The Consortium

By Robert Parry

WASHINGTON -- Media critic Edward S. Herman calls The Wall Street Journal's inconsistent moral standards "ultra-relativism," a hypocritical readiness to condemn a bad act when committed by an "enemy" but to defend or deny a comparable act when done by a "friend."

For the record, of course, the Journal's editor Robert L. Bartley insists that he practices moral consistency. He declares bluntly that "some things are right and others wrong." But in reality, Bartley's insistence on his consistency is just one more Journal lie.

Typical was the Journal's endorsement of shaky evidence on "yellow rain" chemical warfare when the finger pointed at the Soviets in the 1980s. But when far more compelling evidence implicated U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers in the massacre of 800 civilians at El Mozote in 1981, the Journal defended the killers and denounced the American reporters who uncovered the atrocity.

In recent years, Bartley's page has demonstrated the same "ultra-relativism" in handling political scandals. Anything goes when Bill Clinton is excoriated on the Whitewater scandal, but the reverse is the case for Reagan-Bush misdeeds, even when there is strong evidence of a crime.

During the heady Whitewater days of 1994, for instance, the Journal published an editorial entitled "Censored in Arkansas." It alleged that while investigating Whitewater, New Republic writer L.J. Davis was knocked unconscious in his Little Rock hotel room and awoke several hours later with a bump on his head.

"The room door was shut and locked," the editorial reported mysteriously. "Nothing was missing except four 'significant' pages of his notebook that included a list of his sources in Little Rock." Announcing that Arkansas must be "a congenitally violent place," the Journal chastised the rest of the press for not going big with this tale. "The respectable press is spending too much time adjudicating what the reader has a right to know, and too little time with the old spirit of 'stop the presses'," the Journal stated.

But the suggestion that Bill Clinton was running a goon squad in Arkansas turned out to be a fabrication. Other reporters, who did their homework, interviewed eyewitnesses who had watched Davis downing as many as half a dozen martinis at the hotel bar. The reporters also discovered Davis's bar tab, which proved he was still ordering drinks hours after his supposed mugging. When questioned, even Davis disputed a key element of the Journal's claim. No notebook pages were missing, significant or otherwise, he said.

Conspiracy Limits

But the Journal's pro-conspiracy bias clearly stopped at the Whitewater's edge. Journal columnists have heaped ridicule on many honest investigators who have dared examine Republican crimes. A favorite Journal target has been former White House aide Gary Sick who put his solid reputation at risk when he uncovered evidence supporting the so-called October Surprise story -- allegations that the Reagan-Bush campaign interfered with President Carter's Iran hostage negotiations in 1980.

In July, the Journal resumed its attacks on Sick with a nasty column by right-wing media critic Brent Bozell, who extended the smear campaign to anyone who ever dared write a positive word about Sick. Contrary to the Journal's fondness for "the old spirit of 'stop the presses'," the Bozell editorial made clear that the Journal would adopt the opposite standard when Republicans came under criticism, no matter how strong the evidence.

The Bozell piece also was replete with factual errors, another effort to confuse readers about this important historical question. Given The Consortium's work digging up new evidence about the October Surprise story, I wrote a letter to Bartley which defended Sick for his personal courage and summarized the new discoveries about the 1980 controversy. A fuller account is available in the monograph, October Surprise X-Files: The Hidden Origins of the Reagan-Bush Era.

Not surprisingly, the Journal has shown no interest in running any part of the letter. So I am printing an abridged version below:

The Letter

August 4, 1996

Dear Mr. Bartley:

It's understandable why many Republicans and even Democrats dislike the so-called October Surprise story. The allegation that Republicans sabotaged President Carter's Iran-hostage talks in 1980 calls into question the legitimacy of Ronald Reagan's election -- and even our democratic traditions.

But it is wrong for conservative media critic L. Brent Bozell III to ignore facts that challenge his bias and to repeat long-discredited canards about this historical issue. Bozell's "Scandals and the Press" (July 22, 1996) is filled with such blind spots and errors of fact.

In attacking the pro-October Surprise findings of former White House aide Gary Sick, Bozell states that Sick "had not disclosed" that Cyrus and Jamshid Hashemi were indicted arms dealers. But a glance at the index of Sick's 1991 book, October Surprise, reveals eight entries for Cyrus Hashemi "as arms dealer" and two more for "indictment against." ...

On a more substantive point, Bozell is wrong when he cites a Newsweek claim that the October Surprise story originated with followers of Lyndon LaRouche in December 1980. [PBS] Frontline traced the first references to the allegations back to October 18, 1980, the very time when some witnesses later would claim William Casey and others were in contact with Iranian emissaries in France.

On that day, a Chicago Tribune reporter, John Maclean, met with State Department officer David Henderson at Henderson's Washington apartment. Maclean stated that he had been told by a well-placed Republican that vice presidential candidate George Bush was on his way to Paris to meet with Iranians about the 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

In 1991, Henderson described the decade-old Maclean conversation in a letter to Sen. Alan Cranston. When Frontline contacted Maclean, the reporter confirmed that he had told Henderson about the supposed Bush trip. The Maclean-Henderson discussion means that the October Surprise story was not concocted later by LaRouchies.

Another Side

Your readers also should know that, contrary to Bozell's one-sided article, the October Surprise story is supported by credible witnesses and by documentary evidence. For instance, former New York Times correspondent David Andelman testified in 1992 that he was told by the head of French intelligence, Alexandre deMarenches, that the French secret service had arranged private meetings between Casey and Iranians in Paris in fall 1980.

The House October Surprise task force pronounced Andelman's testimony "credible" and noted that the panel had corroboration derived from other French intelligence officials. The task force also recognized that support for the October Surprise allegations came from many Iranian leaders, including the former president of Iran (Abolhassan Bani-Sadr), former defense minister (Ahmad Madani), and former foreign minister (the late Sadegh Ghotbzadeh).

Other international figures accept the October Surprise allegations as well. In 1993, I was present in Israel when former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was asked whether there had been an October Surprise conspiracy in 1980. "Of course, it was," he responded. Shamir then said he had read and admired Sick's book.

ABC News' longtime Paris bureau chief Pierre Salinger has written that he found documentary evidence in France showing that conservative intelligence services from Israel, France, Great Britain, Spain and Italy participated in a fall 1980 arms shipment to Iran as part of a Republican pay-off to block Carter's October Surprise of a last-minute hostage release.

Secret Testimony

Also, according to "secret" testimony to the House task force in 1992, senior CIA officer, Charles Cogan, stated that he attended a 1981 meeting at CIA headquarters between Casey and Republican Joseph V. Reed. Reed boasted about the GOP success in disrupting Carter's planned "October Surprise," Cogan said.

Bozell further ignores the principal discoveries of FBI wiretaps against Cyrus Hashemi, the Iranian financier whose brother claims set up a meeting between Casey and Iranian clerics in Madrid in late July 1980. The wiretaps, put in place in September 1980, disclosed that in October, Hashemi was working with Republicans to arrange military shipments to Iran.

But that was only the tip of Hashemi's ties to Republicans. The task force found a 1984 CIA memo of a meeting at which Hashemi's lawyer, Elliot Richardson, sought the spy agency's help in blocking Hashemi's arms indictment because Casey and his longtime associate, John Shaheen, had recruited Hashemi to help sell off New York real estate belonging to the deposed shah of Iran in 1979.

In October 1980, the FBI wiretaps picked up another curious call. Houston lawyer Harrel Tillman, a self-described friend of George Bush, was arranging a secret $3 million deposit into Hashemi's bank. After the 1980 election, Tillman phoned Hashemi again, promising that the "Bush people" would assist Hashemi on a failed Canadian investment that he shared with Shaheen. ...

All these promising leads, however, were jettisoned by the House task force when its chief counsel, E. Lawrence Barcella Jr., ... accepted implausible alibis for Casey's whereabouts on the days when the old spymaster was alleged to have been at meetings in Europe. The alibi "disproving" the Madrid meeting on the last week of July 1980 put Casey at the Bohemian Grove resort in California. But Grove records actually showed that Casey was at the Grove the first weekend of August that year, not the last weekend of July.

Casey's alibi for Oct. 19, 1980, the date of the supposed Paris meeting, was a phone call remembered in 1992 by Casey's nephew, Larry Casey. But there was no documentary evidence to back up Larry Casey's memory. And in 1991, Larry Casey had presented an entirely different alibi to Frontline: that his uncle was having dinner at Washington's Jockey Club restaurant. Larry Casey backed off that claim when we documented that the Jockey Club dinner occurred four days earlier, on Oct. 15, 1980. Despite these problems, Larry Casey's new memory of the phone call was accepted by the House task force.

Russian Report

The task force would turn its back on other potent evidence as well. On Jan. 11, 1993, two days before the House report was released, the Supreme Soviet's Committee on Defense and Security Issues sent the task force a letter summarizing what Moscow's internal files said about the October Surprise issue. The files confirmed that prior to the 1980 election, Casey, Bush and some CIA officers had met with Iranians in Europe to discuss the hostages, the Russian letter said.

Though this claim by America's former communist enemy would seem to have merited at least a public airing, the House task force kept quiet about the Russian letter. It landed in an obscure Capitol Hill storage room where I found it many months later. I also discovered the Cogan testimony, the FBI wiretap summaries and other evidence that undermined the House task force's anti-October Surprise conclusions.

It is certainly fair to differ about the 1980 election mystery. I would agree that the allegations have not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But it is not fair to ridicule Gary Sick for his courageous pursuit of the truth. Nor is it accurate to call the October Surprise story a "hoax" without "any documentation whatsoever," as Steven Emerson did in the Journal article. I believe an apology to Gary Sick is in order.


Robert Parry

Copyright (c) 1996

Return to Lost History Index

Return to Main Archive Index

Return to Consortium Main Menu.