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Bob Parry RIP: The Reporter Who Broke the Iran-Contra Story

Photo Credit: Common Dreams

Bob Parry, the maestro publisher who died Saturday at age 68, was a reporter’s reporter, a cheerful, dogged, eccentric fact-gatherer who didn’t give a damn about important Washington. More than any other reporter, Parry unclosed the inhabitant liaison that would turn famous as the Iran-Contra affair. But he perceived little credit and no excellence for his achievement.

I first met Parry in 1985 when we was an partner editor at The New Republic in hunt of writers who knew something about the polite wars of Central America. After Congress authorized the supposed Boland Amendment in 1984 disdainful military assist to counterrevolutionary forces in Nicaragua, Reagan administration officials—and their apologists in the press—were open about their goal to gibe the law.

Parry and associate Associated Press contributor Brian Barger were the only reporters essay about a story we listened off the record some-more than once: that a National Security Council staff member named Oliver North was in charge of arranging “private” appropriation of the contras. In a fibre of well-reported AP stories in 1984 and 1985, they bright a secret fight involving former CIA officials, mercenaries, and suspected drug traffickers.


Parry was singular among Washington reporters of that epoch in that he did not take his cues from the White House or defer to Reagan’s popularity. While others tried to spin U.S. support for death squads as a invulnerability of democracy, Parry penetrated the deceive of central secrecy. He became a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1985 for his disdainful on the CIA’s assassination primer for Nicaraguan rebels.

Perils of Access

In early 1986, we asked Parry and Barger if they would lift together their several reports into a singular repository piece. The only reason Parry listened was that we had published a TNR cover story in 1985 on how the CIA combined the contra movement. He favourite the thought of edition in TNR, which was then at the tallness of its editorial prestige, but wondered if the repository would tell it. After all, the once-liberal repository upheld the contra cause, and comparison editors like Charles Krauthammer boasted of the friendships with top Reagan officials.

Young and naïve, we positive Parry we could get his stating in print. He and Barger shortly constructed a breeze story that decorated a secret bid in the White House to bypass the vigilant of the Congress, and they granted reams of ancillary details.

North had drafted a memo to bypass the Boland Amendment and Reagan had authorized orally. North had recruited former ubiquitous John Singlaub to lift income and yield advice. In an interview, Singlaub concurred a operative attribute with North. Former CIA officers Donald Gregg and Nestor Sanchez, now operative at the Pentagon, were also involved.

Their story was uncommonly newsworthy since it punctured the central statements that the Reagan White House was respecting “the minute and the spirit” of the Boland Amendment. And nonetheless week after week, the story was behind by TNR publisher Martin Peretz and other contra supporters on staff who pronounced there was “nothing new” in their reporting.

Parry listened to my explanations for the delays with faraway good humor. “It’s new to them since they’ve believed their White House sources,” he laughed.

As we reworked the story, incorporating new element and explaining a involved story, we schooled a lot from Parry about the qualification of reporting: how to lane private airplanes; how to get people to talk, how to piece together pieces of information—and, many of all, what to avoid, namely high-level sources.

Price of Success

By Oct 1986, we was just about out of excuses for not using his story when front-page headlines valid he’s been right all along.  A U.S. supply craft had crashed in Nicaragua and a flourishing organisation member Eugene Hasenfus confessed he was operative for U.S. officials operative out of a U.S. air bottom in El Salvador.

Parry and Barger rewrote the top of the story to incorporate the news. In a moving editorial meeting, Peretz and Krauthammer could not brawl the story was newsworthy and betrothed to run it. It finally seemed as a cover story, “Reagan’s Shadow CIA,” in early Nov 1986.

(Thirty-two years later, the CIA still has a duplicate on its website while TNR does not, which proves Parry’s stating lives on where it depends and has been lost where it doesn’t.)

The TNR story had just hit the newsstands when some-more marvellous news came from Lebanon. A Beirut newsweekly reported that National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane had been assembly with Iranian intermediaries to sell them anti-tank weapons. Not only was the NSC using a secret assist network for the contras, it was also selling arms to Iran, which the Reagan White House had accused of sponsoring terrorism.

When Reagan concurred the Beirut meeting, the tie between the two stories was revealed. The Reagan White House had used the deduction to the Iranian arms deals to fund the off-the-book contra assist network first described by Parry and Barger. The marvellous revelations sent Reagan’s recognition into a tailspin from which it never recovered.

Subsequent investigations gimlet out the correctness of Parry and Barger’s reporting. Oliver North became a domicile name. Their stating that contra gun runners had also smuggled drugs were borne out by Senator John Kerry’s investigators. Thus Parry also paved the way for Gary Webb’s bold reporting on the connectors between the CIA and drug traffickers.

Yet Parry did not reap accolades from the mainstream news organizations he had scooped. The New Republic never published him again. As the Iran-contra liaison unfolded in 1987 and 1988, many Washington reporters simulated they had seen it coming, when in fact they mostly averted their eyes.

I published a form of Parry and Barger for Rolling Stone, in which we dubbed them “The Real Heroes of Contra-gate.”  Their accomplishment, we wrote with co-author Tina Rosenberg, rivaled that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on Watergate: a fibre of shoe-leather scoops that suggested a story that rattled the White House. But times had changed in Washington and loyal inquisitive reporters were no longer in fashion.

Bob went on to work at Newsweek and then founded Consortium News where his autonomy was secure and his voice could be listened shrill and clear. In new years, we didn’t share his doubtful take on the Trump-Russia review but he’d warranted the right to make it.

When we listened of his passing, we listened his cackling giggle and undying recommendation for inquisitive reporters.

“You can always get entrance in Washington, and you’ll always compensate too much for it.”



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