Why Consortiumnews.com Is Unique
By the early 1990s, it had become clear to me that the mainstream U.S. news media had lost its way and was no longer serving as a reliable warning system for the American people. I had witnessed this development firsthand as a Washington-based reporter for the Associated Press, Newsweek and PBS Frontline, but knew that this failure was universal.
The core problem was that the Right – stunned by the anti-Vietnam War protests and the Watergate-driven resignation of Richard Nixon – had chosen to make the national news media the new political battleground, and the Left had simultaneously retreated from its media advantage of the 1970s.
Also, many mainstream news executives had bought into the Right’s argument that the Vietnam-Watergate-era press corps had gone too far in exposing high-level crimes and that those overly independent journalists were behaving in a manner that was “not good for the country.”
In a way, the last stand for tough-minded journalism came with the Iran-Contra Affair (and the related scandals that swirled around Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy). I had been at the center of that reporting in the 1980s and saw how the media dynamic had shifted. Instead of honoring reporters and other investigators who revealed wrongdoing, the new pattern was to punish and ostracize us.
The smart career play for journalists was to duck the hard stories or even join in pummeling those of us who dared take them on. And it wasn’t just out-of-step reporters who got this treatment.
In the early 1990s, a writer for the Washington Post labeled Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as “un-Washington” and a “loser” for his tenacity in battling the Republican cover-up. Newsweek dubbed Sen. John Kerry a “randy conspiracy buff” for his work exposing drug trafficking by Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan contra rebels.
Sure, the news media could still be tough on some pol who got caught in a sexual peccadillo, but ambitious journalists saw little or no margin in exposing complex crimes of state, especially when a Republican was involved and the Right’s anti-journalism attack groups were on the hunt.
After leaving Newsweek in 1990, I approached left-of-center foundations with my alarming conclusion that the U.S. mainstream media was “gone” as a watchdog and that a major investment in independent media was desperately needed. However, I encountered a consensus on the Left that media was a low priority, especially in the face of pressing social needs.
Then, in late 1994 and early 1995, I uncovered a cache of secret U.S. government documents that cast the Reagan-era foreign policy in an even more sinister light, but I couldn’t get interest from editors at The New Yorker or other left-of-center outlets. By then, stories examining the dark corners of the Iran-Contra Affair were considered passé; the “hot” stories were about Bill Clinton’s transgressions.
Consortiumnews.com Gets Started
In fall 1995, my oldest son, Sam, took note of my frustration and suggested that I take the information to a new medium, the Internet, which was then in an early formative stage. I agreed and cashed out my Newsweek retirement fund to pay for the project. Though not a techie, Sam figured out how to build a Web site and Consortiumnews.com was born. We started with a series based on those secret documents.
Over the next 15 years, Consortiumnews.com worked to not only inform the American people but to maintain the values of American journalism, the way things were back in the 1970s. In that spirit, we have dealt with the realities of U.S. foreign policy and politics as they are, not as some clever propagandist would want them presented.
That commitment to well-reported and well-written journalism has enabled us to get the key stories right, even as far-better-funded outlets got them wrong.
For instance, in the 1990s when the New York Times and other mainstream outlets were swooning over Colin Powell, we published a series on his real history, gauging him as an opportunist lacking the courage to stand up to wrongheaded superiors. At the time, our series was treated like a case of bad manners, but it was a warning that proved prescient when Powell helped sell the Iraq WMD falsehoods.
Our longstanding take on the deformed dynamic of Washington journalism also led us to challenge the media’s fawning coverage of George W. Bush and the wars he launched. We also were quick to question President Barack Obama’s choice of continuity over change.
When Bush appointed former CIA Director Robert Gates to be Defense Secretary in late 2006, we again went against the grain, citing Gates’s real record as an enabler of misguided policies dating back to his work for the Reagan administration when he politicized the CIA’s analytical division. After Obama’s election, we tried to alert the incoming administration of this little-known history, to no avail.
Nevertheless, the integrity of our journalistic approach – and our willingness to challenge the capital’s conventional wisdom – earned the respect of some former U.S. intelligence analysts who had witnessed a comparable corrupting of their principles of objectivity over the last three decades, a parallel to what had occurred in the Washington press corps.
That has allowed us to add to our cast of journalistic contributors some of America’s most insightful ex-CIA analysts, the likes of Ray McGovern, Melvin A. Goodman and Peter Dickson.
Still, despite our achievements, I never solved the problem of securing adequate resources for the work that needs to be done.
Is Consortiumnews.com Necessary?
Sometimes, I’m asked by prospective funders why they should support Consortiumnews.com when there are other better known outlets that claim to be doing much the same thing.
And, while we have cooperated with many other independent news operations – offering our articles for reprint and helping some with their editing tasks – there is also uniqueness to Consortiumnews.com in our commitment to professional-quality, Washington-based journalism.
Though operating inside-the-Beltway, we have never wavered from our commitment to do journalism right. We’ve refused to make concessions that would curry favor with the establishment press. Nor are we a Johnny-come-lately to these principles.
Ironically, some progressive funders have been willing to invest in organizations that either were founded by former right-wingers (the likes of David Brock at Media Matters) or are now under the control of conservative journalists (such as the Center for Public Integrity whose new executive editor John Solomon previously ran Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times).
Other funders have poured large sums into ProPublica, which consciously staffed itself with mainstream journalists known for never rocking the boat. That’s because ProPublica’s business model is based on producing journalism that is explicitly acceptable to mainstream news outlets, meaning that ProPublica has no intention of shaking up the status quo.
Yet, while rewarding ex-right-wingers and timid journalists, some of these same funders have balked at supporting the honest journalism that we have consistently produced. That has forced us to rely on our readers for virtually our entire (modest) budget, which has run about $130,000 a year.
So, if you agree that our unique voice must be maintained and strengthened, we ask for your help. We have set a goal of raising $35,000 by year's end.
Here are four ways you can help us reach our goal:
First option: You can make a donation, big or small. You can do so either by credit card at the Web site or by check – to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); Suite 102-231; 2200 Wilson Blvd.; Arlington VA 22201. Or you can use PayPal (our account is named after our e-mail address “email@example.com”).
(Our parent organization, Consortium for Independent Journalism, is a 501-c-3 non-profit, so your contributions can be tax-deductible.)
Second, if you’d rather spread out your support in smaller amounts, you can sign up for a monthly donation. With contributions of $10 or more a month, you can qualify for war correspondent Don North’s new DVD, “Yesterday’s Enemies” about the lives of former Salvadoran guerrillas. For details, click here.
Third, you can take advantage of our deep discount for the three-book set of Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege, and Neck Deep (co-authored with Sam and Nat Parry). The price for the set is only $29. Our goal is to sell at least 100 more sets so we can empty our warehouse and make way for a new book. For details, click here. (These books contain many of the highlights of the work done at Consortiumnews.com over the years.)
Fourth, you can schedule a joint (or separate) speech by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and/or journalist Robert Parry. The suggested fees – $2,000 for community groups, $5,000 for colleges and larger non-profits, and $10,000 for those who can afford it – go entirely to keeping Consortiumnews.com alive.
Whether Consortiumnews.com can continue to support -- and distribute -- the valuable work of our writers depends on you.
Thanks so much for your support.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet's first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.
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