On Saturday afternoon, May 19, at 2pm, a Tribute to Robert Parry, Founder and Editor of Consortium News will be held at Berkeley Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar St. in Berkeley, CA. Open to the public. Tickets at Brownpapertickets.com or at the door ($10, $15, $20 – sliding scale).
It is no exaggeration to say that Bob Parry who died last January at the age of 68 was an exemplar of journalistic independence and integrity, and a very talented one. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) had this to say of him:
Journalism lost one of its most valuable investigators when Robert Parry died from pancreatic cancer on January 27, at the age of 68. He was the first reporter to reveal Oliver North’s operation in the White House basement (AP, 6/10/1985), and the co-author of the first report on Contra drug-smuggling (AP, 12/21/1985). He did some of the most important work investigating the 1980 Reagan campaign’s efforts to delay the return of US hostages held in Iran, a scandal known as the October Surprise.
After breaking his first big stories with the Associated Press, Bob moved on to Newsweek and then later PBS‘s Frontline. Frustrated with the limits and compromises of corporate media—he was once told that a story on Contra financial skullduggery had to be watered down because Newsweek owner Katharine Graham was having Henry Kissinger as a weekend guest (Media Beat, 4/23/98)—Bob launched his own online outlet, Consortium News.
“He was a pioneer in bringing maverick journalism to the Internet,” FAIR founder Jeff Cohen wrote after Bob’s death. “Bob was a refugee from mainstream media who, like Izzy Stone, went on to build an uncensored and uncensorable outlet.”
Robert Parry himself wrote this about present day media which led him to found Consortium News:
We looked at the underlying problems of modern democracy, particularly the insidious manipulation of citizens by government propaganda and the accomplice role played by mainstream media. Rather than encouraging diversity in analyses especially on topics of war and peace, today’s mainstream media takes a perverse pride in excluding responsible, alternative views.
It’s as if The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and the others have learned nothing from the disaster of the Iraq War when they pushed the groupthink about WMD and betrayed their responsibilities to the American people and the people of the world. Despite all the death, destruction and destabilization caused by the Iraq invasion, there was almost no accountability in the U.S. press corps, with many of the worst offenders still holding down prominent jobs and still engaging in the same terrible journalism.
When I was a young reporter, I was taught that there were almost always two sides to a story and often more. I was expected to seek out those alternative views, not dismiss them or pretend they didn’t exist. I also realized that finding the truth often required digging beneath the surface and not just picking up the convenient explanation sitting out in the open.
But the major Western news outlets began to see journalism differently. It became their strange duty to shut down questioning of the Official Story, even when the Official Story had major holes and made little sense, even when the evidence went in a different direction and serious analysts were disputing the groupthink.
Looking back over the past two decades, I wish I could say that the media trend that we detected in the mid-1990s had been reversed. But, if anything, it’s grown worse. The major Western news outlets now conflate the discrete difficulties from made-up ‘fake news’ and baseless ‘conspiracy theories’ with responsible dissenting analyses. All get thrown into the same pot and subjected to disdain and ridicule.
A detailed account of Parry’s contributions over the decades is given by his son Nat Parry here. It is well worth reading not only as a summary of Bob Parry’s work but as a chronicle of the debasement of journalism over the decades. In it Nat Parry includes the following anecdote which gives one an idea of the sort of man Bob was:
With my dad, professional work has always been deeply personal, and his career as a journalist was thoroughly intertwined with his family life. I can recall kitchen table conversations in my early childhood that focused on the U.S.-backed wars in Central America and complaints about how his editors at The Associated Press were too timid to run articles of his that – no matter how well-documented – cast the Reagan administration in a bad light.
One of my earliest memories in fact was of my dad about to leave on assignment in the early 1980s to the war zones of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and the heartfelt good-bye that he wished to me and my siblings. He warned us that he was going to a very dangerous place and that there was a possibility that he might not come back.
I remember asking him why he had to go, why he couldn’t just stay at home with us. He replied that it was important to go to these places and tell the truth about what was happening there. He mentioned that children my age were being killed in these wars and that somebody had to tell their stories. I remember asking, ‘Kids like me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, kids just like you.’
The tribute to Bob Parry on Saturday, May 19, will include talks by Norman Solomon, Joe Lauria (the new editor of Consortium News), Ann Wright, Natylie Baldwin, Sam Parry and Dennis Bernstein plus comments by Eric Garris, Bruce Dixon and Alicia Jrapko. It promises to be not only a tribute to the Parry the man but a stunning commentary on the state of journalism today.