http://www.foodline.com/cgi-bin/listStatesWithLocations.cgiA talk by Robert Parry given in Santa Monica on March 28, 1993
A transcription of a talk given on March 28, 1993, by Robert Parry, former AP and Newsweek and now independent journalist. Parry was one of the first reporters to break the story of Iran-Contra, and one of the first to report on the drug angle in Iran-Contra. Parry later pursued the strong evidence that Reagan and Bush made an all-out effort to sabotage Jimmy Carter's efforts to win the release of the Iranian-held hostages before the November election, the episode known as the October Surprise.
Parry is the author of several books, including Fooling America and Trick or Treason, both published by Sheridan Square Press. Currently, he publishes The Consortium, a newsletter that reports on current events by showing the historical backdrop to the events and players. He also publishes i.F. Magazine, named in tribute to both I. F. Stone and George Seldes' newsletter In Fact.
Well, thank you for coming out tonight. I do want to first thank FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) for inviting me. It's always a pleasure to leave Washington and come to the West Coast. It's a fascinating aspect of how Washington and Los Angeles interrelate these days. I'm not sure which city is more used to producing fantasy than the other, but I always think that LA's fantasy is often more entertaining.
But there is this tremendous sense of both envy and concern between Washington and LA, but Washington will often look down at Los Angeles as a place that produces movies, sometimes like JFK, movies that were very upsetting to the Washington establishment because they suggested that there was a cover-up of the murder of the President back in the 1960s.
But you also find that people in Washington are incredibly attuned to what's happening out here. I was talking to a journalist friend of mine the other day who was saying that there was, for Spike Lee's latest movie, she saw Vice President Quayle in the line waiting to get into the movie, but he thought it was a Roman spectacular, Malcolm 10. And then someone else said they saw Clarence Thomas waiting to get in, but he thought it was an X-rated film. So Washington is a place that does keep track of what is happening out here. Of course, I'm not sure that Los Angeles could produce entertaining shows like the McLaughlin Group, but it does do it's best.
Tonight I'd like to talk about what I was doing in the 1980's. I was a reporter for the Associated Press. I started with the AP back in 1974, and worked briefly in Baltimore and then in Providence, Rhode Island, where I covered some of the problems of the Democratic power structure there - Freddy St. Germaine was of course involved with the banks in a very unsavory way. And eventually I was brought to Washington for the AP back in 1977 and covered the Carter administration. And I was examining some of their, what seem like today rather minor scandals, things like the General Services Administration, the waste and fraud that was going on there. And in 1980, after the election, I was assigned to go work on the Special Assignment team for the Associated Press which was there investigative unit.
In history, AP's investigative team was actually quite impressive. Sy Hersh had been there, a number of important stories had been broken out of that investigative unit, which at one time was ten, fifteen, twenty people. By the time I was there it had shrunk to about four. I was assigned to do investigations. Other people were doing things like columns about the State Department or about politics, and I was really the only investigative reporter so designated at the AP's Washington Bureau at that time.
But no one told me what to work on. And it struck me one day, as I was sitting around, that this administration had a thing about Central America. At the time there had been a number of atrocities that were occurring, and the four American churchwomen had been killed. And the explanations coming from this transition team were quite remarkable. If you remember, Jean Kirkpatrick suggested in one interview that these weren't really nuns, they were more political activists, which always struck me as an amazing suggestion that it's okay to kill political activists. Anyway, it seemed like a very important area to them, one that might end up driving much of what they did, at least in terms of foreign policy and national security issues.
So I began working on it. And that experience, in a way, shaped what I did for the rest of my time at the AP. And it was also striking to me that that experience was beyond anything I could have imagine, as an American citizen, watching. It was a case of wide- spread killing - political killing - of dissidents, torture, in the case of women often rape was involved; and this government was not just supporting it, not just providing the weapons and the military support, but trying to excuse it, rationalize it and essentially hide it.
Which is where I sort of came in and I think many people in the American press corps in Washington came in, and the press corp in Central America. At the time the press corps was still the Watergate press corp, if you will. We were fairly aggressive, we were not inclined to believe what we heard from the government, and sometimes we were probably obnoxious. But we were doing our jobs as I think, more or less, as they were supposed to be done. That is - to act, when necessary, in an adversarial way.
So when we began covering this topic in early 1981, we had some very brave people in the field in El Salvador particularly and throughout Central America, and some of them risked their lives to cover that story. And those of us back in Washington who obviously were not facing that kind of risk, were trying to get at things. Initially, and maybe we all sort of forget this, but I remember one of my first stories about this had to do with how the State Department was counting up the dead in El Salvador and who they were blaming. At that time the position was that the guerrillas were killing more than half of the people dying in the political violence and that the government was less responsible.
So I went over to the State Department to review their methodology, and what I found was that the way they got their figures was that they took the total number of people who had presumably died within a period of a month or so, and then each time the guerrillas would claim on a radio broadcast that they had killed some soldiers, if there was a battle going on and they said "We killed ten soldiers" and then the battle kept going on and it was twenty, and then it was fifty, and then another one of their stations would say fifty, what the State Department did was they added up all the numbers. And so they were able to create these false figures to suggest that the government that the Unites States was supporting was not as culpable as the human rights groups and particularly the Catholic church in ES were saying.
It began a pattern of deception from the very beginning. Even when there was something horrible happening in those countries. Even when hundreds, thousands of human beings were being taken out and killed, the role of the US. government became to hide it, to rationalize it, to pretend it wasn't that serious, and to try to discredit anyone who said otherwise. And the main targets of that were the reporters in the field, the human rights groups, and to a degree, those of us in Washington who were trying to examine the policies to figure out what was really happening and what was behind this. I remember again after the new administration came in and of course Secretary Haig made the remarkable comment that the four churchwomen were perhaps running a road block, which is how they'd gotten killed. And even people in the State Department who at that time were investigating this fairly honestly - they had not yet been purged - were shocked that the Secretary would say such a thing because they knew what the circumstances were even then. They knew that they'd been stopped, they knew that they'd been sexually assaulted, and shot at close range. None of that, of course, fit the image of running a road block, and exchange of fire.
But the reality became the greatest threat, even at that stage, to what the new administration wanted to accomplish, and what they wanted to accomplish was I think something they felt strongly about ideologically which was their view that the communists were on the march, that the Soviets were an expanding power, that you had to stop every left wing movement in its tracks and reverse it. And they were following of course the theory that Jean Kirkpatrick had devised that the totalitarian states never reverse and change into democratic states, only authoritarian ones do, which as we know now is perhaps one of the most inaccurate political theories. It's best if you're having a political theory, not to have it disproven so quickly, you know it might be best if you would, maybe fifty years from now you wouldn't really know as much. But Jean Kirkpatricks's was disproven very quickly but it was still the driving force behind the administration's approach to a number of these conflicts, and their justifications for going ahead and trying to conduct what became known later as the Reagan Doctrine which was to sponsor revolutionary operations or what am I saying, counterrevolutionary operations in many cases in various parts of the world and in the Third World in particular.
In ES of course, which was my first focus and the first focus of this policy, it was to protect a very brutal government which was at that time killing literally from a thousand to two thousand people a month. These were political murders; they were done in the most offensive fashion. I think any American, any average American, would have been shocked and would have opposed what his government was doing. So it became very important to keep that secret, or to minimize it, or rationalize it or somehow sanitize it.
So what we saw, even at that early stage, was the combat that was developing and the combat in terms of the domestic situation in Washington was how do you stop the press from telling that story. And much of what the Reagan administration developed were techniques to keep those kinds of stories out of the news media.
In some cases, as we saw later, in late 1981 of course there was, what is now fairly well known, the massacre in El Mazote. And this was a case where the first American trained battalion was sent out over Christmas time in 1981 into rebel controlled territory and it swept through this territory and killed everybody, everyone they could find - including the children. When two American reporters, Ray Bonner and Alma Jimapareta (?), went to the scene of this atrocity in January of 1982, they were able to see some of what was left behind and they interviewed witnesses who had survived, and came out with stories describing what they had found. This was of course extremely upsetting to the Reagan administration, which at that time was about to certify that the Salvadoran military was showing respect for human rights, and that was necessary to get further funding and weapons for the Salvadoran military.
And I was at those hearings which occurred afterwards, on the hill, and when Tom Enders who was then Assistant Secretary Of State for Inter-American affairs gave his description of how the State Department had investigated this and had found really nothing had happened or that they had found no evidence of any mass killing, and they argued with great cleverness that the last census had not shown even that many people in El Mazote - there were not the 800 or so who were alleged to have been killed - only 200 had lived there to begin with, and many still lived there, he said. Of course it wasn't true, but it was, I guess in their view, necessary - it was necessary to conceal what was going on. And, it became necessary then, to also discredit the journalists, so Raymond Bonner, and Alma and others, who were not accepting this story, had to be made to seem to be liars. They had to be destroyed. And the administration began developing their techniques, which they always were very good at - they were extremely good at public relations, that's what's they had - many of them had come from - the President himself had been an advertising figure for General Electric - and they were very adept at how to present things in the most favorable way for them.
But what we began to see was something that was unusual I think even for Washington - certainly it was unusual in my experience - a very nasty, often ad hominem attack on the journalists who were not playing along. And the case of Bonner was important because he worked for the New York Times, and the New York Times was one of those bastions of American journalism - this was not some small paper, it was not some insignificant news figure. So there began an effort to discredit him and the Wall Street editorial page was brought into play, Accuracy In Media was brought into play, he was attacked routinely by the State Department and White House spokespeople, there were efforts to paint him as some kind of a communist sympathizer, the charge would go around that he was worth a full division for the FMLN - the Salvadoran guerrillas - he was treated as an enemy - someone who was anti-American, in effect. And sadly, it worked. I was in ES in October of '82, I was down there to interview Roberto Dobesan, who was head of the death squads, and I was with a conservative activist, and after that interview we had lunch with the head of the political-military affairs office at the Embassy and the officer was then head of the military group, and on the way back to the hotel, they were boasting about how they had "gotten" Ray Bonner. "We finally got that Son-of-a-Bitch," they said, and at that time his removal had not yet been announced, so it was very interesting to hear that they knew what was about to happen, and he was, in fact, removed by early 1983, and then he was sort of shunted aside at the New York Times and eventually left.
So the message was quite clearly made apparent to those of us working on this topic that when you tried to tell the American people what was happening, you put your career at risk, which may not seem like a lot to some people, but you know, reporters are like everybody else I guess - they have mortgages and families and so forth and they don't really want to lose their jobs - I mean it's not something they aspire to. And the idea of success is to keep one of these jobs and there are a lot of interesting perks that go with it, a certain amount of esteem, you know, as well as you get paid pretty well. Those jobs in Washington - you can often be making six figures at some of the major publications, so it's not something you readily or easily throw away, from that working level.
But what happened in and around that same time frame, was the development, secretly, of another part of the Central America story, which was, of course, the covert war in Nicaragua. And William Casey and Ronald Reagan began putting this operation together, and it involved building up this paramilitary group called the contras, and they were supposed to be seen as an indigenous fighting force, the American role was supposed to be minimized or hidden, again, and that was how it was going to be sold to the American people. It was a classic covert operation, and then it was a legal one at that time - it had been authorized under the finding provisions of the National Security Act. But there were problems with this war from very early on, and one of the problems was that the Contra's weren't very good at fighting - they would go into some villages in Northern Nicaragua and commit atrocities, which began filtering back also to Washington. Congress began hearing about them lining up people in villages and killing them. But it wasn't a very effective group in terms of like taking territory.
And there was one story which I did later but goes back to this time, when the CIA, in 1982, prepared a plan - it was written by the head of military operations, named Rudy Enders, and Mr. Enders had this timetable, and it talked about how the Contras were going to grow at a certain rate and where they'd be at a certain date and they had them marching into Managua by the end of 1983 - and so this was the plan. The plan was to, well, officially even to Congress the White House was saying we have no intention of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua - we're simply trying to interdict weapons going to El Salvador. In their own files at CIA, the policy file for the Contra war contained this timetable to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. So this was their plan - except that it wasn't working. And so by early '83, it became clear even to people at CIA that the Contras weren't what they hoped they'd be cracked up to be, and they ended up looking at this and saying we're going to have to do some different things.
Part of this problem though was still that, the longer this thing dragged out, the harder it was to keep all these secrets - plus the Contras were still going out and killing people left and right. So Bill Casey was stuck with a bit of a problem. And he approached it - as he was a very - Bill Casey is often, I think, misperceived - he was a very smart man, and he was extremely committed ideologically to what he was doing, and he was a person who believed in making things happen - whatever the rules might be, or whatever the red tape might be. And so he sat down and developed some strategies in 1983 on what to do. One thing is they would need more time to train the Contras - they weren't going to work the way they were going. Secondly, they had to create the impression the Contras were better than they were, so people wouldn't get tired of supporting them in Congress. So they decided the CIA would have to start sending in its own people, its own specially-trained Latino assets to begin doing attacks which the Contras could then claim credit for, like blowing up Corinto where they blew up this oil depot in the little town of Corinto on the coast, they sabotaged some oil pipeline in Porto San Dino, and these were all being done now by the CIA except that after they'd be done the agency guys would call up the Contra spokesmen, in this case often Edgar Chimorro, and they'd get them out of bed and say, "Now you're going to put a news release out saying that you guys have done this." Now the reason of course for that was to create the impression in the United States, to fool the American public and the Congress, to make the American public think the Contras were really quite effective - that they were now running sea assaults on Nicaragua - pretty sophisticated stuff for a paramilitary force.
And Casey had some other ideas. He also began to put together what became known later as the Psychological Operations Manual or the Assassination Manual, and he authorized that in the Summer of 1983, to be prepared - plus they prepared another little booklet on how if you're a Nicaraguan how you sabotage your own government - it was a delightful comic book which I later wrote about at AP - and it showed how you'd start off with, you know, calling in sick was one of the strategies to sabotage, and you'd build up to putting sponges in the toilet to make them back up, as if any of these things work in Nicaragua to begin with, and then they taught you how to make your own malatov cocktails, it was sort of - you graduated - you moved up in your sabotage - and they'd take these little comic books and the Contras were supposed to leave them behind wherever they'd go, so the people could then start calling in sick.
So that was one of his ideas. The other one was to do this book - this very sophisticated book in many ways. It made reference to ancient scholars, and how you gave speeches, but the most interesting part was that there was a section about how the Contras should use 'selective use of violence' to 'neutralize civilian targets' that is civilian officials, judges, people of that sort. And the idea was, apparently, that you would kill these people or at least, you know, incapacitate them somehow, but what was the most remarkable thing about that point was that, when this was finally uncovered when I did a piece on this a year later or so, the CIA then argued, "Well, you don't understand. We were trying to get the contras to be selective in their violence against civilians, not indiscriminate." And that became actually the defense that was used by the CIA to explain why they were running this booklet.
But anyway, these things were things that Casey put together in the summer of '83 but he had other plans, which is one section - one of the sections of my book deals with this most remarkable operation that he came up with at that time which is called the Public Diplomacy Apparatus. And what the Public Diplomacy Apparatus did was to make more systematic, to better staff, better finance this campaign to shape the reality that the American public would see. They had a phrase for it inside the administration. It was called 'perception management' and, with US. taxpayers dollars, they then went out and set up offices, mostly at the State Department - there was this Office of Public Diplomacy' for Latin America - but secretly it was being run out of the National Security Council staff. And the person who was overseeing it was a man named Walter Raymond. And Mr. Raymond had been a thirty- year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and was the top propaganda expert for the agency in the world. He shipped it over to essentially run similar programs aimed at the American public. And overseeing all of this was the Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey.
The documentation on this now is extremely strong and clear, that even on matters of personnel, as well as on matters of general strategy, Casey would be given reports, asked to provide assistance, he would help or his people would help arrange bringing in people to staff this office.
They even turned to psychological warfare experts from Fort Bragg, who were brought up to handle the cable traffic coming in from Central America. And, as they say in their own documents, the purpose of these psychological warfare specialists was to identify exploitable themes that could be used against - with the American public - to excite the American public to be more and more angry about what was happening in Central America.
The documentation is also clear that the idea was to find our 'hot buttons' and to see what - how they could turn, twist, spin certain information to appeal to various special groups. They'd reached the point, and this was really being directed by the CIA, of breaking down the American people into subgroups, and there were people that they thought might be, for instance the press - they developed the themes relating to freedom of the press in La Prensa, which was the newspaper in Nicaragua, which was opposed to the Sandinistas. They targeted Jewish Americans - they had a special program to attack the Sandinistas or to paint them as anti- Semitic, which of course is one of the most, to my view, one of the most heinous things a person or any group could be. But, the idea in Nicaragua was to create this image, and then use it to build support among Jewish Americans for the Contras.
They did run into a bit of a problem with this, when they first devised it, which was that, they had not yet purged the US. Embassy of honest foreign service officers, so when they were preparing this, the Embassy, Ambassador Cranton (?? couldn't hear the name), sent up a cable - couple of cables - they were classified and I was later able to get ahold of them - which said it isn't true! That the Sandinistas are a matter of many things that are nasty and bad, but they're not anti-Semitic, and he said there was no verifiable ground upon which to make this charge. So what the White House did was they kept that classified and went ahead with the charge anyway. It was just too good a theme.
They also developed this - what they called the 'feet people' theme. This was one that was based on Richard Worthlund's polling data. Richard Worthlund who was this sort of legendary, conservative polling strategist did polling of the American people - they had special groups of people to sample these things with, and they'd found out that most of the themes about the communist menace in Central America left people cold. They didn't really take it that seriously - it just didn't hit the hot buttons right. But they found that one hot button that really, they could really use, was this idea of the Hispanic immigrants flooding into the United States. So they developed, what they called, the 'feet people' argument, which was that unless we stopped the communists in Nicaragua and San Salvador, 10% - they came up with that figure somewhere - 10% of all the people in Central America and Mexico will flood the United States.
Now, I suppose at this point already - and this was about '83-84 - we were sort of losing any touch with reality in Washington after we had been undergoing this stuff, but, if anyone had sat down and really said 'okay, now does this make any sense?', you were probably left with this opinion I think, which is that the massive flows of immigrants at that time were coming from El Salvador and Guatemala and of course, from Mexico - which was mostly economic - and in Guatemala and El Salvador it was that there were conservative governments in place, and at that time the flow from Nicaragua wasn't very great at all, and there was no 10% of the Nicaraguan people having fled, so that wasn't happening. There had been some flow of the wealthier Nicaraguans immediately after the revolution around 1979, but, it was not until later - much later actually - '85-85, actually '87-88, when the flow of Nicaraguans increased because as part of our strategy we were trying to destroy their economy. And after we destroyed their economy, people being people, they left - or a lot of them left.
But still, the feet people argument was considered very good because it played to the xenophobia of America, and it gave some political clout to Reagan in making this case, and he was able to use it with particular effect with border state congressmen and senators who felt politically vulnerable if their had been a sudden surge of refugees across the border.
So we had in place by this '83-84 timeframe, this Public Diplomacy office. And what it did was escalate the pressure on the journalists who were left, who were still trying to look at this in a fairly honest way and tell the American people what they could find out. You had cases, for instance at National Public Radio, where, in sort of a classic example of this, the Public Diplomacy team from State began harassing National Public Radio for what they considered reporting that was not supportive of the American position enough. And finally, NPR agreed to have a sit-down with Otto Reich - who was head of that office - and one of his deputies, and they were particularly irate about a story that NPR had run about a massacre of some coffee pickers in Nicaragua - and the story was more about their funeral, and how this had really destroyed this little village in Nicaragua, having lost a number of the men in the town - and the contras had done it so it didn't look to good, and Otto Reich was furious and he said 'We are monitoring NPR. We have a special consultant that measures how much time is spent on things that are pro-Contra and anti-Contra and we find you too anti-Contra and you'd better change.'
Now, the kind of effect that has is often subtle. In the case of NPR, one thing that happened was that the foreign editor, named Paul Allen, saw his next evaluation be marked down, and the use of this story was cited as one of the reasons for his being marked down and he felt that he had no choice but to leave NPR and he left journalism altogether. These were the kind of prices that people were starting to pay, all across Washington. The message was quite clear both in the region and in Washington that you were not going to do any career advancement if you insisted on pushing these stories. The White House is going to make it very, very painful for your editors by harassing them and yelling at them; having letters sent; going to your news executives - going way above even your bureau chiefs sometimes - to put the pressure on, to make sure if these stories were done they were done only in the most tepid ways. And there also was, in an underreported side of this, there were these independent organizations, who were acting as sort of the Wurlitzer organ effect for the White House attacks. Probably the most effective one from their side was Accuracy In Media, which we find out, from looking at their internal documents - the White House internal documents, was actually being funded out of the White House. There was - in one case we have because we have the records, the White House organized wealthy businessmen, particularly those from the news media, from the conservative news media, to come into the White House to the situation room where Charlie Wick, who was then head of USIA, pitched them to contribute a total of $200,000 to be used for public diplomacy and the money is then directed to Accuracy In Media and to Freedom House and a couple of other organizations which then support the White House in its positions, and make the argument that the White House is doing the right thing and that these reporters who are getting in the way must be Sandinista sympathizers or must not be very patriotic or whatever we were supposed to be at the time.
So you had this effect of what seemed to be independent organizations raising their voice, but, the more we kept finding out, the more we found at that these weren't independent organizations at all. These were adjuncts of a White House/CIA program that had at its very heart the idea of how we reported the news in Washington and how the American people perceived what was going on in Central America. I'm not sure this has ever happened before - I can't think of it, but it was a remarkable change in the way that the government, as I guess Ross Perot might say, was coming "at" the people rather than, you know, being "of" the people.
The overall effect as this continued over time was cumulative. Those of us in the press who continued - who were not smart enough to seek cover, found our work more and more being discredited, and us personally being attacked, because the game really became how do you destroy the investigator. And whether it be America's watch, which was finding that the Contras were engaged in human rights violations as well as the Sandinistas (I should say), or if it were the Catholic Church in El Salvador reporting upon the atrocities there, or it was some journalist finding out about the deceptions in Washington, the best way to deal with that was to discredit the people who were doing the investigation. If you made them look like they were unpatriotic, wrongheaded, somehow subversive, the overall effect was to, first of all make it harder for them to do their job, and secondly when they did their job, people would tend not to believe it. So it worked, basically.
So, as we get into the mid-80's, we're now in a situation where it's getting touchier and touchier to do these stories, but Congress, because of the mining problems and because of the bad publicity that followed, the disclosure that the CIA was actually doing many of these things which the Contras had been claiming credit for, when that was exposed in 1984 - accidentally exposed by Barry Goldwater on the floor of the Senate - what happened on that case was that Goldwater had gotten drunk and had gone down to the Senate and started talking about how the US. was mining the harbors of Nicaragua. And Rob Simmons, who was then staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee rushed onto the floor to grab this slightly drunken Senator and tell him that he wasn't supposed to say that and they - it was literally expunged from the Congressional Record, even though - this was before C- Span so you couldn't record it - it was expunged from the Congressional Record but a very diligent reporter, David Rodgers for the Wall Street Journal, happened to be in the press gallery and wrote it down so it ran in the Wall Street Journal and it got sort of out, and that contributed mightily to the problems that they had in continuing the war. So Congress stopped the funding for the Contras.
Immediately, and actually even before because they knew there was going to be a problem, the White House had this backup plan, and it was, of course, to have Ollie North become the point man. So North becomes, secretly, the point man. He is also being secretly supported by the CIA, and by the NSA, and by other US. intelligence services. That comes out much later. But Ollie North is now the man who is supposedly running everything but that's all secret too, at least from the American people. And he's arranging to get weapons and raise money, and they're doing their various things they did with Saudi Arabia and so forth, to get the money, and so we end up with a lot of us in Washington really sort of knowing about this. This isn't like, all that secret, you know. I'd met Ollie North in '83 and he was actually a source for many journalists because he would, as part of the deal he would tell you some sexy stuff about the Achilles Laurel or something, but you protect your source, so you wouldn't really write about him.
But I was writing about him. And by the summer of 85 - by June of 85, I did the first story about Oliver North. And it was a very tepid story, I must say, looking back at it. I had gone to the White House with it and they had flatly denied it. They said it was completely wrong, completely opposite from the truth - and I at that point had still not caught on to how dishonest these people had gotten. So I sort of softened it, but I still put it out - we had this story out for AP about Ollie North, and how he was running this Contra support operation, and how the White House was saying it wasn't happening, and that led eventually over that summer to a few other stories appearing, and of course it was all denied and the pressure on the journalists was so intense that the other news organizations backed away - the New York Times backed away, the Washington Post backed away, and it was left strangely to the AP and to the Miami Herald which was also following it with Al Charty's work to pursue this story - and really the story of the decade, but no one wanted it. It was an amazing story - it was a story about a really remarkable character, with a remarkable support cast, I mean, you know it was better than Watergate in that sense - I mean, you had Fawn Hall as opposed to Martha Mitchell, I mean this was a much better story! You had this secret war being fought, you had the government lying through its teeth every time it turned around, but no one wanted the story. The price had gotten too high.
So as much as I would like to say, like I was really some sort of journalistic genius who'd figured this all out, it didn't require that much. It just required sort of following the leads. They were all over the place. But we'd learned to sort of shield our eyes from the leads in Washington. And as we're doing this - I was now working with Brian Barger who we had brought on at AP - to help on this story, and we did the Contra-drug story in December of 1985, which was really well received around town [he said sarcastically], and we then proceeded to follow the North network into early '86 and we wrote the first story that there'd actually been a federal investigation in Miami, of what we knew as the North network. It had been suppressed because you weren't supposed to investigate this because it wasn't happening anyway, and the US. attorney who make the mistake of trying to investigate this, or the assistant US. attorney ended up in Thailand, working on some heroin case, and the investigation went literally nowhere.
So this was what was happening by the Summer of '86, when Barger and I finally did a story - we had 24 sources by this point - it was getting silly, you know? You know, it wasn't like two sources, or three sources, we were up to 24, and some of them named, and we did this story in June of '86 where we laid a lot of it out - we didn't have all of it, I'll grant - we didn't know about Secord's flights, but we had Rob Owen, and we had Jack Singlaub, and we had how the intermediaries were moving the weapons and so forth. So we get to this point, and we put this story out, and finally Congress - which had been very afraid of touching this - the democrats were extremely timid - finally Lee Hamilton, who was then Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee takes our little story with the rest of the Intelligence Committee over to the White House and they sit down with Ollie North and they say, "Colonel North - we have this story that says you're doing these things which are kind of illegal, uh, what about it?" He said, "It's not true," they said "Thank you," and they went back to Capitol Hill. And I get a call from one of Hamilton's aides, and he told me, he said - I'll never forget this, because it was probably my worst moment in the whole Iran Contra Scandal - I get this call from a Democratic aide who tells me that Lee Hamilton has looked into my story, and he had a choice between believing these honorable men at the White House or my sources and it wasn't a close call.
And so, at that point, we were, sort of, done. They could have - as Ross Perot might say - they could have stuck a fork in us. Barger was stuck on the overnight at AP and was sort of pushed out of the company - he left. I was basically told, more or less, well, you know, take your medicine like a man, you got it wrong, you know, and we were wrapping up our investigation - it was over. During that summer we tried to get a longer version of this into any publication, virtually none would take it. None would take it - I mean, we even went to Rolling Stone and they turned us down.
So that's where we were. This phony, dishonest, false reality had won out. And the reality had lost out, and anyone who was crazy enough to actually believe in the reality was a real loser in Washington.
And then, as it all looked like it was pretty much over, one of the last planes of Ollie North's little rag-tag air force, was chugging along over Nicaragua on October 5th, 1986, and just because history is like this - history is kind of, you know, it's quirky sometimes - there was this teenager, draftee, never filed a SAM missile in his life, didn't even know how to fire it exactly, but he described after the fact how he sort of aimed it at this plane that was sort of lumbering along through the sky, and it went off! The SAM missile went off, and it went right at the plane, which really amazed this kid. They say it was Soviet made - I mean, what would you have thought? So the missile goes right at the plane and hits it right under one of the wings and the plane starts spiralling out of control. And another little quirk of history is that - most of the guys were kind of macho on board, and they didn't wear parachutes, but Eugene Hasenfus had just gotten a parachute sent to him by one of his relatives, and because he had the door open to start kicking out these weapons to the Contras, even though the plane spiraled out of control he could crawl to the door and pushed himself away from the plane and parachuted down through the Sandinistas.
And so, there was literally a smoking fuselage on the ground in Nicaragua, and the press corps in Washington suddenly said, 'oh gee! Maybe we had missed something after all.' But even then the White House initially - this was - it was an interesting meeting. October 7th, at the NSC - they were in kind of a panic. Ollie was out of the country working on the Iran project, so Elliot Abrams was chairing this meeting, and they were trying to figure out what to do - what was their story going to be. Later on I talked to one of the participants at this meeting and I said, "Gee, what did you guys think you were up to? Did you think you shouldn't just maybe fess up at this point?" He said "No. We had been so successful in managing the information, we, you know, just thought we could just do anything!" So the anything they did was that they just started lying again! And they put out - and it wasn't just from the State Department anymore, it was from the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, and virtually every senior official in the position to do anything about this, came out and said there is no US. government connection to this flight. And Elliot even sort of came up with this neat idea [sound lost for a moment] - I know Singlaub pretty well and I happened to put a call in, and he hadn't been told he was supposed to take the fall - they hadn't gotten around to telling him that. So when he flies back from Asia he lands, and he comes down off the plane and all these reporters are up to him saying, The New York Times has just run this story based on a senior official saying it was your plane and he said, "I had nothing to do with that plane!" So later on he told me that he have taken the fall if he'd only known that he was supposed to take the fall, but they hadn't told him he was supposed to take the fall, so, crazy enough, he told the truth.
So they were still looking for someone to take the blame on this, and then a very enterprising freelancer, an American journalist, went into the Salvadoran telephone office, and since everything's for sale down there, he bought the phone records for the safe house. They hadn't thought to, you know, take care of the phone records. And so he buys these phone records and, my goodness, there are all these calls to the White House, and to Ollie North's personal line, as well as by the way to the Vice President's office because Felix Rodriguez who was running the drops was calling virtually daily - well maybe, certainly weekly - the Vice President's office to talk to then George Bush's national security advisor Donald Greg. So they had to come up with some new stories again. And these stories kept shifting.
But what was incredible about the whole thing was the arrogance that pervaded the White House at this point. They really thought they could control how everybody in this country understood the facts. They could create the reality, and the press would go along with it, and through the press the American people would either be deceived or so confused that they wouldn't be able to do anything about it anyway. The perception management wasn't going to give up.
But that began to cause problems when the next shoe falls, which is the disclosure of the Iran initiative in early November of '86, and that is also a problem legally, because what they know inside the White House which we don't know yet, is that, in 1985 the President had authorized the first shipment of missiles to Iran through Israel without proper authorization. He had not signed a finding; he was in violation of a felony which is called the Arms Export Control Act.
So they had to cover that up. And what we saw was the next remarkable stage of this. And probably this is what changed a lot of how I saw journalism. Obviously I'd not been really too thrilled by what I was seeing up to this point, but the next phase was even more unbelievable. And the next phase is the scandal was broken - there are three parts to it basically: there's the illegal shipments of weapons to the Contras in defiance of the law, the Boland Amendment; there is the problem of the Arms Export Control Act, which President Reagan was violating back in '85; and of course there's what became the focus - the crossover - the use of residuals from the arms sales in Iran for the Contras - the so-called 'diversion' which many people feel was indeed a diversion of the public at least. So you had these three elements. The White House chose to make a stand on the latter one - the diversion, and they proceeded to lie about the other two. They put out false chronologies on Iran to show that the President did not know about the '85 shipment. They insisted - even as Vice President Bush insisted until December of '86 that he had no idea there was a Contra operation going on - even though it had been much of the press, he just hadn't bothered to read it.
So you had this decision to sort of deny straightforwardly, possibly accurately that the President did or did not know about the diversion - they said he didn't. And that became the focus for the press and for the congress as the investigation gears up, which is very bad enough because these other questions are very important. Was the President involved in a felony under the Arms Export Control Act? Was he involved possibly in another type of crime by defying a law which he signed into law - the Boland Amendment? Can the President just unilaterally conduct war using third country funding? All of these are very important questions to our democracy.
But the focus was on the diversion. And on that they felt they could contain it as long as John Poindexter said the buck stopped here, which of course he would do. However, what we began to see very quickly in Washington was almost a collaboration at this point to contain the scandal. Obviously the White House and the Republicans had a very strong interest in containing this scandal; they were politically in hot water. But the Democrats, and the press, were also inclined to contain the scandal. As the phrase went - nobody wanted another Watergate. The people may have wanted another Watergate - but that was the view in Washington - nobody wants other Watergate. And at this point, my last story for AP - AP and I had really had some struggles because although they were in a way happy with my work, but in a way I put them in some very tough spots, and they had not always been the best, but I must say they did put out most of our stories, eventually, and they did the most, of any news organization, but - my last story for them in February of '87 was - we jumped at one of the last firebreaks. We brought the story into the CIA. And I reported that the CIA had assisted North's operation, despite their denials; that North was using National Security Agency highly-sensitive secret cryptology equipment and had been passing it out like candy to all the people who were working with him - they all had these KL-43's as they were called which could send these secret messages back and forth, and so we'd broken that barrier. We'd broken into the CIA.
And then I went to Newsweek. Maybe a mistake, I guess, in retrospect, but I went to Newsweek. And I thought - I always think of Newsweek as what it used to be - sort of a gutsy magazine that had changed. So anyway I get to Newsweek and the first week I'm there, some stories about these phony chronologies are circulating and I call a friend of mine on the National Security Council staff and I say, "What are you doing now? You're doing false chronologies on how the Iran sales happened?" and he said, "Bob, you don't understand," he said "These were orders from the Oval Office. Don Regan sent down word that we were to protect the President and write him out of these events." And so, I tell my new Bureau Chief at Newsweek Evan Thomas, and he's real excited by this 'cause he gets excited, and he goes in and Tommy DeFrank, who was the assistant Bureau Chief, calls another source - well known person whose name I can't mention I guess, from the NSC, and this person said yes, that's exactly right, we were told to do it.
So Newsweek ran this - I have one copy of this because Newsweek sort of threw it away afterwards - but we ran a cover story called "Cover-up" and we recount how, to protect the President, the NSC staffers were ordered to put these phony chronologies out. And what we didn't realize at the time was we had just broken through the last firebreak. We were in the Oval Office with this story.
And the reaction was incredible. Many of my colleagues in the press attacked us. The Wall Street Journal, not just in its editorial pages but its news columns attacked us; Newsweek - of course, Don Regan, who was one of the people of course named here attacked us; and Newsweek decided that they wanted to retract the story. And they sent me back to my source, several times over the next period of time, to get him to take it back and he wouldn't. He said, I told you what I knew, and what do you want me to say, and I said well, we want to retract the story is what we want to do. Anyway, so one of my friends went around - because this was such an embarrassment to Newsweek - that he told me he went around Newsweek and got all the copies he could find and threw them away, so people wouldn't know - so there wouldn't be a reminder - it was sort of a 'nice thing' he was doing - so there wouldn't be a reminder of my big mistake. And I found out fairly recently - as recently as a year ago, Newsweek was going to Judge Walsh's office and asking him to give them information so they could retract this story - in their view - to fix the historical record. But of course Judge Walsh wouldn't help them on it.
So anyway, here we are, and the problem is - and, uh, it's hard to understand if you haven't lived in Washington it may not make a lot of sense, but I'll explain it anyway - there were three choices at this point:
Choice "A" was to tell the truth, to say that the President had violated a variety of laws, committed felonies, and violated our constitutional safeguards about the way we carry out wars in our country, and impeach him. Option A.
Then there was Option "B" - to tell the truth and have congress sort of say well, it's okay with us, which creates a dangerous precedent for the future, that is, that now President's would say well hey, look at the Reagan example, you know, if he can wage war privately, why can't I? So that was Option "B."
And then there was Option "C" - to pretend it didn't happen, or to pretend that, say, some Lieutenant Colonel had done it all. So Washington, I guess understandably, settled on Option "C."
And it didn't hit me until one evening in March of '87, the Tower board had just come out with its report, which basically said that the President was a little bit asleep at the switch, but hey, you know, it was really these crazy nuts who did it, and we had one of these Newsweek dinners - they're fancy affairs - and it was at the Bureau Chief's house, and they're catered, and there's a tuxedoed waiter, and he pours the wine, there's nice food, and I was new - I came out of AP which is kind of a working class/working man's kind of news organization so I wasn't used to this. And we had as our guest that evening Brent Scowcroft, who had been on the Tower Board, and Dick Cheney, who was then - who was going to be the ranking minority figure on the house Iran-Contra Committee, and we're going through this little delightful dinner, and at one point Brent Scowcroft says, he says "Well, I probably shouldn't be saying this, but if I were advising Admirable Poindexter, and he had told the President about the diversion, I'd advise him to say that he hadn't." And being new to this whole, sort of game, I stopped eating, and looked across the table and said "General! You're not suggesting that the Admiral should commit perjury, are you?" And there was kind of like an embarrassed little silence at the table, and the editor of Newsweek, who was sitting next to me, says - I hope partly jokingly but I don't know - he says, "Sometimes we have to do what's good for the country."
So that became - I somehow realized I was in a different place than I thought I'd been in you know? So what happened then was that played out. It played out. And it played out almost predictably, almost sort of with a sadness. And even when Oliver North finally told the truth, which was that he was ordered to do all this stuff, and that there was a cover-up going on - you see, he even told them there was a fall guy planned - it was the first cover-up that had been announced probably in front of 100 million Americans and still it was believed by Congress! So Lee Hamilton again, the same guy who had accepted North's word and other guys' back in August of '86, he decides, as Chairman of the Iran-Contra Committee, that we all should sort of say that it was just these 'men of zeal' - there'd been a coup d'etat in the White House, we'd find out - there'd been a junta of a Lt. Col and maybe an Admiral here and there you know who were running this policy and that somehow the CIA had missed it, the White House had missed it, NSA had missed it - it wasn't like the Russians were doing this, it was like, being done, like, under their nose! But, you know, okay - it's not very believable - a lot of Americans didn't believe it, to tell you the truth - but in Washington we believed it. We all believed it. Not all of us, but we pretty much had to believe it. And at Newsweek and elsewhere we were told in the press this was not a story anymore, this was not to be pursued, I guess because this wouldn't be good for the country to pursue it. And again, history being kind of quirky, there was this other element of the story, which was that these three Republican judges who picked independent counsel, picked Lawrence Walsh to be the independent counsel on this investigation, and Lawrence Walsh was sort of this non-descript sort of fellow - he's not a really sharp legal mind? But he's very honest - and maybe they thought they could manage him. But he just kept pursuing the leads, and despite all the lies and the cover-ups that went on, there were other breaks because he kept pursuing the leads, that you then had of course, with the North trial and the Poindexter trial, these guys - basically North saying - here's more and more evidence that these guys were running this thing, and then in the Poindexter trial Reagan comes out and makes a complete fool of himself and is just all over the place with his story.
But then another event happens that we really don't know much about - and that event is that this guy named Craig Gillan is hired to do a sort of clean-up operation at the Independent Counsel's office - just to get the loose ends together so they can wrap up the investigation and end this thing - it's 1990. And Craig Gillan finds out that there are a lot of document requests that had been sent out in the early days and some hadn't been answered! One was from Charlie Hill, who was an aide to George Schultz, and who was - last time I knew he was at Hoover up at Stanford - and so they write to Charlie and they say Charlie - you didn't give us your notes. And Charlie finally sends his notes, and in it they find this strange reference to Casper Weinberger taking all these notes! But of course Casper Weinberger told them that he had no notes. Then as they follow those leads they find that in fact there had been an Oval Office cover-up, and that what we had seen, and what remarkably the White House had been able to successfully maintain, in the defiance of all the logic and reason that should have been brought to bear - they were able to maintain for *six years* what amounted to a felony obstruction of justice out of the White House. And they did it under the nose of the Congress, under the nose of the Washington press corp, and the way they were able to do it was essentially this acceptance in Washington of an absolutely phony reality, one which is accepted in sort of a consensus way - what you'll hear if you listen to the McLaughlin Group or these other shows is a general consensus - there may be disagreements on some points - but there is a general consensus of the world that is brought to bear, and often it is in absolute contradiction to the real world. It is a false reality - it's a Washington reality.
And what we have seen at the end of these twelve years, and what I guess the challenge of the moment becomes is how that gets changed. How do the American people really get back control of this - not just their government, but of their history - because it's really their history that has been taken away from them. And it's really what the Washington Press Corps and the Democrats in Congress as well as the Republicans are culpable of, was this failure to tell the American people their history. And the reason they didn't was because they knew, or feared, that if the American people knew their real history - whether it goes back to the days of slaughters going on in El Salvador - if they had known about El Mazote - if they had known about the little children that were put in the house and shot to death and garroted - that they wouldn't have gone along with that. And if they had known that there were felony obstructions of justice being carried out of the Oval Office they wouldn't have gone along with that either, and there would have been a real problem - there would have been a political problem to contain I guess, but - it is not the role of the Washington press corp - maybe this is sounds like an understatement, but it's not the role of the Washington press corps to take part in that. Our job was supposed to be, I thought, to kind of tell people what we could find out! We go in, we act nice, we ask a lot of questions, find some things and run out and tell you! We're sort of like spies for the people, you know, and instead, we sort of got in there - and I guess it was real nice, we felt like we were insiders, we felt like these were all nice, respectable men - they dressed well - Casper Weinberger went to every single one of these press/government functions - the Grid Iron Club, the White House Correspondents' dinners, the Congressional correspondents' dinners - you'd always find Casper Weinberger there. And so when he finally gets indicted the Washington press corps comes out and says that's a terrible thing to do, 'cause Casper Weinberger's a good man! He went to all our parties! How could you think badly of him? And there was even a column by liberal columnist Richard Cohen in the Washington Post who said, it's a terrible thing to indict Casper Weinberger because we shop at the same store in Georgetown! He said Casper Weinberger even pushed his own shopping cart! And before Thanksgiving one year, Richard Cohen saw Casper Weinberger buying his own turkey. And so how could you think about indicting a guy for a felony obstruction of justice when he pushes his own shopping cart? This may seem funny out here but in Washington it's not! This is very serious stuff!
I know I'm taking too long, but one other thing I wanted to talk about was - well, you know life being what it is, and history being quirky as it is - so I left Newsweek in 1990 - I was not on the best of terms with them - because I wouldn't go along with this. I mean, I wouldn't - I kept saying first of all George Bush knew it and we should have told the people about it in 1988 when he was running for president - we knew what he knew, we knew that his stories were absolutely the most implausible, idiotic, embarrassing cover stories imaginable and they should not have been treated with the kind of respect they were treated with and we should definitely have pursued that. We also knew that there was a a cover-up going on - which I kept insisting on even though Newsweek kept trying to retract it, and so I left. And I was going to do this book, and this book was going to be about how Washington sort of works or doesn't, and about how the press behaved sort of cowardly, and then I get this phone call one day, in August of 1990, from PBS Frontline, and they asked me if I would do some investigative work on this project called the October Surprise. And I'd been through a lot, and I really didn't want to go through any more. And of all the taboos - obviously for a long time the North network was just a 'crazy conspiracy theory', and then the idea that Bush was involved was a 'crazy conspiracy theory', and the idea that there was a cover-up was a 'crazy conspiracy theory', and I'd seen all these conspiracy theories actually turn out to be true, so I really didn't want to discount anything without having looked at it carefully, I thought, and anyway I thought it would be kind of wimpy, you know, unprofessional and wimpy to say no. This was a reputable outfit - PBS Frontline wanted me to look at something and, as much as I had my doubts about it I thought, okay.
So, I went off on this little strange adventure. I had a producer named Robert Ross who's a wonderful guy who speaks Persian and has lived in the Middle East. We took our little camera - our little high eight camera - and we went around as cheaply as possible, and we went to Europe, we went to the West Coast - we interviewed some arms dealer over in Santa Monica - and we went around and put together whatever we could. And we found, to our surprise I think, that there was more there than we thought. We had doubts about a lot of it still, and we did not in our - when we finally decided to go with the program we wanted we were very I think skeptical - that we didn't feel it was proven, but that there was enough there that merited further attention, I guess that's a fair way to say where we ended up. So we did this program, and it aired in April of '91. Gary Sick the day before - Gary Sick was interviewed on our show - he was a former national security man under Carter and a very respected historian, and it was partly his decision to think that this had happened that influenced us to some degree, because it wasn't just crazy arms dealers and intelligence guys - it was also this fairly respectable guy, and the day before our show aired he did a piece in the New York Times describing his angst and how he came to this conclusion. And so this story that had sort of lived on the fringes for some time but which the government itself had brought in on the public record in a perjury trial in the Spring of 1990, and lost, this now moved into the mainstream much more, and it drew - even by the comparisons to the other stuff - this one was attacked, and continues to be attacked. Frontline commissioned a second program - an update, which we tried to do in just a very straightforward, honest way - because at that point the debunkers - The New Republic and Newsweek actually leading the way - we felt were wrong on a number of points. But we also felt that we didn't think it was anywhere near proven and we did a show saying basically that, and trying to track Casey's whereabouts and all the rest of the stuff we did.
Anyway, so after the second show, there was this Congressional investigation, which the Republicans fought, which George Bush personally strategized to stop, and it was stopped in the Senate with a filibuster, but the House approved an investigation - the Senate did a little one in one of the subcommittees, and it just has to be that Lee Hamilton was of course assigned to head the investigation. It wouldn't have been fair otherwise - see, Lee Hamilton was a very honorable man, in many ways, I think, except he doesn't believe anyone else can lie, I guess. He was chairman of the Middle East subcommittee when the Iran stuff was happening - the Iran arms stuff and he missed it. He was then chairman of the intelligence committee when North was going full board - missed that. He was then rewarded by being made head of the Iran-Contra investigation and he kind of missed that. And so, because of his sterling record they made him head of the House Task Force on the October Surprise! And of course then the House Task Force found that it was just fantasy, and they put out their report - and I must say I've read a lot of reports and I think it's the worst one I've ever read - but it was well-received in Washington but I'm going to tell you one little - I mean when people talk about fantasy in Washington - there is this section in this report, and this I think is emblematic of it, where the House wants to put Casey somewhere, and they decide that on August 2nd, 1980, Bill Casey was on Long Island. And you look for why they think that - this becomes important to the story and I'll make it brief. When you look back at this, what they have is that, on August 2nd, Richard Allen - who was then a foreign policy advisor to candidate Reagan, wrote Casey's Long Island phone number on the bottom of a sheet of paper. It was Bill Casey, 516, you know, whatever, and there's no notation of a call or conversation, and Allen when he testified he said I think I called the number, he said, but I don't recall talking to Casey or even if the call was answered. And there's no phone bill showing a call. So what normally people would say, even my four year probably would say, is that doesn't prove anything. That proves, like, zero! If someone calls my number in 703 in Arlington hey, I'm not there! And it doesn't matter that they call my number, or write it down. Yet this becomes conclusive proof to the task force that Bill Casey was on Long Island.
Now the reason that's important is because Bill Casey was really at the Bohemian Grove in upstate California. And what we had, was - he actually purchased their annual play book on August 1st at the Grove, according to the Grove. We had a contemporaneous diary entry from one of the people at the Grove that was in the same cottage Casey was in, Matthew McGowan, who describes meeting with Casey that weekend, and they throw out that evidence, because Richard Allen wrote Casey's phone number down and it was a Long Island number! And you go to them and you say how - Larry Burcello was the counsel here - I've had these arguments and I've said Larry, this doesn't prove anything, and they say, it does as far as we're concerned. They put Bill Casey - they wanted him to be there actually the week earlier, the last week of July, because if you put him there that weekend, which they do, that disproves one of the allegations about him meeting with Iranians in Spain that weekend. So by putting him there the weekend earlier, when he was actually there the first weekend in August, you disprove an important allegation, and that means that one of these guys was just a liar and a fabricator, and we can all go home and feel happy about it.
Anyway, that's a bit of a long way to explain that my last adventure was on this October Surprise thing, and I have written a second book, which recounts that little adventure, and it's called Trick or Treason, and it should be out, I guess later this year. This first book is more - basically I talk about how the "conventional wisdom" works, and I use that to sort string along a lot of great little stories about how - my investigative stuff and things that we found out along the way. The second book is really like a first person kind of magical mystery tour through strange people.
What I think is the bottom line of both books is that we are in great danger of losing our grasp of reality as a nation. Our history has been taken away from us in key ways. We've been lied to so often. And important things have been blocked from us. It was important to know that those little children were killed in El Mazote. I have four kids, and I know what they mean to me, and it's always been a part of my journalism that I don't want - that if any of my sons will ever be taken off to war someplace, I want it to be done for a real reason - not because somebody made something up. But I also feel for people who lose their kids anywhere. And I think 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 about it, and pretend it didn't happen, and attack those who find out that it did happen, is in many ways almost worse. It is something that, as a democracy, we can't really allow to happen.
The main problem, at this point, is that we have a set of establishments in Washington that have failed us, as a people. Obviously the executive branch did it because it had its goals, and agendas, and it wanted to do these things, and maybe in some cases they were right. But they shouldn't have lied to us. They shouldn't have tried to create a false reality to trick us into this. Congress failed because it didn't have the courage to stand up and do oversight and perform its constitutional responsibilities.
But what is perhaps most shocking to Americans is that the press failed. The press is what people sort of expect to be there as the watchdog, the final group to sort of warn us of danger. And the press joined it. And the press saw itself - in the Washington press corp I'm talking about - saw itself at the elite levels as part of the insider community. And as that evolved and then grew in the 1980's, the press stopped performing its oversight responsibilities. And I think we have to figure out some way, as a people, to change that. There've been actually more changes I think in the political structure - whatever anyone thinks of Mr. Clinton, at least there's a change there. And he has different priorities. And in Congress there's even been some change.
But the press has gone from being when I got there '77 as a Watergate press corp, with its faults, with being maybe a little too overly zealous in pursuing some minor infraction, but still - it was there as the watchdog. What we have now, and its continuing into this new era, is the Reagan-Bush press corp. It's the press corp that they helped create - that they created partly by purging those, or encouraging the purging of those who were not going along, but it was ultimately the editors and the news executives that did the purging. It wasn't the White House or the State Department or the Embassy in El Salvador that drove Ray Bonner out of the New York Times; it was the New York Times executives who did it. And throughout that whole era it wasn't the State Department or the White House that ruined Paul Allen's career at NPR, it was NPR executives. And this was the case all the way around Washington. The people who succeeded and did well were those who didn't stand up, who didn't write the big stories, who looked the other way when history was happening in front of them, and went along either consciously or just by cowardice with the deception of the American people. And I think that's what we all have to sort of look at to see what we can do to change it. I think it will take a tremendous commitment by the American people to insist on both more honest journalism, more straightforward journalism, but also maybe even new journalism. There has to be some other way - some other outlets. In a way, I've grown to despair at the possibility of reforming some of these organizations. Maybe it can happen, but I think ultimately, we're going to have to see a new kind of media to replace this old one.
End of talk. There followed a question and answer session - one of which was to the point of this newsgroup. He was asked for his opinion on the Kennedy assassination.
Parry: He's asking what I might think about the assassination of President Kennedy. And I guess my answer about that would be I don't know. One of the great tragedies of losing our history which is what's been happening throughout our lifetimes, has been that, because of this sort of 'conventional wisdom' or 'conventional reality' that exists, certain things are not explored. I guess in '63 the conventional wisdom was of course that it was a lone gun acting by himself - a crazy man. And so the Warren Commission, like many other government investigations since, basically just reinforced - ratified that belief. They may have been right - I mean, I don't know. [Man interjects "there've been over 600 books on the subject written ] -I know! I've read some of them. But - all I'm saying is that if investigations aren't done properly within a certain period of time it's very hard to do them. I had a friend who was at Time/LIFE during that period and he was following up on the connections to New Orleans. But Time/LIFE was so angry about anyone even thinking that there might be another part of this story, that he used to have to put down different stories on his expense accounts - like if he would to go to New Orleans to interview some of these guys that might have information he'd have to say he was there for the Mardi Gras or something. He couldn't say he was there for the assassination of President Kennedy because he would have been considered some kind of a nut!
And in answer to a question about maybe the people don't really want to know the truth or take responsibility to pressure the powers that be to tell the truth:
Parry: I think probably a lot of people don't want to know. I agree with that. I think, because, it's hard to know. And I would hear that a lot. That would be an argument that would be used a great deal in the 80's after Iran-Contra was going along - it would be that people were bored, they were tired, they didn't want to hear about it anymore. My feeling though is that it was the responsibility of the reporter to tell the people what he could about important events as fairly and as completely as possible. And it was less my responsibility to decide what they should know or shouldn't know, or even wanted to know, but to make an honest judgment about what was historically of importance and tell them what I could. And even if it's 10% of the public that wants to know, they deserve to know. I don't think you should do polls to find out what people want to hear and then tell them what they want to hear. I think to some degree the press needs to inform the public about stuff that's important.
In answer to "do the people know they're being lied to":
Parry: Well basically, the American people I think, from the polls, believe - first of all they were interested in Iran-Contra, much more so than the press wanted to think. I remember once at Newsweek a poll showed 1/3 of the people following the story closely, 1/3 following them a little bit, and a 1/3 of them not following them at all, and they said - well, you see 2/3 of the people aren't following them very much at all, so therefore, you know - there were arguments that were kind of turned and twisted to make it appear that the public didn't really want to know. I think the public did want to know. Ollie North's book was a bestseller - a number have been bestsellers - that shows that they're interested. Plus, I think, they have a tremendous distrust of how the government's functioned and they want to know when they've been lied to. It may not be that they care as much about all the details, but they sure care if a man who is running for President has lied to them in a major way, and expect the press to try to make a good-faith effort to discover that, and not to sort of go along and say gee, it would be too disruptive if people knew that.