Robert Parry Was One of the Good Guys
After Robert Parry died on January 27, I asked another great investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, for some words. “I ran into Bob more than three decades ago when he was the first to warn of the Iran/Contra affair, to little avail,” Hersh replied. “He was widely seen over the next years as a critic of the mainstream media in America. That was not so. He was a critic of lousy reporting, be it in Pravda or The New York Times. He wanted every journalist, everywhere, to do the research and the interviewing that it takes to get beyond the accepted headline.”
What made Bob Parry a trailblazer for independent journalism also made him a bridge burner with the media establishment. He refused to take on faith the official story, whether from governments or news outlets. After winning acclaim, including a Polk Award, as an Associated Press reporter who broke many big stories on deadly U.S. policies in Central America, he spent three years at Newsweek—where he saw top editors collaborating with officials of the George H.W. Bush administration on what should be shared or withheld from the public. Bob left the magazine in 1990, and soon his relations with mainstream media had a whistle-blower quality. His 1992 book “Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom” named names and pulled no punches.
Midway through the decade, Bob did a stint as director of the Nation Institute’s investigative unit. His writing for The Nation during 1996 included pieces about the CIA and drug trafficking by the Nicaraguan contras, the bankrolled power of right-wing foundations, and a seven-page expose that is chilling to read more than 30 years later—an investigative report on the Koch brothers.
In 1995, Parry launched a unique journalistic space, Consortiumnews.com, where he worked intensely as publisher, editor, and writer. For the next 22 years, Parry oversaw the website’s scrutiny of elite wisdom. His work, which included authoring six books, won the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence from Harvard’s Nieman Foundation in 2015 and, last year, the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.
I got to see Bob at work up close, in 1996, when we co-wrote a series on a media darling: “Behind Colin Powell’s Legend.” During interviews, Bob was politely unrelenting. He had a methodical zest for plowing through documents, determined to “master the material.” And he was professionally generous; I wrote just a small proportion of the articles, but he insisted that I share the byline on every one.
Bob was notably non-ideological. What propelled him was a moral core and determination to follow the facts. That devotion led him to expose the lethal deceptions and machinations of Reagan-era figures like Oliver North, Elliott Abrams, and Caspar Weinberger. Three decades later, the same resolve to separate fact from spun fiction put him on a collision course with the conventional wisdom of “Russiagate.”
No one knew better than Bob Parry how intelligence agencies and major media outlets can create a cascading frenzy. Beginning in late 2016, Bob was prolific as he debunked the torrent of hyperbolic claims about Russia that became an ever-present flood across the U.S. media landscape. Some progressive sites went from often posting his articles in 2016 to rarely or never posting them in 2017.
“For years, the mainstream, establishment media have, by their malpractices in covering U.S.-Russian relations from Ukraine to ‘Russiagate,’ been deeply complicit in the unfolding of this new Cold War and its unprecedented dangers,” said Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen, a contributing editor at The Nation. “Bob Parry, very often alone, exposed those malpractices, especially those committed by the powerful New York Times and Washington Post, misreported story by misreported story, sometimes daily. For this, he was ostracized, slurred, certainly ignored by mainstream media.”
At the end of December, a week after his first stroke left him with badly blurred eyesight, Bob somehow was able to write what turned out to be his final article, brilliant and transcendent, a kind of cri de coeur that is a stunning last testament to “the journalistic principles of skepticism and evenhandedness.” Western journalists, he wrote, “now apparently see it as their patriotic duty to hide key facts that otherwise would undermine the demonizing of Putin and Russia. Ironically, many ‘liberals’ who cut their teeth on skepticism about the Cold War and the bogus justifications for the Vietnam War now insist that we must all accept whatever the U.S. intelligence community feeds us, even if we’re told to accept the assertions on faith.”
At the close of a lengthy tribute that appeared the day after his father’s death, Nat Parry wrote that, “ultimately, Bob was motivated by a concern over the future of life on Earth. As someone who grew up at the height of the Cold War, he understood the dangers of allowing tensions and hysteria to spiral out of control, especially in a world such as ours with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all life on the planet many times over.”
Robert Parry carried the lantern high. Now others will need to carry it on.