After Robert Parry died on January 27, I asked another great investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, for some words. “I ran into Bob more than three decades ago when he was the first to warn of the Iran/Contra affair, to little avail,” Hersh replied. “He was widely seen over the next years as a critic of the mainstream media in America. That was not so. He was a critic of lousy reporting, be it in Pravda or The New York Times. He wanted every journalist, everywhere, to do the research and the interviewing that it takes to get beyond the accepted headline.”
What made Bob Parry a trailblazer for independent journalism also made him a bridge burner with the media establishment. He refused to take on faith the official story, whether from governments or news outlets. After winning acclaim, including a Polk Award, as an Associated Press reporter who broke many big stories on deadly US policies in Central America, he spent three years at Newsweek—where he saw top editors collaborating with officials of the George H.W. Bush administration on what should be shared or withheld from the public. Bob left the magazine in 1990, and soon his relations with mainstream media had a whistle-blower quality. His 1992 book Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom named names and pulled no punches.
Midway through the decade, Bob did a stint as director of the Nation Institute’s investigative unit. His writing for The Nation during 1996 included pieces about the CIA and drug trafficking by the Nicaraguan contras, the bankrolled power of right-wing foundations, and a seven-page expose that is chilling to read more than 30 years later—an investigative report on the Koch brothers.
In 1995, Parry launched a unique journalistic space, Consortiumnews.com, where he worked intensely as publisher, editor, and writer. For the next 22 years, Parry oversaw the website’s scrutiny of elite wisdom. His work, which included authoring six books, won the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence from Harvard’s Nieman Foundation in 2015 and, last year, the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.
I got to see Bob at work up close, in 1996, when we co-wrote a series on a media darling: “Behind Colin Powell’s Legend.” During interviews, Bob was politely unrelenting. He had a methodical zest for plowing through documents, determined to “master the material.” And he was professionally generous; I wrote just a small proportion of the articles, but he insisted that I share the byline on every one.