Four years ago today, Consortium News founding editor Robert Parry passed away unexpectedly. In this essay, adapted from an afterword for the forthcoming book, American Dispatches: A Robert Parry Reader, his son Nat reflects on his life and legacy.
By Nat Parry
Special to Consortium News
As 2017 drew to a close, my wife, daughters, sister-in-law and I were eagerly preparing for a family trip to Australia, a planned month-long excursion that was two years in the making. Traveling just after Christmas, we would start on the west coast of the continent and then make our way eastward, stopping in the Northern Territory to explore the Red Center. One of the highlights that we were all anticipating was the tail end of the journey, when my dad, Robert Parry, and stepmother, Diane Duston, were planning to join us for the final leg on Australia’s east coast.
Unfortunately, that rendezvous would never happen. On Boxing Day, I got a call from my dad informing me of the troubling news that he had suffered a mild stroke two days earlier. He assured me that it was nothing to worry about, but on the advice of his doctor, he and Diane would not be able to join us Down Under. Although we were all disappointed, my family and I proceeded with our plans.
About half-way through our Australian adventure, my brother Sam called to let me know that Dad had suffered a second stroke, this one more serious than the first. Despite Dad’s initial speculation that the Christmas Eve stroke may have been brought on by the stress of covering the insanity of Washington politics, the doctors were now saying that the strokes were actually the result of undiagnosed pancreatic cancer that he had been unknowingly living with for the previous 4-5 years. Considering the seriousness of his health issues, I cut my vacation short and hopped on a plane to Washington.
When I first saw my dad in the hospital, he was in good spirits, although clearly, he was physically incapacitated and had only very limited use of speech. His ability to communicate was reduced to simple phrases and if he tried to express complex thoughts it would come out as a sort of jumbled “word salad,” the meaning of which was often anyone’s guess. But when I shared pictures with him of my girls enjoying their time in Australia, he made his feelings clear by saying “I love so much” or “I love love love.”
In addition to visiting Dad in the hospital, I also took on the responsibility of editing the website that he had devoted so much of his life to over the previous two decades, a familiar task for me as I had worked closely with him on this project in years past. When I wasn’t in the hospital, I was coordinating with his assistant Chelsea Gilmour in keeping the website up and running, corresponding with writers and publishing their articles.
I also updated readers with a brief status report on Dad’s health issues, posting a bulletin to let the Consortium News community know that he was hospitalized and working on recovery. This article generated hundreds of comments from readers offering kind words of support. I read many of these comments to Dad to let him know how concerned his readers were about his wellbeing and to remind him how many people had been impacted by his life’s work.
Although initially rather upbeat, after several days of being hospitalized, Dad’s mood began to change and he grew increasingly irritable. Perhaps it was the frustration of being confined to a bed and not being able to handle simple physical tasks or perhaps it was the mental stress of his predicament setting in, or both, but it was clear that day by day his morale was deteriorating. He started refusing food and speaking in a more despondent way and it was becoming difficult to lift his spirits.
One day I gave him an update on the website, telling him that I had posted a couple articles that morning in the hopes that this would cheer him up. But instead of the “Oh, that’s nice” that I was looking for, he just blurted out, “Oh, no one cares!” He began to emphatically repeat that over and over: “No one cares. No one cares. No one cares.”
Although it is difficult to say what precisely was going through his mind at that moment since his communication abilities were so limited, it seemed to me that he may have been expressing a sense of frustration that despite decades of work trying to explain the realities of Washington politics and debunk mythologies, nobody actually gave a damn. While admittedly, I do occasionally share that sense of pessimism, it didn’t seem to be the time or place to commiserate and indulge such negative thoughts, so I tried to cheer him up instead.
I told him, simply, “I care, Dad. I care.”
This immediately calmed him down. The anger disappeared from his face, his demeanor went from agitated to placid, and he grew quiet and reflective. I like to think that by reminding him that at least one person cared, it was enough to reassure him that all his efforts during his career as a journalist had been worth it. After all, I imagined he was thinking, isn’t that what it’s all about? Connecting with one reader at a time, informing one person at a time, breaking down one false narrative at a time, building a stronger democracy one citizen at a time.
Soon after that, Dad suffered his third stroke – a devastating one. He went into a coma and died a few days later, on January 27, 2018, surrounded by loved ones. He was 68.
In the four years since my dad passed away, I have often thought about that moment when I reassured him that there was at least one person in the world who cared. While I’m not the only one who could make this claim, of course, it seems to me that by making it personal in this way, it had a stronger effect on consoling him and allowing him to die in peace than it would have if I had tried to counter his despair with a generality like “that’s not true” or “lots of people care.”
Rather than offering such vague assurances, it was perhaps more convincing to remind him that the person sitting in front of him cared, especially because he knew that I was of a like mind. I knew how deeply he cared about the issues that he wrote about, and he knew that I also cared deeply about them. And while some might have dismissed my dad’s complaint that “no one cares” as the discontented utterances of someone suffering the effects of a debilitating stroke, I could sympathize with the sentiment because I often shared this frustration.
His observation led me to reflect on whether or not this pessimistic view was accurate, and in honestly assessing the statement, I would have to say that the jury is still out. A case could be made either way.
On one hand, when it comes to America’s “lost history” and the dismal state of affairs of the American Republic, it is painfully obvious that in some ways, Dad was right. The harsh reality is that most people don’t care – or if they do, they don’t know where to turn for their information and are so confused and unclear about the underlying historical realities they simply reject it all as “fake news” and retreat into nihilism and ignorance, devote their attention to identity politics and conspiracy theories, or place their hope in a dangerous demagogue like Donald J. Trump. The fact that Dad’s many projects over the years – the newsletter, the magazine, the books he independently published, the website – never really created the sea change in American journalism needed to rectify democracy is, for a pessimist, more than enough proof needed to demonstrate that it was all for naught.
On the other hand, it was clear that his journalism had made an impact in many ways, that his articles over the decades were crucial in producing a fuller picture of modern American history, that he had inspired and influenced generations of journalists, that his model of user-supported content would prove viable, and that he had developed a devoted following of readers who recognized the value of his work. The fact that people were so appreciative of the information and analysis that Dad could so uniquely convey through his writing that they would open their checkbooks several times a year for Consortium News’ fund drives is proof positive that, in fact, people do care.
It is this push and pull between cynicism and defeatism on one hand, and optimism and hope on the other hand, that defined so much of my dad’s life. Pushed out of mainstream media, distressed by the dishonesty and silliness that had pervaded American journalism, and having trouble publishing important stories in existing alternative media, instead of despairing, he tried a do-it-yourself approach and in 1995, launched Consortium News – or The Consortium as it was called at the time – to establish an outlet to publicize documents that were emerging which put the history of the 1980s in a new, more troubling light. He created the website, along with a biweekly newsletter and bimonthly magazine, as a home for serious journalism that eschewed ideology and challenged the conventional wisdom.
Despite some initially encouraging success and a steadily growing subscriber base, he struggled to keep publishing the paper versions of The Consortium, I.F. Magazine and the short-lived American Dispatches magazine, and decided to go fully digital in 2000. One of his frustrations in that period was his inability to convince progressive foundations and deep-pocketed liberals of the need to invest in media, and struggling to earn an adequate salary, he took a job as an editor at Bloomberg News for a period in the early 2000s – discreetly publishing articles at Consortium News on the side.
The ups and downs my dad experienced in his efforts to build an independent media infrastructure led at times to a deep sense of discouragement, which, of course, can be a familiar feeling to anyone who has made efforts to improve the world, whether through journalism, activism, volunteer work, or just being an engaged citizen and voter. There is a constant battle between a sense of duty to keep plugging away and succumbing to the temptation to throw in the towel. Sometimes, the forces of darkness appear to be insurmountable and the orthodoxies they’ve constructed just too overwhelming to effectively challenge. At other times, simply through the exercise of investigating and exposing the truth, the carefully constructed façade of lies seems to come crashing down like a house of cards.
But, then of course, even if one does break through the fog with a hard-hitting exposé, for example Dad’s revelations of contra-cocaine trafficking, nothing really changes. No one in a position of power pays a price for such grave crimes as misleading a nation to war or flooding the country with drugs in order to finance a terrorist campaign against a poverty-stricken nation. Instead of the actual criminals being held accountable, those who expose their crimes are more often than not the ones who go to prison or have their careers destroyed. Meanwhile, the ones who committed the crimes or were complicit in enabling them tend to “fail upward,” and get rewarded with higher political office and lucrative media careers, or in the case of George W. Bush, retire comfortably and pass the time painting pictures and yukking it up with Ellen DeGeneres on daytime TV.
The rehabilitation of Bush’s legacy was one of the most bizarre and troubling aspects of the Trump era, and one that would have appalled my dad. As the author of two books on the Bush family dynasty and the disastrous 43rd presidency – Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep – Dad was more well-versed than most on the damage done to the nation and the world by “Dubya” and his father. Seeing liberals embrace him simply because he was critical of President Trump – with more than half of Democrats declaring that they approved of the Bush presidency by 2018 – may have been a bridge too far.
By 2020, the liberal rewriting of the Bush presidency’s history was virtually complete, exemplified by former President Barack Obama declaring that as opposed to Trump, Bush “had a basic regard for the rule of law and the importance of our institutions of democracy.” Obama stated that when Bush was president, “we cared about human rights” and were committed to “core principles around the rule of law and the universal dignity of people.” This, despite the fact that when Bush left office, he left behind a shameful legacy of weakened democratic institutions and upended human rights norms.
The many rule-of-law violations committed by Bush – all of which were extensively documented at Consortium News – began with the stolen election of 2000, proceeded with post-9/11 trampling of civil liberties and the establishment of a penal colony in Guantanamo Bay in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the implementation of a warrantless surveillance program of Americans in violation of the Constitution, an illegal torture program, and of course, lest we forget, the 2003 invasion of Iraq in violation of the U.N. Charter.
But after a few years of Trump, none of this apparently mattered. All that it took to be welcomed into the warm arms of the liberal establishment was to mouth some criticisms of the Orange Menace and declare allegiance to the so-called “Resistance.” In short, reality didn’t matter – what mattered was loyalty to the pro-establishment tribe.
But at the same time, even while Bush enjoyed a makeover of his tattered image, other historical figures were beginning to experience long-overdue reckonings. As someone who had long advocated for ending the veneration of pro-slavery Founders such as Thomas Jefferson and removing the names of Confederate traitors from public property, Dad would have been pleased to see the sweeping changes that took place following the racial justice uprisings in 2020. Not only was Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s name stripped from Route 1 in Northern Virginia, but even the capital of the Confederacy – Richmond – could see the writing on the wall and decided that it was time to remove Civil War figures from Monument Avenue, including the towering statue of Robert E. Lee which came down in 2021.
Equally encouraging was the long-overdue removal of the racially insensitive name of the Washington football team. As a transplanted New Englander who lived in the nation’s capital since the late 1970s, Dad was always perturbed by the cavalier racism of the name “Redskins,” and would have been relieved that it was finally put to rest in 2020.
So, in some ways, when considering developments such as Bush’s rehabilitation, Dad was right to lament that “no one cares,” but at the same time, having witnessed historic changes in the way that America deals with its racist history, perhaps he would have to concede that the glass is half full after all. There is always reason to continue plugging away, working for truth, and hoping for the best.
Since my dad’s passing, besides pondering questions of apathy and ignorance versus the pursuit of truth and justice, I have also reflected quite a bit on how he would have reacted to political developments over the past four years in America.
While it is impossible to say what he may have thought about each and every daily news story – and I particularly wouldn’t presume to know what he would have had to say about the Covid crisis or the disputed 2020 election and the related January 6 Capitol siege – one thing I am confident of is that he generally would have been dismayed by the continued lack of skepticism over Russiagate, the intensified neo-McCarthyite attacks on independent voices who didn’t toe the line on the New Cold War, and the U.S. government’s ruthless persecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
The sad fact is, many of the troubling trends that he identified and grew increasingly despondent over towards the end of his life only intensified since January 2018. While the Trump administration obviously deserved its share of criticism for nepotism, insolence, dishonesty and many wrongheaded policies, the media’s groupthink and myopic focus on the alleged “Russian influence” in the administration may have confirmed his gloomy assessment that his efforts over the decades to push back against the conventional wisdom had been futile. It also seemed that even the few silver linings that he might have hoped for, such as the possibility of Trump reining in the neoconservative influence in Washington, taking a more conciliatory approach in dealing with adversaries and ending America’s “forever wars,” turned out to be largely illusory.
Egged on by hawks in Congress, the media and his own administration, Trump for the most part continued the reckless march into the New Cold War, characterized not only by deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations, but also growing hostility with China, Venezuela and Iran. Trump assassinated Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani by a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport, began arms transfers to Ukraine, carried out airstrikes on Syria, threatened to attack North Korea with “fire and fury,” tried to pull off a coup in Venezuela, and tore up international agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, and the Paris agreement on climate change.
But although these were some of the most reckless actions of the Trump administration, they received far less scrutiny from the media than such controversies as his early morning tweet storms or crass jokes, and were less criticized by the pundit class than Trump’s clumsy but seemingly well-meaning attempts at diplomacy, such as his controversial meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, day in and day out, the media hyped up one Russiagate scoop after another, often assuring the country that “the walls were closing in” on the administration and that Trump’s days were numbered. Along the way, numerous corrections and retractions were made due to sloppy reporting, with The Washington Post for example being forced to remove large portions of articles covering the Steele dossier, which had purported to offer evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia but was ultimately discredited as mostly baseless conjecture paid for by 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign.
As the New York Times eventually conceded years later, the Steele dossier “turned out to be Democratic-funded opposition research,” although this was well known from the very beginning to anyone paying attention. In fact, as far back as 2017, my dad had raised questions about the dossier, noting that his sources had told him that Christopher Steele may have received around $1 million for compiling his salacious reports, and was therefore financially incentivized to dig up dirt on Trump to help Hillary Clinton win, whether true or not.
This politicized information then formed the basis for the FBI’s investigation into whether Russia was blackmailing Trump and spawned a multi-year media obsession with juicy allegations that turned out to be largely unfounded. Or, in the dry, straightforward language of the Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election, released in March 2019 by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, “the investigation did not establish that the [Trump] Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.”
.@Consortiumnews, under its late, legendary founder Robert Parry & editor Joe Lauria (@unjoe), led the pack on Russiagate skepticism from the start. They embody everything that adversarial journalism is supposed to be. If you can, please support them:https://t.co/qul4c4JXIq
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) May 16, 2020
My dad saw through the hokum from the beginning of this controversy and never accepted the basic premises of Russiagate or conceded that an official investigation of it was even warranted. Two years before Mueller released his report, on March 6, 2017, Dad appeared on Democracy Now and was asked by Amy Goodman who he thought would be best to lead a possible inquiry into Russiagate, to which he replied that he had lost faith in government investigations over the years and didn’t think anyone was truly qualified to perform such a task.
“I really don’t think there is in Washington any wise man or any wise woman or some institution that you can count on,” Dad said. “It doesn’t exist anymore in Washington. Maybe it did in some earlier time, but not anymore.”
Noting that many investigations are highly politicized, he regretted that they are often geared towards hyping up or downplaying allegations, and stressed that their findings should not be taken at face value, but instead examined very closely by fair-minded journalists. This, unfortunately, did not happen to a sufficient degree when it came to Russiagate – perhaps because there are so few fair-minded journalists left in Washington.
While the investigation of alleged Trump-Russia collusion never resulted in the impeachment that the Resistance had hoped for, liberals finally got their wish when a “whistleblower” revealed the contents of a phone call that Trump made with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25, 2019, following Zelenskiy’s election. Trump had urged the new Ukrainian president to investigate the ethically dubious business dealings of the Biden family in his country, and allegedly pressured the Ukrainian government to do so by withholding military aid.
Trump’s efforts were construed by the Democrats as an attempt to enlist a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, despite the fact Joe Biden was not the presumptive Democratic nominee at the time, and irrespective of the reality that there were indeed some troubling questions to be answered about Hunter Biden’s activities while Joe Biden was vice president of the United States and served as the Obama administration’s point person on Ukraine.
Dad had written about these questionable business activities way back in 2014, ascribing a possible “natural gas motive” to the violent ouster of democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych that year. In an article entitled “The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis,” Dad noted that “it was Vice President Joe Biden who demanded that President Yanukovych pull back his police on Feb. 21, a move that opened the way for the neo-Nazi militias and the U.S.-backed coup.” Only three months later, Dad pointed out, “Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, Burisma Holdings, appointed Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, to its board of directors.”
Hunter raked in millions of dollars while his father was in charge of U.S. government policy on Ukraine, which is a fairly obvious conflict of interest and one that is worthy of scrutiny. Five years before Trump would be impeached for urging an investigation into this matter, my dad regretted that “advocates for ethics in government lost their voices amid Washington’s near-universal applause for the ouster of Yanukovych and warm affection for the coup regime in Kiev.” Seeing how it would ultimately unfold – with the ethical concerns brushed aside, Trump impeached and Biden securing the Democratic nomination – surely would have been difficult for my dad to process.
Indeed, considering how truly crazy things got during the Trump years, I couldn’t help but consider at times how challenging it would have been for Dad to continue writing about politics during this era. As much as we’ve missed his reporting – not to mention his presence as a loving father, grandfather, husband, brother, uncle, cousin, and dear friend to so many – it was hard at times not to feel that his untimely passing may have been an act of mercy.
As someone who extensively covered serious crimes of state such as Iran-Contra, CIA domestic propaganda operations, assassination and torture programs, the October Surprise mystery, contra-cocaine, George W. Bush’s WMD lies, sabotaging of the 1968 Vietnam peace talks, electoral dirty tricks, and routine lying and abuse of power by people in authority – only to see all these transgressions swept under the rug by official Washington and no one ever held accountable – the fact that President Trump would ultimately be impeached over something as trivial as a tactless phone call to the newly elected president of Ukraine may have been too much for my dad to handle.
How could Dad have coped with the fact that many of the same Democrats who declined to initiate impeachment hearings over the Iran-Contra Affair or the lies that led to a disastrous war in Iraq would in 2019 launch an impeachment over such relatively small potatoes? If he had continued to raise doubts about these lines of attack against Trump and questioned the Democrats’ approach to politics, would he have been completely ostracized and estranged from those he once considered friends?
Indeed, as Dad lamented in his final article, written just one year into the Trump presidency, he was already being harshly criticized by many long-time associates for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump Resistance, with his insistence on applying basic journalistic standards to coverage of the 45th president somehow seen as a betrayal.
He eloquently expressed the growing chasm between his brand of old-fashioned journalism and what many never-Trumpers expected of him: “I actually believed that the point of journalism in a democracy was to give the voters unbiased information and the necessary context so the voters could make up their own minds and use their ballot – as imperfect as that is – to direct the politicians to take actions on behalf of the nation. The unpleasant reality that the past year has brought home to me is that a shockingly small number of people in Official Washington and the mainstream news media actually believe in real democracy or the goal of an informed electorate.”
If there is one overriding theme in my dad’s life’s work, it is this. He deeply believed in the power of information to promote a healthy democracy. It may sound trite – or, in some ways, shockingly obvious – but his revolutionary idea about journalism was that it ought to strive towards improving people’s understanding not only of current events but of the underlying processes that shape these realities. Armed with this information, citizens could become more astute voters who would choose better candidates who would become better leaders and implement better policies. In other words, democracy would function as the Founders intended when they enshrined freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
But instead, the media has devolved into something so far removed from these principles that it is difficult to comprehend. Instead of providing necessary context and promoting healthy skepticism of the government, the media has treated official Washington with undeserving credulity, elevated the pronouncements of government spokespeople as if they are infallible, kept citizens misinformed, exaggerated external dangers, and marginalized those who objected. This, as Dad saw it, was the core problem in U.S. politics.
His goal of building up an infrastructure for independent journalism was to create a home for honest narratives that would counter the mass media’s misrepresentation of history that convinced large segments of the population to buy into a “synthetic reality,” as he called it. This was and still is the whole point of Consortium News – to use traditional journalistic standards to overcome the short-circuiting of democracy that was taking place by providing citizens with information so that they had the confidence to break out of political paralysis and reclaim their democratic process.
But as Dad regretted in his final article, what had emerged instead was a “guided democracy” in which “approved” opinions were elevated, whether based in reality or not, and “unapproved” evidence was suppressed. “Everything becomes ‘information warfare’,” my dad wrote. “Instead of information provided evenhandedly to the public, it is rationed out in morsels designed to elicit the desired emotional reactions and achieve a political outcome.”
This is the case not only inside the “right-wing media machine” that Dad had devoted so much effort exposing back in the 90s, but also in “progressive” media, and certainly in legacy media such as CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post. The willingness to promote politicized misinformation has led to historic distrust in the media, with, by 2020, a whopping 60 percent of Americans saying they don’t trust the media. In short, the political devolution of this era – and possibly also its deep-seated cultural divide, which some worry could be leading to an actual civil war – has been made possible by the deterioration of the press as Washington’s so-called fourth estate.
As the mainstream media continued to lose credibility, rather than reconsider its approach to journalism, the establishment launched a concerted effort to neutralize the competition. The unrelenting demonization of alternative media – which began in earnest with the blacklisting of Consortium News and 200 other outlets by the shadowy PropOrNot outfit and intensified with Hillary Clinton’s complaints that an “epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda” had cost her the election – led during the Trump years to unprecedented action being taken to discredit and silence independent voices.
Led by “fact checkers” with Orwellian-sounding names like the Trusted News Initiative and NewsGuard, a campaign was soon underway to suppress independent platforms that were deemed out of step. Websites were increasingly throttled by search engines and shadowbanned by the algorithms of social media companies, culminating in a massive purge of alternative media just before the 2018 midterms, when some 800 anti-establishment accounts and pages were removed from Facebook. Matt Savoy of The Free Thought Project, which had more than three million followers, called his page’s removal from Facebook a “death blow” that would force the media outlet to downsize its staff.
With the threat of being deplatformed ever present for alternative media outlets that questioned establishment narratives, some independent voices may have started self-censoring, whether consciously or unconsciously. Others may have been intimidated by the imprisonment of Assange, who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for publishing state secrets that embarrassed the U.S. government, and internalized the lesson that certain stories should just not be pursued.
Whatever the cause, there appeared to be a dwindling number of media outlets that were able or willing to do serious investigative journalism and push back against the mythologies and evidence-challenged official conspiracy theories that were fueling the New Cold War.
Thankfully, Consortium News, now edited by Joe Lauria, has maintained the principled and independent approach to journalism that my dad championed. Lauria and the team of regular Consortium News contributors made sure the website remained the indispensable source of information and analysis that Dad built, and when Special Counsel Mueller released his report that found no Trump-Russia collusion, Consortium News could rightly claim that it was one of the very few media outlets that had gotten the story right all along.
Journalists at other outlets also picked up the torch and pursued many of the stories that Dad would have likely been writing about – such as Aaron Maté’s work at The Grayzone exposing the official lies surrounding the Syrian gas attacks. Still, Dad’s voice as one of the preeminent investigative reporters of the past half-century – someone who possessed a vast, almost encyclopedic knowledge of American history and a unique perspective on contemporary politics – has been sorely missed. He would have been able to cover the Trump era – and now, the Biden era – in a way that no one else could.
As an indication of his enduring impact on American journalism, tributes poured in after he passed away in early 2018. “Bob was a supreme skeptic, but he never descended to cynicism,” Lauria said. “His legacy, which I am committed to carry on, was of a principled, non-partisan approach to journalism.”
“He was a pioneer in bringing maverick journalism to the Internet,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting founder Jeff Cohen wrote, “a refugee from mainstream media who, like Izzy Stone, went on to build an uncensored and uncensorable outlet.” Oliver Stone wrote that his death “leaves a giant hole in American journalism,” placing him alongside I.F. Stone, Drew Pearson, George Seldes and Gary Webb as one of the all-time greats. A tribute by Jim Naureckas of FAIR noted that “journalism lost one of its most valuable investigators when Robert Parry died.”
“Robert Parry’s death is a profound loss to our country as a political and intellectual community,” wrote Jim Kavanagh at Counterpunch. At Alternet, former New Republic editor Jefferson Morley reflected on his impressions of Dad when they got to know each other in the mid-1980s. “Parry was rare among reporters of that era in that he did not take his cues from the White House or defer to [President Ronald] Reagan’s popularity,” Morley wrote. “While others tried to spin U.S. support for death squads as a defense of democracy, Parry penetrated the veil of official secrecy.”
John Pilger expressed appreciation for Dad’s steadfast commitment to evidence-based journalism and pushing back against assertions and fact-free claims promoted by the mainstream media, whether related to Russiagate or the Syrian civil war. “What Bob Parry did most effectively was to produce the evidence,” Pilger said.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation magazine editor and publisher, tweeted: “RIP Robert Parry – your independent journalism is needed more than ever.” Independent journalist Michael Tracey tweeted: “The death of Robert Parry leaves such a void for those who see the main function of journalism as challenging horde logic.”
The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz wrote that one of Dad’s strongest points as a journalist was that he was non-ideological. “He just had basic, Boy Scout-like principles,” Schwarz wrote, “such as ‘reality is important’ and ‘the government shouldn’t lie all the time about everything.’”
In his tribute, Schwarz broke down what he felt were the most important lessons that could be learned from Dad’s style of journalism. One is to “read everything,” including the full body of government reports because vital information was often buried that contradicts the executive summaries. Important nuggets of truth could also be found in politicians’ dreary memoirs, Schwarz pointed out, because “in retirement, powerful people occasionally blurt out stunning new information.”
Schwarz correctly observed that Dad dutifully read government reports cover to cover, as well as obscure political memoirs, which is a point that I can attest to. I remember once asking my dad if he was planning to read George W. Bush’s self-serving Decision Points when it came out and feeling a certain degree of pity when he replied, “Well, I guess I have to.”
Other important takeaways that Schwarz identified from Dad’s journalistic work were to “always include the history,” noting that “history is continually being rewritten on the fly by the people in charge, to a truly unnerving degree,” and not to be afraid of being repetitive. Schwarz observed that my dad “returned to the same subjects over and over, approaching them repeatedly from different angles.” This approach is somewhat unusual in journalism, as reporters typically look for fresh news to report and avoid redundancy as much as possible, but in practice repetition is often needed to ensure that readers absorb the message.
“Conventional journalism,” Schwarz argued, “which continually presents its audience with fragmentary new information, simply doesn’t work.”
While the lessons that Schwarz took away from following my dad’s work over the years are certainly useful, perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from his journalism is that no one should shy away from being moved by the injustices in the world or to lose sight of the human lives ravaged by the decisions made by those in power.
In a speech my dad gave in 1993, when I was a junior in high school, he talked about how if I or my brothers were ever sent off to war, it should be done “for a real reason – not because somebody made something up.” But while his immediate concern was perhaps with his own kids, it is just as important, he said, to remember the kids impacted by war anywhere.
Speaking in particular about the children massacred in the village of El Mozote in 1981 – the girls as young as 10 who were raped and the toddlers whose throats were slit by U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers – he said that “the idea that our government would be complicit not just in the killing, but in this very cynical effort to lie about it, and hide it, and pretend it didn’t happen, and attack those who found out that it did happen, is something that, we, as a democracy, can’t allow to happen.”
It was this refusal to be complicit in lies or to participate in the cover-up of government crimes, along with his willingness to go against the grain, that allowed him to become the beloved journalist that he was. His skills as a writer and investigator were surely impressive, as was his vast knowledge of history, his uncanny ability to develop sources and willingness to read every government document he could get his hands on, but what enabled him to become a giant of journalism was his courage to care so deeply.
In the spirit of Robert Parry, let us demonstrate that we also care.
Nat Parry is a co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush and is the author of the forthcoming How Christmas Became Christmas: The Pagan and Christian Origins of the Beloved Holiday, being published by McFarland Books. He is currently editing a collection of Robert Parry’s writings from the 1970s through January 2018, from which the above afterword is adapted.