In 2020, Consortium News celebrates 25 years of journalism, considered the first independent online news site. Our founder, Robert Parry, wrote this short history of the site in 2011, explaining the principles that still guide us.
In 2011, years before Consortium News founder Bob Parry took the lead in challenging the now debunked Russiagate collusion story, the downing of Malaysian Flight MH-17 and the 2014 change of government in Ukraine, Parry penned this history of the news site that he created 25 years ago. Throughout 2020 we will be celebrating a quarter century of excellence in independent journalism. Please become part of it by helping to fund the kick off of the next quarter century of Consortium News.
ROBERT PARRY: A Concise
History of Consortium News
By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News
In 1995, after more than two decades in the mainstream news media (AP, Newsweek and PBS), I founded Consortium News as a home for the serious journalism that no longer had a place in an American news business that had lost its way.
At the time, I was the lead journalist on what had become known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and I had watched first-hand as senior news executives chose to squelch that inquiry apparently out of fear that it would cause another impeachment crisis around another Republican president, Ronald Reagan.
Such a possibility was deemed “not good for the country,” a view held both inside Congress and in the boardrooms of the elite national news media. But I refused to accept the judgment. I continued to pursue the many loose ends of the scandal, from evidence of drug trafficking by Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contras to suspicions that the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran started much earlier, possibly even during the 1980 presidential campaign.
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My insistence on getting to the bottom of this historically important story alienated me from my senior editors at Newsweek and from many of my journalistic colleagues who simply wanted to keep their jobs and avoid trouble. But it offended me that the national press corps was signing off on what amounted to a high-level cover-up.
The era of Watergate had come full circle. Instead of exposing crimes and cover-ups, the Washington press corps’ job had changed into harassing and mocking serious investigators the likes of Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh who stayed on the trail.
Consistency and persistence were oh so passe’. The Washington news media had drifted into a culture of careerism where top jobs paid well into the six- and even seven-figures. Your hair style and glib presentation on TV were far more important than the quality of your reporting. And the most important thing was to avoid the wrath of right-wing attack groups who would “controversialize” you.
By the mid-90s, it had become clear to me that there was no feasible way to do the work that had to be done within the confines of the mainstream media. The pressures on everyone had grown too intense. No matter how solid the reporting, many issues were simply off limits, particularly scandals that reflected badly on the admired duo of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Even when I obtained highly classified government documents in 1994-95 shedding light on how U.S. policies toward Iraq and Iran had evolved at the start of the Reagan-Bush era, this information could find no home even in the liberal outliers of the mainstream media.
Quitting the Mainstream
So, on the advice of my oldest son Sam, who told me about this strange new phenomenon called the Internet, I started this Web site in fall 1995.
Besides seeing Consortium News as a place for serious journalism, I also envisioned it as a refuge for quality journalists who faced the same frustrations that I did. I thought we could provide editing and financial support, as well as an outlet that would distribute their stories to the public. Hence, the rather clunky name, Consortiumnews. At the time, I thought I could raise a significant amount of money for the project.
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However, during my initial contacts with public-interest and liberal foundations, I was told that a major objection to funding journalism was the cost. The feeling was that information was an expensive luxury. But I thought I could prove that assumption wrong by applying old-fashioned journalistic standards to this new medium.
To start the Web site the first of its kind on the Internet I cashed out my Newsweek retirement fund and we began producing groundbreaking reporting original to the Web. Over time, we showed that quality journalism could be done at a bargain-basement price.
By the mid-90s, it had become clear to me that there was no feasible way to do the work that had to be done within the confines of the mainstream media.
Yet, despite our journalistic success, foundations and large funders remained skittish. We became an IRS-recognized 501-c-3 non-profit in 1999 (as the Consortium for Independent Journalism) and received some modest grants, but we have never been funded at the level that I had hoped.
Indeed, at the start of the crucial 2000 presidential campaign, our financial situation had grown so dire that I was forced to take an editing job at Bloomberg News and put the Web site on a part-time basis. We still published some important stories about the campaign, including how unfairly the Washington press corps was treating Al Gore and how outrageous the Florida recount was, but we didn’t have the impact that we could have had.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002-03, we also challenged Washington’s conventional wisdom, which was solidly behind George W. Bush’s case for war. But again our voice was muted.
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Finally, in early 2004, I felt it was important to pull together our volumes of original material about the Bush Family before that year’s election. For personal financial reasons, I couldn’t leave Bloomberg News until April (and I must admit it wasn’t easy stepping away from a six-figure salary). But I felt I had no choice.
After quitting, I accelerated the pace at Consortium News and got to work on a book that became “Secrecy & Privilege,” the history of the Bush Dynasty.
After George W. Bush got his second term, we still kept at it at Consortium News, contesting his claims about the Iraq War and his broader neoconservative strategy, which combined violence in the Middle East with an assault on civil liberties at home. I felt it was especially crucial to explain the real history of U.S. relations with Iran and Iraq, a narrative that had been grossly distorted by the cover-ups in the 1980s and early 1990s.
MSM and CIA Parallels
To my great satisfaction, we also began developing what might be regarded as unlikely relationships with former CIA analysts, such as Ray McGovern, Peter Dickson, Melvin Goodman and Elizabeth Murray. Though these CIA folks had been trained not to talk to journalists like me, it turned out they also were looking for places to impart their important knowledge.
I found that our experiences had run on parallel tracks. In the 1980s, as the Washington press corps was facing intense pressure to toe the Reagan-Bush line, the CIA analysts were experiencing the same thing inside their offices at Langley. It became clear to me that the Right’s central strategy of that era had been to seize control of the information flows out of Washington.
To do so required transforming both CIA analysts and Washington journalists into propagandists. The crowning achievement of that project had been the cowering CIA “analysis” and the fawning “journalism” that had been used to whip up popular support for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
And that is where I fear we still stand, stuck in a dangerous swamp of disinformation, spin and lies.
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Though the election of Barack Obama in 2008 showed that the Right’s propaganda machine is not all-powerful, it remains the most intimidating political force in the United States. It can literally create scandals out of nothing, like the “birther” controversy that persuaded many Americans that Obama was born in Kenya despite clear evidence to the contrary. On economic topics, millions of Americans are convinced to oppose their own best interests.
Today, the Right along with much of the Washington mainstream media is reprising the propagandistic treatment of Iraq regarding Iran, with a new conflict increasingly likely as the American public again gets whipped up into a war frenzy.
Still, my hope remains that we can finally gain the financial backing that we need at Consortium News to be a strong voice for truth and a way to maintain the best principles of journalism in order to counteract the exaggerations and hysteria that are again taking hold in America.
If you want to help us, you can make a donation by credit card at the Web site or by check to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd.; Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. Or you can use PayPal (our account is named after our e-mail address “[email protected]”).
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As always, thanks for your support.
The late Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortium News 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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Robert Parry and Gary Webb set the standards and paid a price. Brave (not foolish) reporters dont seek fame and wealth but facts that contribute to benefit of earth and its living species. Reporting today is terribly difficult given the greed and dictatorial postures of profit and its political enablers.
Consortium News is one of my first readings as a take my morning coffee. Thank you for continuing Bob’s work.
Coffee cup rinsed. Time now to turn the pages on my friend Charles Bowden’s book DAKOTAH, The Return of the Future.
Mr. Parry is greatly missed. Greatly!
Bless the journalists who collaborate with Consortiumnews. Parry and all have helped me make sense of what was behind what I was seeing as a missionary in Latin America from the 1960s thru till today. As a WW II fighter pilot it took me some years to break out of the bubble created by the ideology of USA exceptionalism.
It was a joint effort under Cardinal Arns of the Catholic, the Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Brazil that exposed the torture and elimination of political opponents done as policy by the police under the military government in Brazil in the 1960s and 70s. cf Nunca Mais, the study, result of multiple years of dangerous, clandestine work. That military coup in 1964 was supported from the US, and during that time supported with police and military advisors from the US.
Readers of this must certainly know of the work done by Father Roy Bourgeois and his School of the Americas Watch to expose the training of Latin American military, first in Panama and later in Fort Benning, GA of that same US military and police policy throughout Latin America.
What a waste of money, resources to miss-train some of our best to carry out policies of hard line all over the world! And all to the dispargement of the reputation of the USA world-wide. This “Mano duro” imitated in Central America is driving the flood of refugees north. A fraction of the money could be used for health, education, social services, and our man/woman power trained to such purpose would revolutionize the world.
Don’t forget we are supported by many other resources like investigative-reporter-authors like Naome Klein, Stephen Kinzer, Chris Hedges to mention a few favorites.
Looking back on the past, it’s clear that Consortium News’s place on the right side of history, although it was mocked and marginalised and continues to be because of this, has enabled itself to outlast much of the grifter media and apologist press. Of the ’00s era websites, Little Green Footballs, Internet Haganah, and the New York Sun (among US outlets) backed the worst of the Bush-era lies and were punished for it. Since 2016, The Blaze and the Weekly Standard look like they might also go the way of the dodo. Even VICE has been forced to cut staffers and funding. Meanwhile, Consortium News is actually growing. I would not be surprised if, following the final Mueller report, which will show no real evidence of “collusion,” and the exposing of the lie of RussiaGate, that sites like the Daily Beast will be on the verge of folding and CN, WSWS.org, CounterCurrents, Glenn Greenwald, Popular Resistance, and MintPressNews will be in the right – again.
Thanks for printing this. It came from a time before my introduction to Consortium News. You are doing a great job of carrying his legacy forward. Happy Holidays.
p.s. Although some of the glitches in the comment section have lessened, they are still an issue. I hope you get enough $$$ from your winter fund drive to address it.
I like Mr. Parry’s approach to journalism but disappointed in his left-right dichotomy when all this performers in this arena act pretty much the same on important issues like finance military spending and seem to depart only on matters of sexual orientation, right to life and education.
It would be difficult to distinguish what Obama did while in office and what previous presidents did and now a future one will do while in office. And yet, Mr. Parry, despite his proficiency and integrity as reporter seems to cling to that right-left dichotomy. The examples he cites suggest that.
Still, I read Consortium just about every day and look forward to reading what people like Lawrence and McGovern have to say and many of the commenters. So I will make my modest donation and hope Consortium is around as east as long as I am.
Herman, Bob wrote this in 2011, well before the 2016 election and the Russia-gate scandal. In the last piece he ever wrote, on Dec. 31, 2017, he said:
“We saw similar patterns with the U.S. government’s propaganda agencies developing themes to demonize foreign adversaries and then to smear Americans who questioned the facts or challenged the exaggerations as “apologists.” This approach was embraced not only by Republicans (think of President George W. Bush distorting the reality in Iraq in 2003 to justify the invasion of that country under false pretenses) but also by Democrats who pushed dubious or downright false depictions of the conflict in Syria (including blaming the Syrian government for chemical weapons attacks despite strong evidence that the events were staged by Al Qaeda and other militants who had become the tip of the spear in the neocon/liberal interventionist goal of removing the Assad dynasty and installing a new regime more acceptable to the West and to Israel).
More and more I would encounter policymakers, activists and, yes, journalists who cared less about a careful evaluation of the facts and logic and more about achieving a pre-ordained geopolitical result – and this loss of objective standards reached deeply into the most prestigious halls of American media. This perversion of principles – twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending the journalistic principles of skepticism and evenhandedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues, a hostility that first emerged on the Right and among neoconservatives but eventually sucked in the progressive world as well. Everything became “information warfare.”
Mr. Lauria, I respected what Mr. Parry had to say as I respect what you have to say and don’t question Mr. Parry’s integrity or competence. I also think there is a little hard wiring that shapes the way we see things. Enough said. I look forward to reading Consortium and hope it not only survives but thrives.
Thank you for your thoughtful response.