Parry Reflects on Modern Journalism

From Editor Robert Parry: As we continue to struggle to keep Consortiumnews afloat financially, I am sometimes asked why I started this journalistic experiment back in 1995, why didn’t I keep trying to do my reporting through the existing mainstream media which had a much wider reach.

One of the reasons for the question, I think, is the frustration that some readers feel because even our well-documented exposés on important historical issues are blithely ignored by my former colleagues in Big Media who simply refuse to accept how wrongheaded many of their self-certainties are.

For instance, why won’t the major news outlets react to our articles about how the Watergate scandal had its origins in Richard Nixon’s frantic search for a missing file on his obstruction of the 1968 Vietnam peace talks, what President Lyndon Johnson privately had termed Nixon’s “treason”? The stories surely are newsworthy; they are strongly supported by evidence; and they change our understanding of Watergate, the benchmark for political scandals.

Journalist Robert Parry

Or why won’t the big newspapers address the now extensive evidence of Ronald Reagan’s guilt as an accessory to the Guatemalan genocide? Not only does there exist a wealth of documentary proof, there was even a news peg with the recent conviction of Reagan’s close ally, ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, for genocide and crimes against humanity.

I could go on and on. But the repetition would only beg the question: would it have made more sense for me (and journalists like me) to have stuck it out in mainstream media with the hopes that some of our investigative discoveries might have made it onto some front page or into some TV news segment?

It may be impossible to answer that question with any precision, but it was my judgment as we reached the mid-1990s that the space for serious investigative reporting had closed, especially on controversies relating to Republicans and the Right. I had witnessed this process at the Associated Press, Newsweek and PBS Frontline.

Yes, I could have done stories about Bill Clinton’s sex life or his failed Whitewater real-estate deal. But far more significant scandals implicating Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush were simply off limits.

That was the real-world effect of the Right’s huge investment in anti-journalism attack groups and in its own proprietary right-wing media. Mainstream outlets were nervous about facing accusations of “liberal bias.” PBS executives were worried about Republicans slashing their budget.

A Search for Solid Ground

So what I was seeking by the mid-1990s was some solid ground in which to plant a flag for honest journalism, rather than constantly being forced into retreat, pulled by nervous editors and producers looking over their shoulders out of fear of right-wing retaliation. From solid ground, I thought, we could produce journalism that simply assessed the facts and made independent judgments – regardless of who might be offended.

In 1995, it was my oldest son, Sam, who suggested the then-novel idea of “a Web site.” I didn’t fully understand what a Web site was – and Sam was no techie – but he demonstrated extraordinary patience in building our original Internet presence. (Back then, there were no templates; you had to start from scratch.) We married old-fashioned investigative reporting with the new technology of the Internet – and began publishing groundbreaking investigative articles.

We followed evidence where it went, even when it flew in the face of the conventional wisdom, such as our work on the 1980 October Surprise issue of whether Reagan and Bush went behind President Jimmy Carter’s back during his Iran-hostage negotiations, much the way Nixon had in sabotaging Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968.

Not only did we present our own original work but we buttressed investigations by other serious journalists, such as Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News when, in 1996, he revived Ronald Reagan’s Contra-cocaine scandal. When the major newspapers set out to destroy Webb and discredit his revelations, Consortiumnews was one outlet that took on the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Yes, we were outgunned. Despite showing that Webb was not only right but actually understated the problem of Contra-cocaine trafficking, we still could not save Webb from having his career destroyed and then watching the big newspapers essentially high-five each other for having helped cover up a serious crime of state.

But I don’t think that I could have prevented that outcome if I were still working somewhere in mainstream journalism. Almost assuredly, any editor would have recoiled at the prospect of challenging the judgment of the major newspapers. After all, my AP colleague Brian Barger and I had been the first reporters to divulge the involvement of the Nicaraguan Contras in cocaine trafficking in 1985 and we encountered much the same abuse that Webb faced a decade later.

Some Over-Optimism

In the early days of Consortiumnews, I did have the hope that after planting the flag of honest journalism into solid ground, we could work back toward the traditional news media, closing the gap between our documented reality and the mainstream’s silly conventional wisdom. I hoped that by demonstrating the quality of the evidence behind our reporting that a truthful narrative of the Reagan-Bush years would finally be accepted.

In that, however, I was too optimistic. With few exceptions, the mainstream media kept deserting the principles of professional journalism, most egregiously with the absence of skepticism toward George W. Bush’s case for invading Iraq in 2003.

Still, the problem in my view was not the concept of a small Web site challenging the Big Media on important investigative stories. The trouble was our lack of financial resources that could have made the fight even slightly more even. There’s also the reality that the Right has done a remarkable job of building its own media and intimidating the mainstream. The Right can now take any minor flap and turn it into a major scandal – and vice versa. The Left has no comparable capability.

Which brings us to the question of what to do next: Should we continue trying to build Consortiumnews as a force for reshaping – and correcting – the historical narrative of modern American history or should we accept that the effort is hopeless?

As in many moments in life, money may determine the answer whatever our hopes and dreams might be. Our spring fund drive set a modest goal of $25,000 but we have only raised about one-fifth that amount. I realize that the economy is still a mess, but it is impossible to do what we do without some resources – and the media imbalance will never change without significant investments of money.

So please consider one of the following three ways to help keep this unique outlet for investigative journalism alive.

First, you can make a donation, which may be tax-deductible since we are a 501-c-3 tax-exempt non-profit. You can donate by credit card online or by mailing a check to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our account, which is named after our e-mail address: “consortnew @ aol.com”).

Second, you can buy one of my last four books through the Consortiumnews’ Web site – or my latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, through Amazon.com, either in paper or the e-book version. We will count those purchases toward our goal.

Third, for only $34, you can get the trilogy that traces the history of the two Bush presidencies and their impact on the world. The three books – Secrecy & Privilege, Neck Deep (co-authored with Sam and Nat Parry) and America’s Stolen Narrative – would normally cost more than $70.

To get the books for less than half price – and help us meet our spring fundraising goal – just go to the Web site’s “Donate” button and make a $34 “donation” using Visa, Mastercard or Discover. We will read a donation of that amount as an order for the trilogy.

If your mailing address is the same as your credit card billing address, we will ship the books to that address. If your mailing address is different, just send us an e-mail at consortnew@aol.com and we will make the adjustment. For U.S. orders, we will pay for the shipping. (For non-U.S. orders, add $20 to defray the extra cost.)

You can also take advantage of this special offer by mailing a check for $34 to The Media Consortium; 2200 Wilson Blvd.; Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. Or you can use our Paypal account, “consortnew @ aol.com.” Just make sure you include your mailing address in the message.

As always, thanks for your support.

Robert Parry is a longtime investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 to create an outlet for well-reported journalism that was being squeezed out of an increasingly trivialized U.S. news media.

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6 comments on “Parry Reflects on Modern Journalism

  1. Kirk W. Fraser on said:

    Your sales piece proves you’re part of the liberal spin machine. If you were the honest reporter you claim to be, you would have said you could have reported on a lot more of Clinton’s fiascoes like Waco, Ruby Ridge, plus the revelations in the book written by his former secret service investigator who had to approve a lot of druggies coming into the White House, plus suspicious deaths like Vince Foster and his out of office shenanigans. They’re all corrupt and as has been written, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them. So why not do some real investigative reporting for a change and show how our liberal media put in our Muslim President who is responsible for ongoing state level corruptions like this one http://www.freetom.info

  2. Bill Dunn on said:

    With all due respect, Kirk Fraser, you’re a colossal idiot and maybe even a paid troll.
    I started as a reporter in 1980, Robert, and know that what you say is true. The American mainstream press, with the Associated Press atop the steaming heap, is cowed and incurious (as is the American public).
    I’ve dealt with editors my whole career who know less than I do and are slaves to conventional wisdom. I see little hope. There’s a lot of good reporting like yours that for the most part goes unnoticed. A recent analysis showed that the network nightly news had 90-some stories on the British royals compared to 12 on global climate change.
    The idea that teaparty groups are social welfare organizations, and hence qualify as tax-exempt, is laughable. They are totally political groups. How could the IRS NOT investigate that?
    The right acts like history began yesterday, except for the founding era.

    • gregorylkruse on said:

      You, sir, are too generous with your respect. The colossal idiot you spoke of actually comes back to see who is disrespecting him now.

  3. Kirk W. Fraser on said:

    Obviously there is no respect due you Bill Dunn. You are too Dumm to know the true right is defined by Jesus Christ and the further you go away from the right, the closer you get to Satan. Thus many things you claim are far right wing like the KKK are actually far from the right, created in history by Demonrats as their anti-Republican action machine, killing both innocent Blacks and Whites. While Demonrats are obviously that evil and worse, Republicans and their Tea Party branch are mere moderates, not truly right as defined herein.

  4. gregorylkruse on said:

    If the true right is defined by Jesus Christ, then I don’t know why the Republicans and Tea Party are anti-gay. Don’t you know that Jesus Christ was gay?