News & Politics

Cohen and Solomon: Robert Parry

Award winning investigative reporter Robert Parry is pursuing a path that led him out of mainstream media -- and into cyberspace. A few weeks ago, he founded what may be America's first on-line magazine of investigative journalism, The Consortium. Unlike Michael Kinsley, the high-profile pundit who recently took a job with Microsoft to develop an on-line magazine, Parry has no interest in supplying the Internet with new twists on conventional wisdom. Nor does Parry have the backing of a company with deep pockets. In fact, there's no money behind The Consortium, which Parry offers as "an investigative magazine distributed free on the World Wide Web." The same attitude that caused Parry to leave AP and Newsweek is now guiding his current activities. What distinguishes Parry's project from the mass media's cyber-ventures is his passionate belief that journalism has a responsibility to follow the trail of the truth, wherever it leads.
Imagine working as an investigative reporter in the nation's capital and breaking some of the biggest stories of the 1980s. You win the prestigious George Polk Award for exposing a CIA assassination manual that has been distributed to U.S.-backed contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. The next year, you're a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and you receive a slew of other awards. In June 1985, you write the first article about a Marine colonel named Oliver North and reveal that he's running a secret intelligence operation out of the White House. And you continue to produce well-documented articles about clandestine actions later known as the Iran-contra scandal. But your supervisors at Associated Press get skittish. In late 1985, when you team up with a colleague to write a comprehensive expose of drug-trafficking by the Nicaraguan contras, AP editors block the story -- which only sees the light of day when AP's Spanish-language wire distributes it by mistake. Later, you find out that your boss has been conferring with North on a regular basis. In 1987, after 10 years with AP in Washington, you quit to become a staff correspondent for Newsweek -- where you write the first story linking the Oval Office to a cover-up of the Iran- contra affair. You go on to pull the lids off a domestic propaganda apparatus overseen by CIA Director William Casey, the CIA's covert political operations inside Nicaragua, and hidden deals between the U.S. government and Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Before long, however, Newsweek's editors are slamming on the brakes. They don't seem to want you to dig too deeply or investigate too thoroughly. Soon they're insisting that you abide by Washington's conventional wisdom even when you've amassed documentation that disproves it. Robert Parry doesn't have to imagine any of this. He lived it. Today, the 46-year-old Parry is pursuing a path that led him out of mainstream media -- and into cyberspace. A few weeks ago, he founded what may be America's first on-line magazine of investigative journalism. Unlike Michael Kinsley, the high-profile pundit who recently took a job with Microsoft to develop an on-line magazine, Parry has no interest in supplying the Internet with new twists on conventional wisdom. Nor does Parry have the backing of a company with deep pockets. In fact, there's no money behind The Consortium, which Parry offers as "an investigative magazine distributed free on the World Wide Web -- at http://www.delve.com/consort.html -- and by subscription to those who prefer copies by e-mail, fax or mail." (The address is: The Consortium, Suite 102-231, 2200 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201.) The same attitude that caused Parry to leave AP and Newsweek is now guiding his current activities. What distinguishes Parry's project from the mass media's cyber-ventures is his passionate belief that journalism has a responsibility to follow the trail of the truth, wherever it leads. Parry's 1992 book Fooling America pulled no punches -- and it probably ensured that he'll get no job offers from media outfits like Newsweek. He deftly skewers the magazine's top editors with firsthand accounts of behind-the-scenes deference to powerful politicians. As far as Washington's media elite is concerned, he'll never eat a power lunch in their town again. That seems to be OK with Robert Parry. As far as he's concerned, journalists shouldn't be socializing with the high-and-mighty anyway. The lead story in The Consortium's first issue of 1996 recounts how a congressional panel bungled -- or covered up -- an inquiry into charges that high officials in Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign interfered with President Carter's efforts to secure the release of 52 American hostages in Iran. Two years ago, a House task force chaired by Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana) issued a report saying that it found "no credible evidence" to support the charges of Republican dirty tricks. But now Parry has unearthed documents showing that the task force suppressed incriminating CIA testimony and excluded evidence of big-money links between wealthy Republicans and Carter's Iranian intermediary, Cyrus Hashemi. Parry's new journalistic breakthrough is mainly based on U.S. government documents. How did he find them? He kept searching -- and, early this winter, literally blew the dust off thousands of pages stored in cardboard boxes inside a converted ladies' room near the parking garage of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. "An intimidating array of individuals and forces wanted President Carter ousted from the White House in 1980," Parry reports. "Some were driven by ambition; others by money; and still others by revenge. Together, they were overpowering. Newly revealed documents, meant to stay hidden from the public, now show the interlocking relationships that operated behind the facade of American democracy." So far -- despite the significance of the documents Parry has brought to light in recent weeks -- national news outlets have ignored them. Parry isn't surprised. "Mainstream media cannot deal with the new information because it clashes with the conventional wisdom," he says. What's more, the story "has no active political promoters and requires some mastery of details. So the bogus history of the era is allowed to continue." Working closely with Parry on some journalistic projects recently, we've found that he believes in the profound importance of a free flow of information for a democracy. He takes very seriously all that idealistic stuff in civics textbooks. It's a shame that big media outlets haven't been more supportive of Robert Parry's talents. But thank goodness he is persevering as a journalist. Maybe you'll get a chance to see the results, if only in cyberspace.
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