Dan K. Thomasson · 1997
Dan King Thomasson has long been known as “the lean gray wolf” of investigative journalism.
That appellation was bestowed on him by Washingtonian Magazine a few years after he was bodily thrown out of the police station in Chappaquiddick, Mass., for demanding to see the accident report on the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne.
In or out, Thomasson never quits digging, and he got the first story that the grand jury would refuse to indict Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who drove Kopechne to her death when his car plunged off that Chappaquiddick bridge.
Thomasson broke the story of President John F. Kennedy’s affair with a Mafia party girl and disclosed that the FBI had been conducting illegal break-ins almost since its inception. In between investigative stories, he covered Congress, presidential election campaigns and national political conventions.
Thomasson isn’t so lean any more, as he grudgingly admits, and he’s grayer than ever, but the pieces he writes still have that hard bite. He writes a weekly column and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh has felt the wolfish teeth occasionally on the agency’s failures at Ruby Ridge and Waco and Atlanta.
Just two years ago, Thomasson decided to try his hand at reporting again — in Oklahoma City. Dust had hardly settled in the bombing before Thomasson was leading the country with his news breaks. He was first to report that investigators were looking for domestic terrorists and first to report that Timothy McVeigh and a companion had cased other potential bombing sites.
Day in and day out, Thomasson is an administrator and newspaper executive. At that, too, he’s made his reputation. He is vice president/news for Scripps Howard Newspapers and editor of Scripps Howard News Service, the 50-person Washington Bureau.
When he took over in 1980, SHNS served only Scripps Howard papers. Under Thomasson’s direction it grew to a full-service wire providing national and international news, features, editorials, sports and photos to more than 400 newspaper clients throughout the U.S. and overseas.
“I’m proud of that as anything I’ve done,” he says.
From him, some statement.
Despite today’s myth, there were more than two reporters working the Watergate story. One of the real stars was Thomasson. Among his many scoops: That in fact the break-in was the second visit of the burglars, that their operations were financed from a slush fund in the safe of President Nixon’s campaign finance chairman, that Pentagon officials spied on national security adviser Henry Kissinger.
“…Reporters had to rely on leaks to keep ahead of the competition,” Thomasson said afterward. “Generally, the leaks came from sources cultivated over a period of years, so obviously those who had been around were in better shape.”
Thomasson had contacts and experience stretching back to his days as editor of the Daily Student at Indiana University, where he also served as general chairman of the Little 500, president of the IU Student Foundation and of the IU Sigma Delta Chi chapter. He was the AP stringer at IU.
After he was graduated in 1956, he worked briefly on the Indianapolis Star, until he was drafted and sent to Fort Sill, Okla. Though only a corporal, he edited the post newspaper, headed the post’s press section and moonlighted a full shift as a reporter for the Lawton Constitution.
Out of the service, he joined the Rocky Mountain News where he quickly rose to political editor, winning honors for exposing Colorado officials who converted state vehicles to their personal use and fed their families by raiding meat lockers at state institutions.
Assigned to Washington in 1964, he became chief congressional correspondent for Scripps Howard in 1966 and managing editor of the news service in 1976.
Over the years he has appeared on many national television shows, including C-Span, Face the Nation, Good Morning America and the Today Show.
A native of Shelbyville and son of a pioneer Indiana family — a great-grandfather founded Franklin and donated the land for Franklin College — Thomasson is a raconteur of wide notoriety who delights in jokes, true stories and outrageous lies of Hoosierana.
He is a trustee of Franklin College, a member of the National Public Affairs Council for Indiana University, a member of the board of advisors of Ohio University School of Journalism at Georgetown University and of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Thomasson also serves as president of the Raymond Clapper Foundation and vice president and trustee of the Scripps Howard Foundation. He is a member of the Gridiron Club (president in 1992) and the National Press Club.
His awards include election to the Washington Journalism Hall of Fame and to the Indiana Academy.
Of his selection to the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, Thomasson says, “I thank the misguided souls who thought I should be among the likes of Ernie Pyle, Kim Hubbard, Roy Howard, Barney Kilgore, John Stempel and Earl Richert.
“Also, my family’s been in Indiana for 180 years, and it’s always nice to come home.”