Obituary: Robert Parry -Reporter – Broke the Iran-Contra Story (68) (2018)

In 1985, Mr. Parry broke news of the involvement of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and the covert operation to support the contras with proceeds from clandestine arms sales to Iran.

Photo: The investigative reporter Robert Parry in an undated photograph. His work on the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s brought him a George Polk Award.Credit…Diane Duston, via Associated Press

Robert Parry, Investigative Reporter in Washington, Dies at 68

 Sam Roberts Jan. 29, 2018 New York Times

Robert Parry, a tenacious investigative reporter and author who exposed details of the Reagan administration’s secret support for Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980s, died on Saturday in Arlington, Va. He was 68.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his wife, Diane Duston.

Mr. Parry won the George Polk Award for national reporting in 1984 for his disclosures that the Central Intelligence Agency had provided an assassination manual to the so-called contras, the right-wing insurgents who were seeking to topple the socialist government in Nicaragua. Mr. Parry was part of an Associated Press investigative team based in Washington when he broke the story.

For that reporting, he was also named a finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

In 1985, Mr. Parry broke news of the involvement of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a deputy director of the National Security Council, in a covert operation to support the contras with proceeds from clandestine arms sales to Iran. Congress had banned such support. The weapons had been sold to Iran to speed the release of American hostages in Lebanon.

In 2015, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard awarded Mr. Parry the I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. Last year, he received the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, named for a 20th-century war correspondent and presented by a trust set up in her name.

Mr. Parry complained that some articles on the Iran-contra scandal, including those he wrote for The A.P. with a colleague, Brian Barger, had been watered down or even withheld because his bosses had been meeting with Colonel North to negotiate the release of Terry Anderson, an A.P. reporter who was being held hostage during Lebanon’s civil war. A.P. executives denied the accusations.

Frustrated with the mainstream news media, in 1995 Mr. Parry established the Consortium for Independent Journalism. The organization’s website, Consortiumnews, is financed by contributions from readers.

Mr. Parry left The A.P. for Newsweek in 1987 and later worked on documentaries for the PBS series “Frontline.” In one, broadcast in 1991, he investigated whether Reagan, as a presidential candidate, had sabotaged the release of American hostages in Iran in 1980 to keep President Jimmy Carter, his Democratic rival, from benefiting politically from their release. The hostages were freed on the day of Mr. Reagan’s inauguration.

“Those looking for a smoking gun are coming to the wrong place if they hope ‘Frontline’ will provide it,” The Boston Globe wrote in a review of the documentary. “ ‘Frontline’ does, however, provide so much circumstantial evidence that you can suspect only the worst after watching it.”

A congressional investigation discounted Mr. Parry’s version of Reagan’s role, but Mr. Parry amassed more evidence after publishing a book, “Trick or Treason” (1993), which implicated Reagan.

He wrote five other books, including “Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush” (2007), a collaboration with two of his sons, Sam and Nat Parry.

Mr. Parry in 1987. He saw himself as bucking politicians as well as the established news media.
Mr. Parry in 1987. He saw himself as bucking politicians as well as the established news media.Credit…Associated Press

Mr. Parry was featured in “Ukraine on Fire,” a recent documentary film that argued that the 2014 uprising in Ukraine, which some Western news media depicted as a people’s revolution, was actually a coup staged by nationalist groups with the complicity of the United States.

In a telephone interview on Monday, Oliver Stone, one of that film’s executive producers, said of Mr. Parry: “I don’t see him as a conspiracist, but as a man of common sense and integrity. He leaves a giant hole in American journalism.”

Robert Earle Parry was born on June 24, 1949, in Hartford to the former Elizabeth Caton and William Parry, publisher of The Middlesex Daily News in Framingham, Mass. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Colby College in Waterville, Me., in 1971.

In addition to his wife, a former A.P. reporter, he is survived by their sons, Sam, Jeff and Nat; a daughter, Elizabeth Parry; a sister, Randine Parry; a brother, William; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Parry worked briefly for his father’s newspaper before joining The A.P. in 1974. Besides Washington, he worked for the agency in Baltimore and Providence, R.I. He was with Newsweek from 1987 to 1990.

Writing this week on Consortiumnews, Nat Parry recalled that one of his earliest memories “was of my dad about to leave on assignment in the early 1980s to the war zones of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.”

“I remember asking him why he had to go,” he continued. “He replied that it was important to go to these places and tell the truth about what was happening there. He mentioned that children my age were being killed in these wars and that somebody had to tell their stories.”

After decades of enraging conservatives, Mr. Parry began angering liberals in 2016 by suggesting that Russian meddling had had little influence on the election of Donald J. Trump, though he was critical of President Trump for what he called his “contempt for facts and his crass personal behavior.”

Mr. Parry considered himself a pariah in the eyes of politicians as well as the major established news organizations, which he viewed as constituting a kind of parallel “permanent government.”

“The people who succeeded and did well” in the news media, he said in a speech to the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting in 1993, “were those who didn’t stand up, who didn’t write the big stories, who looked the other way when history was happening in front of them, and went along either consciously or just by cowardice with the deception of the American people.”

Referring to his coverage of the Iran-contra scandal, he was self-effacing, saying it “didn’t require that much.”

“It just required sort of following the leads,” he said. “They were all over the place.”

HAWKINS BAY | James Porteous

Bob Parry RIP: The Reporter Who Broke the Iran-Contra Story

30 Jan 2018 | Jefferson Morley | AlterNet

“Bob Parry, the veteran journalist who died Saturday at age 68, was a reporter’s reporter, a cheerful, dogged, independent fact-gatherer who didn’t give a damn about respectable Washington.

More than any other reporter, Parry uncovered the national scandal that would become known as the Iran-Contra affair. But he received little credit and no glory for his achievement.

I first met Parry in 1985 when I was an assistant editor at The New Republic in search of writers who knew something about the civil wars of Central America. After Congress approved the so-called Boland Amendment in 1984 barring military aid to counterrevolutionary forces in Nicaragua, Reagan administration officials—and their apologists in the press—were open about their intention to flout the law.

Parry and fellow Associated Press reporter Brian Barger were the only journalists writing about a story I heard off the record more than once: that a National Security Council staff member named Oliver North was in charge of arranging “private” funding of the contras. In a string of well-reported AP stories in 1984 and 1985, they illuminated a secret war involving former CIA officials, mercenaries, and suspected drug traffickers.

Parry was rare among Washington reporters of that era in that he did not take his cues from the White House or defer to Reagan’s popularity. While others tried to spin U.S. support for death squads as a defense of democracy, Parry penetrated the veil of official secrecy. He became a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1985 for his exclusive on the CIA’s assassination manual for Nicaraguan rebels.

Perils of Access

In early 1986, I asked Parry and Barger if they would pull together their various reports into a single magazine piece. The only reason Parry listened was that I had published a TNR cover story in 1985 on how the CIA created the contra movement.

He liked the idea of publishing in TNR, which was then at the height of its editorial prestige, but wondered if the magazine would publish it. After all, the once-liberal magazine supported the contra cause, and senior editors like Charles Krauthammer boasted of the friendships with top Reagan officials.

Young and naïve, I assured Parry I could get his reporting in print. He and Barger soon produced a draft story that depicted a secret effort in the White House to bypass the intent of the Congress, and they supplied reams of supporting details.

North had drafted a memo to bypass the Boland Amendment and Reagan had approved orally. North had recruited former general John Singlaub to raise money and provide advice. In an interview, Singlaub acknowledged a working relationship with North. Former CIA officers Donald Gregg and Nestor Sanchez, now working at the Pentagon, were also involved.

Their story was eminently newsworthy because it punctured the official statements that the Reagan White House was respecting “the letter and the spirit” of the Boland Amendment. And yet week after week, the story was delayed by TNR publisher Martin Peretz and other contra supporters on staff who said there was “nothing new” in their reporting.

Parry listened to my explanations for the delays with bemused good humor. “It’s new to them because they’ve believed their White House sources,” he laughed.

As we reworked the story, incorporating new material and explaining a convoluted story, I learned a lot from Parry about the craft of reporting: how to track private airplanes; how to get people to talk, how to piece together bits of information—and, most of all, what to avoid, namely high-level sources.

Price of Success

By October 1986, I was just about out of excuses for not running his story when front-page headlines proved he’s been right all along.  A U.S. supply plane had crashed in Nicaragua and a surviving crew member Eugene Hasenfus confessed he was working for U.S. officials working out of a U.S. air base in El Salvador.

Parry and Barger rewrote the top of the story to incorporate the news. In a tense editorial meeting, Peretz and Krauthammer could not dispute the story was newsworthy and promised to run it. It finally appeared as a cover story, “Reagan’s Shadow CIA,” in early November 1986.

(Thirty-two years later, the CIA still has a copy on its website while TNR does not, which proves Parry’s reporting lives on where it counts and has been forgotten where it doesn’t.)

The TNR story had just hit the newsstands when more sensational news came from Lebanon. A Beirut newsweekly reported that National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane had been meeting with Iranian intermediaries to sell them anti-tank weapons. Not only was the NSC running a secret aid network for the contras, it was also selling arms to Iran, which the Reagan White House had accused of sponsoring terrorism.

When Reagan acknowledged the Beirut meeting, the connection between the two stories was revealed. The Reagan White House had used the proceeds to the Iranian arms deals to fund the off-the-book contra aid network first described by Parry and Barger. The sensational revelations sent Reagan’s popularity into a tailspin from which it never recovered.

Subsequent investigations bore out the accuracy of Parry and Barger’s reporting. Oliver North became a household name. Their reporting that contra gun runners had also smuggled drugs were borne out by Senator John Kerry’s investigators. Thus Parry also paved the way for Gary Webb’s courageous reporting on the connections between the CIA and drug traffickers.

Yet Parry did not reap accolades from the mainstream news organizations he had scooped. The New Republic never published him again. As the Iran-contra scandal unfolded in 1987 and 1988, most Washington reporters pretended they had seen it coming, when in fact they mostly averted their eyes.

I published a profile of Parry and Barger for Rolling Stone, in which I dubbed them “The Real Heroes of Contra-gate.”  Their accomplishment, I wrote with co-author Tina Rosenberg, rivaled that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on Watergate: a string of shoe-leather scoops that revealed a story that rattled the White House. But times had changed in Washington and true investigative reporters were no longer in fashion.

Bob went on to work at Newsweek and then founded Consortium News where his independence was secure and his voice could be heard loud and clear. In recent years, I didn’t share his skeptical take on the Trump-Russia investigation but he’d earned the right to make it.

When I heard of his passing, I heard his cackling laugh and timeless advice for investigative reporters.

“You can always get access in Washington, and you’ll always pay too much for it.”

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press, October 2017) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.


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