Fred J. Cook

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Fred J. Cook in 1964

Fred James Cook (March 8, 1911 – April 4, 2003) was an American investigative journalist whose prime years of reporting spanned from the 1950s to the late 1970s. His 1964 exposé, The FBI Nobody Knows, was central to the plot of one of Rex Stout's most popular Nero Wolfe novels, The Doorbell Rang (1965).


Cook was born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, and grew up in a house on Bay Avenue near the border with Bay Head. On his mother's side, he was descended from an old New Jersey family, the Comptons. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1932.[1]

Cook began his career in journalism at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey.[2] He later wrote for the New York World-Telegram, focusing on crime reporting. He uncovered the confession of John Francis Roche in the murder case of Navy sailor Edward S. Bates, which freed Paul A. Pfeffer, who had been convicted of the murder.[3]

While editor of the weekly New Jersey Courier in Lakewood, New Jersey, he covered the 1937 Hindenburg disaster.[4] Having witnessed the airship flying overhead at Toms River, New Jersey, he first wrote about its anticipated safe arrival at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, then had to quickly rewrite the story after getting to the crash site while the ship was still in flames. A few hundred copies of the earlier edition, with the wrong story, were already on their way to news stands, "so I knew I had to collar them and get them back," Cook said.[5]

Though conservative in many respects, Cook wrote a number of articles for The Nation magazine, together with his longtime World-Telegram collaborator, Gene Gleason, and took positions usually identified with the left. For instance, he opposed the death penalty, taking the position that it was cruel and didn't deter crime. He was also highly critical of the FBI, the CIA, and the Alger Hiss perjury conviction, as well as oil companies and defense contractors. His writing made him the target of FBI investigations against him.[6]

Cook's 1964 book, Goldwater: Extremist on the Right, initiated a series of events which in the end led to the Supreme Court decision in what is known as the Red Lion case: After the book appeared, Cook was attacked by conservative evangelist Billy James Hargis on his daily Christian Crusade radio broadcast, on WGCB in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. Cook sued, arguing that under the FCC's Fairness Doctrine he was entitled to free air time to respond to the attack. Red Lion Broadcasting challenged the constitutionality of the doctrine, and the case went to the Supreme Court in 1969, with the Court ruling unanimously that the Fairness Doctrine was constitutional.[7][8]

In 1968, Cook signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[9]


Though both he and Gleason were widely touted as an investigative news team, both men were fired by the World-Telegram in 1959 after writing an issue-length expose, "The Shame of New York", for The Nation. After the piece was published, Cook and Gleason appeared on David Susskind's TV show, "Open End", during which Gleason claimed a high-ranking New York City official had offered him a bribe—well-paid government jobs for the two reporters' wives—to stop investigating the city's slum clearance program in 1956. But when Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan hauled him in for questioning, Gleason back-pedaled, saying he had "exaggerated" the story "because I was exuberant and carried away." At that point, the World-Telegram fired him. Cook claimed that he'd reported the alleged bribe attempt to his superiors, but his city editor denied ever hearing about the bribe. Cook asserted in his autobiography that Gleason had been pressured by World-Telegram owner Roy W. Howard to back off his controversial claim about bribery.[10] Little more than a decade later, a Newsday investigation identified a long tradition of New York politicians putting reporters on campaign or government payrolls even as they continued covering the news.[11]

Cook and the Hiss case[edit]

Cook had written four articles for The Nation by the time then-editor Carey McWilliams asked Cook to write an article about the perjury case of Alger Hiss. Cook did not want to do the article, thinking Hiss was "guilty as hell." After two more requests by McWilliams for Cook to do the article, McWilliams said, "Look, I have a proposition to make you. I know how you feel about the case, but I've talked to a lot of people who I trust. They say if anybody looked hard at the evidence they'd have a different opinion. You're known as a fact man. Will you do this for me? No obligation. Will you at least look at the facts?" Cook decided that, as a good journalist, he was obligated to look at the facts and see where they took him.

The September 21, 1957 issue of The Nation was dedicated entirely to Cook's investigation of the Hiss case, which was called, "Hiss: New Perspectives on the Strangest Case of our Time." In the article Cook wrote for The Nation, he ultimately was of the opinion that Hiss was not guilty of the accusations made by Whittaker Chambers who accused Hiss of being a Soviet spy while working for the US State Department.

Cook expanded the article into a book entitled, The Unfinished Story of Alger Hiss (Morrow, 1957) and to the end of his life continued to maintain that Hiss had been innocent. In an interview he gave at the age of 89 Cook observed:

And as a matter of fact, I don't think the book was ever challenged. If I had made some grievous error, they would have been down on my head right away, but it didn't happen. That said to me that I was pretty damned accurate. And everything I saw in the FBI documents in the 1970s just confirmed that I was right.[12]


Cook's 1964 exposé, The FBI Nobody Knows, was central to the plot of one of Rex Stout's most popular Nero Wolfe novels, The Doorbell Rang (1965)

This is an incomplete list that doesn't include all the nonfiction written for children and young adults, his fiction and his works published in magazines.[13]

  • "The Unfinished Story of Alger Hiss", Morrow, 1958.
  • "The Warfare State," Macmillan, 1962.
  • "What Manner of Men: Forgotten Heroes of the Revolution", Morrow, 1959.
  • "Rallying a Free People: Theodore Roosevelt", Kingston House, 1961.
  • "The FBI Nobody Knows", Macmillan, 1964.
  • "Barry Goldwater: Extremist of the Right", Grove, 1964.
  • "The Corrupted Land: The Social Morality of Modern Americans", Macmillan, 1966.
  • "The Secret Rulers: Criminal Syndicates and How They Control the U.S. Underworld", Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1966.
  • "The Plot against the Patient", Prentice-Hall, 1967.
  • "What So Proudly We Hailed", Prentice-Hall, 1968.
  • "The Nightmare Decade: The Life and Times of Senator Joe McCarthy", Random House, 1971.
  • "The Army-McCarthy Hearings, April–June, 1954: A Senator Creates a Sensation Hunting Communists", Franklin Watts, 1971.
  • "The Rise of American Political Parties", Franklin Watts, 1971.
  • "The Cuban Missile Crisis, October, 1962: The U.S. and Russia Face a Nuclear Showdown", Franklin Watts, 1972.
  • "The Muckrakers: Crusading Journalists Who Changed America", Doubleday, 1972.
  • "The U-2 Incident, May, 1960: An American Spy Plane Downed over Russia Intensifies the Cold War", Franklin Watts, 1973.
  • "Dawn over Saratoga: The Turning Point of the Revolutionary War", Doubleday, 1973.
  • "Mafia", Fawcett, 1973.
  • "American Political Bosses and Machines", Franklin Watts, 1973.
  • "The Pinkertons", Doubleday, 1974.
  • "Lobbying in American Politics", Franklin Watts, 1976.
  • "Privateers of `76", illustrated by William L. Verrill, Jr., Bobbs-Merrill, 1976.
  • "Julia's Story: The Tragedy of an Unnecessary Death", Holt, 1976.
  • "Mob, Inc.", Franklin Watts, 1977.
  • "The Ku Klux Klan: America's Recurring Nightmare", Messner, 1980.
  • "The Crimes of Watergate", Franklin Watts, 1981.
  • "The Great Energy Scam: Private Billions vs. Public Good", Macmillan, 1982.
  • "Maverick: Fifty Years of Investigative Reporting" (autobiography), introduction by Studs Terkel, Putnam, 1984.


  1. ^ Cook, Fred J. Maverick: Fifty Years of Investigative Reporting. Putnam: 1984.
  2. ^ Fred J. Cook, journalist, questioned theory on JFK death. Obituary, The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) - April 7, 2003.
  3. ^ Cook, Fred J. "Capital Punishment: Does it Prevent Crime?" The Nation, 10 March 1956.
  4. ^ “Cook was classic old-time journalist “Ocean County Observer (Toms River, NJ) April 27, 2003
  5. ^ Moore, Kirk. “OH, THE HUMANITY': On May 6, 1937, world's largest aircraft burst into flames at Lakehurst, killing 36. Asbury Park Press (Neptune, NJ) May 5, 2002 Subscription required database
  6. ^ Cook, Fred J. "On Being an Enemy of the FBI". The Nation, 22 March 1986.
  7. ^ Lavietes, Stuart. “Fred J. Cook, 92, the Author of 45 Books, Many Exposes”, New York Times obituary, p.54, May 4, 2003
  8. ^ Joyce, Tom. "His call for a reply set up historic broadcast ruling. Fred J. Cook, whose book was attacked on Red Lion radio station WGCB in 1964, died recently at age 92." York Daily Record (PA), May 6, 2003
  9. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  10. ^ Fred J. Cook, Maverick: Fifty Years of Investigative Reporting, Putnam, 1984, pp. 299-305.
  11. ^ David Anderson and Peter Benjaminson, Investigative Reporting, Indiana University Press, 1976, pp. 260-284.
  12. ^ Interview with Fred J. Cook.
  13. ^ Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004. Subscription required database. Accessed August 24, 2007.

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