Media Beat, Jan. 10, 1996
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
Robert Parry: Investigative Journalism vs. Conventional Wisdom
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 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 Iran-Contra. 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.
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.
Parry offers The Consortium as ''an investigative magazine distributed free on the World Wide Web -- at http://www.consortiumnews.com/
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.
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 Jimmy Carter's efforts to secure the release of 52 American hostages in Iran.
Two years ago, a House task force concluded there was ''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.
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 in cardboard boxes that were stored in a converted ladies' room near the parking garage of a congressional office building.
''An intimidating array of individuals and forces wanted President Carter ousted from the White House in 1980,'' Parry reports. ''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, national news outlets have ignored the evidence Parry exhumed. He isn't surprised. ''Mainstream media cannot deal with the new information because it clashes with the conventional wisdom,'' he says.
Working closely with Parry on some journalistic projects recently, we've been struck by his abiding belief in the free flow of information. 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.