Pre-internet examples of journalism based on leaked letters
October 19, 2014 12:10 AM   Subscribe

In my neck of the woods, stories based on leaked emails are currently a thing. I would like to know about big news stories based on illicitly copied correspondence, whether letters, telegrams, memos, or other media, that predate the internet (other than the Pentagon papers, which I already know about). The older the better.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Two from the 1980s :

Clive Ponting.
Sarah Tisdall.
posted by plep at 12:27 AM on October 19, 2014

Do they have to be copied, our just illicitly obtained? Because (though I haven't read it) this seems to be a plot point in the nonfictional Alice + Freda Forever, which takes place in the 1890s.
posted by brainmouse at 12:31 AM on October 19, 2014

The Babington Plot

An intercepted letter led to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, by order of Queen Elizabeth I.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:23 AM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: A complete Australian federal Budget was leaked to a journo in 1980. This was A Big Deal, previously (and subsequently) only snippets were leaked.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:37 AM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Zimmermann Telegram was sent by German foreign minister Zimmermann to Germany's ambassador to Mexico in 1917. It contained an offer to the Mexican government of return of the US southwest states area to Mexican control in exchange for Mexico entering WWI by attacking the US. Zimmermann was worried that Wilson was coming around to the idea that the US would have to enter the war in Europe, and he wanted to prevent that.

The telegram was sent via a transAtlantic cable which the British had tapped. They intercepted it and deciphered it, and turned the plaintext over to the Americans.

The American public was furious, and this actually led Wilson to change policy and to ask Congress for a Declaration of War. American troopships began crossing the Atlantic soon thereafter.

In The Codebreakers, David Kahn describes this as the single most historically important decrypt in history in terms of its effects.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:40 AM on October 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A Haverford College prof led a group which broke into the Philly FBI office in 1971 gathering documents on the FBI's strategy to discredit anti-war protestors. Philadelphia Inquirer article here.
posted by shibori at 3:35 AM on October 19, 2014

The Tanaka Memorial is now generally believed to have been a forgery but during WWII and earlier it was alleged to be a war planning document of the government of Imperial Japan from the 1920s which outlined a strategy for global conquest.
posted by XMLicious at 7:25 AM on October 19, 2014

The Ostend Manifesto, kind of.
posted by myitkyina at 12:05 PM on October 19, 2014

Some more on the 1971 burglary on the blue.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:56 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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