators and the British army is also portrayed. Although the author’s telling is different than those I have read in books written by communists and other leftists, the facts are the same. Although Demetracopoulos would move to the Leftover time, he aligned himself with those favoring a constitutional monarchy during and immediately after the Nazi occupation.
As Demetracopoulos developed his skills as a journalist, he also expanded his wealth of contacts. Seeing himself as a journalist determined to be objective with his only allegiance being to the truth, those contacts are deep and wide. US military officers, wealthy bankers and industrialists across Europe and the US, political organizers on the ground and politicians in government, socialites and artists; his world of friends and sources is deep and wide. These individuals and their knowledge not only helped Demetracopoulos write numerous scoops, they also provided him with some protection when and if his story offended someone who was powerful and hot-headed. Despite these friends in high places, Demetracopoulos was watched constantly and occasionally feared for his life, especially after the 1966 military coup in Greece. Indeed, it was that coup and the atrocities that took place in its wake that forced Demetracopoulos to move from his role of journalist to activist. He would spend much of the next ten years advocating and lobbying for an end to foreign support for the military junta in Athens, all the while maintaining a cover as an employee of a stock exchange firm.
As the title implies, the scandal known as Watergate lurks behind the story in this text. This is because one of the primary bagmen for the Nixon campaign in 1968 and then in 1972 was a Greek-American multimillionaire wheeler and dealer named Thomas Pappas. Based out of Boston, MA., Pappas was a shameless profiteer whose moral center seemed to be based on maximizing his profits and bank accounts. In other words, he was amoral at best and immoral at worst. He was quick to cozy up to the military junta once it seized control in Greece and considered Demetracopoulos a serious if not mortal enemy. It was Pappas and his connections that helped keep the CIA and KYP on Demetracopoulos’ tail and made him persona non grata in much of official Washington.
The Greek Connection is not the tale of a hero, but it is a heroic tale. The author Barron’s excellently-researched and well-crafted biography of a man whose pursuit of the truth despite the potential cost of that pursuit is an inspiration in an era when the truth is all too often lies; and the truth-teller is all too often imprisoned, killed or (even worse) bought off by those for whom truth is inconvenient and unprofitable.