Journalism is not easy, especially if you stand true to its definition and goals. And over the course of history, some journalists have proved that it’s possible to get to the bottom of it all if the intention is strong. Here is a list of 19 brave hearts who’ve not only gone above and beyond their capabilities, but also their identities just to uncover reality for all of us.
1. Antonio Salas
If you guys have seen the Bourne Identity series, you’d know it’s based on terrorist legend Carlos the Jackal. Salas, this being his pseudonym, went undercover to become Carlos’ personal webmaster. He explains how he has lived for “a year as a Nazi skinhead, a year and half as a dealer of women, [and] six years as an international terrorist.” He’s exposed child trafficking rings, a terrorist legend and has never been a part of the government or any agency. Kind of a big deal, dontcha think?
2. Anna Erelle
One of the more recent cases of investigative journalism against European jihadi extremists, where this French journalist posed as a 20-year-old girl named Melodie, and made contact with a French jihadi called Abu Bilel online. Through Skype and other forms of media, her work got so intense that she eventually had to bow out of the operation in order to keep safe and currently, goes by the name of Anna Erelle to protect herself from death threats against Melodie.
3. George Morrison
The infamous ‘Blackbirding’ expose, which threw light upon slave trades and recruitment of people to become indentured servants, across the 1890s up till World War 1 was all possible because of Morrison. He disguised as a servant on one of the ships called Lavinia and wrote about all that he saw.
4. Tim Lopes
This Brazilian journalist lost his life to one of his missions. He knew the streets of Brazil pretty well and so joined the favelas to expose illegal trafficking of arms and drugs. In 2001, he filmed an entire footage of AK-47 dealings, which helped the cops enormously. But he was found, beaten and burnt to death by the end of it all. A tragic ending to a good deed!
5. Günter Wallraff
A master of disguise, his undercover career began with 13 Undesired Reports , which records his experiences posing as an alcoholic, a vagabond, and a chemical factory worker. He started out in 1969 and even until 2009, was an active undercover operational. In fact, he’s so good that the Swedish dictionary Svenska Akademiens Ordlista has included the word ‘walraffa,’ which means, “to expose misconduct from the inside by assuming a role.”
6. Marvel Cooke
Her work in the 1950s, while working for New York’s The Daily Compass was an expose on exploitation of day labourers by upper-class women, who’d pay them very little to no money but make them work twice as much. In her book The Bronx Slave Market , she spoke of her experiences as an under-waged woman and of the slave trades thriving on the streets of New York. Eventually, she pushed towards legislation for protection of domestic working women.
7. Carmelo Abbate
Infiltrating the Vatican is not easy. However, in 2010, this Italian journalist posed as the boyfriend of one of the men in the inner circles of Vatican’s priesthood and exposed major escort servicing and child abuse scandals. He released videos, reports and books on the hypocrisy of the Church and brought their sex rackets to public attention.
8. Donal MacIntyre
An Irish journalist, Donal had quite a career. One of his works in 1999 led to the trial of Chelsea Headhunters , a notorious gang of football hooligans who had neo-Nazi ties. Over his 20-year long career, he claims to have been beaten up, tortured in front of his family and asked to move homes over 50 times due to death scares! Some career!
9. Frank Smith
His sickening one-week long experience in the Kankakee State Hospital for the insane in 1935 exposed the conditions in which patients were kept. With the help of his reporter friend at Times, he churned out disturbing first-hand reports of how dirty and contaminated the place was. He was also strapped to a bathtub full of dirty river water for 15 hours to cure his violent streaks. The asylum was finally abandoned in 1974.
10. Stuart Goldman
Known as “the journalistic hit-man”, he exposed malpractices in journalism, primarily tabloid while writing for the Los Angeles Times. In the 90s, he went undercover for 3 years as Will Runyon, at the end of which he spoke about the extensive spy networks these tabloids had. Other undercover works of his include investigating TV evangelist Terry Cole-Whittaker and infiltrating a UFO cult.
11. W.T. Stead
A spiritualist who helped exposed many realities on child slavery and prostitution. He had partnered with the Salvation Army in the 1980s in London to pass off as a gentleman looking to buy girls who had authenticated virginity certificates. Through this, he exposed many truths about prostitution and also uncovered a corrupt group of midwives and doctors.
12. John Howard Griffin
This novelist wanted to know what it was like to be black and so took certain drugs to become a black man. Originally from Texas, his objective was to understand how black men were treated and in his book Black Like Me , he documents how it is more than just a Southern American problem, but “a human problem” that we’re dealing with.
13. Anas Aremeyaw Anas
A Ghanaian journalist, who likes to keep his anonymity intact and never show his face, has gone undercover many times in his native city, Accra. His motive has been to expose corruption in the country for which he has posed as a janitor in a brothel to expose child prostitution, pretended to be an assembly-line worker at a cookie factory (where maggot-infested flour was being used), and even checked into a psychiatric ward as a patient.
14. Madeleine Z. Doty
Her experience as an undercover woman prisoner reflects in her book, in order to revolutionize prison and prisoner conditions for women in Circa, Russia in the early 1900s. She talked about her prison mates, the bad food and the dirty animal-like conditions they had to live through. Her accounts have helped criminal psychologists greatly.
15. Peter Warren
A journalist and a private investigator in Canada, his range of works include undercover operations in psychiatric wards to posing as an investor. But his best one so far has been that of a convict description to bring attention to David Milgaard, a man wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a nursing assistant named Gail Miller. David was proved innocent after spending 23 years in prison all thanks to Warren.
16. Chris Terrill
From exposing human trafficking gangs (1992) and tracking British Royal Navy cocaine smugglers in the Caribbean to school bullying and illegal orangutan trading, this British anthropologist and documentary filmmaker has done too many courageous things. He’s one of the best investigative reporters of the century.
17. Elizabeth Jane Cochrane
One of the first women reporters in the US, under her pen name Nellie Bly, unlike her fellow women writers was offered an assignment to become a part of an insane asylum and report on the conditions inside. She spent 10 days under abusive, torturous conditions after which her accounts and experiences led to breakthrough revolutions in this division.
18. Walter Francis White
Born to a black family but a white skinned man, in between 1918-29, Walter White went undercover on 8 race riots and 41 cases of lynching. He then published his work through NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). He actively reported on racism throughout World War II as well, on men fighting the war and their testimonies on racist conditions.
19. William Mueller, James Metcalfe and John Metcalfe
One of the best operations undertaken during World War II, where Chicago Daily Times sent these three journalists undercover to find out about the German American Bund, who thrived upon pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic literature. By then, the Bund had gathered around 25,000 members under the leadership of Fritz Kuhn, who held the title “Bundesleiter.” But after the expose, these groups diminished and Kuhn was run out of town. Wow-work, indeed!