Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 29, 2018

Taking stock of Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Yesterday, Nat Parry announced the death of his father Robert Parry on Consortium News, a website he created in 1995 as an alternative to the mainstream news. While Robert Parry had announced to his readers on December 31, 2017 that a stroke would inhibit his ability to provide the kind of content to which they had become accustomed, the underlying ailment responsible for his untimely death was cancer of the pancreas that he had unknowingly been suffering from for the past 4 to 5 years.

Nat Parry’s article summarizes his father’s considerable accomplishments that date back to Reagan’s war against the Sandinistas. I recommend it as an indication of a career that any journalist could be proud of, as long as the cut-off date is 2011 or so.

He credits his father with digging beneath “the reality of the chemical attack in Syria in 2013” and for defying the mainstream media’s consensus on Putin and the war in Ukraine. We are told that:

Bob regretted that, increasingly, “the American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’” Indeed, he said that to even suggest that there might be another side to the story is enough to get someone branded as an apologist for Vladimir Putin or a “Kremlin stooge.”

This reduction of the parameters of the discussion on these matters to Robert Parry on one side and the NY Times and Washington Post on the other is a bit of a Hobson’s choice. As bad as the bourgeois press is with its inside-the-beltway mindset, are we any better off with the inside-the-Kremlin orientation of a whole range of highly respected leftwing reporters since 2011, including Parry, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and Stephen Kinzer? Neither the mainstream media nor the “anti-imperialist” websites like Consortium News could take the trouble to learn and write about the people Obama dismissed as “farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn’t have a lot of experience fighting”. Obama, his supporters in the bourgeois press, and Robert Parry all failed to engage with the humanity of those who find themselves on the opposite side of the barricades from Putin or Assad.

I have my own ideas of how that should have been done and credit my friend Anand Gopal with doing the kind of reporting that never would have occurred to the much more well-known figures above. Harper’s published Gopal’s article “Welcome to Free Syria” in August 2012 . Unlike Cockburn or Fisk, he was not embedded in the Syrian army. Instead, he was transported from Turkey into Syria in a car that “avoided the highway and hopscotched from village to village along back roads.” With his mobile-phone system disabled, it was impossible to know about government troop movements and the location of army checkpoints.

The pay-off was being able to interview people who Obama never had any intention of putting into power. Just consider how they saw themselves and how similar they were to those rising up in the Arab Spring as well as the Occupy movement in the USA:

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

Except for Anand Gopal’s article and those written by the Syrian left, including Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila al-Shami, and Joseph Daher, this was a perspective utterly missing in Parry et al. Instead, we were expected to choose between the mainstream media that featured articles on Assad’s brutality and Parry’s attempts to minimize or deny it. Syrian voices were omitted.

Parry could have been less interested in the people of a shithole like Binnish. Like most men who had made careers at Newsweek, Time, the NY Times, and the Washington Post, his focus was on “foreign policy”. Syria was just some real estate that the USA and its rivals were quarrelling over. On April 29, 2013, he expressed dismay over Obama’s failure to enter negotiations with Assad:

In 2012, there appeared to be a chance for a breakthrough both in talks with Iran over its nuclear program and with Syria’s Assad regime over a power-sharing arrangement with the country’s disaffected Sunni majority. Some people involved in those initiatives thought that after the U.S. election, a victorious Obama would have the political space to make concessions as well as demands. Then, when nothing happened, some thought he was waiting to install a new national security team and didn’t want to risk Senate obstruction of his nominations.

That disaffected majority was hardly worth Parry’s consideration since it was made up of “murderous Sunni fundamentalists.” How did he know that the Sunnis were so evil? Well, he read it in the N.Y. Times. So, you see, the mainstream media is to be shunned unless it serves your own ideological preconceptions.

Only five months after he wrote his article, he became just another Assadist propagandist claiming that Assad was innocent of the charge of killing over a thousand people in East Ghouta in a sarin gas attack. Shockingly enough, Parry backed up his claims by citing Carla Del Ponte, a UN functionary that Alexander Cockburn charged with running a kangaroo court to prosecute Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. If that wasn’t the bottom of the barrel, Parry sunk even lower to rely on the allegations found in former Defense Department official F. Michael Maloof’s article for World Net Daily (WND), which alleged that the rebels used sarin gas on their own supporters. I guess you can say that WND.com is an alternative to the Washington Post but what kind?

WND was founded in 1997 by “birther” Joseph Farah as part of the Western Journalism Center that he formed 6 years earlier. Besides WND, the Western Journalism Center created NewsMax, another ultraright outlet. If you are looking for comparisons, they should be grouped with Breitbart News. Besides Maloof’s dubious reporting on sarin gas, WND had run a six-part series claiming that soybean consumption causes homosexuality as well as one that pointed to a secret 20-point Muslim plan “for conquering the United States by 2020.”

As for Maloof, a Mother Jones investigation revealed that he was key to providing a fake story that helped paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2002. When Maloof worked for the neoconservative warmonger Richard Perle, he cooked up evidence that the Soviet Union was stealing Western technology. And this is the guy that Robert Parry wanted us to trust?

Turning to Ukraine, it is just as bad—maybe worse. This time it was the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 over Ukraine. He even tied the two “false flag” incidents to each other:

Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.

Like Seymour Hersh, Parry refers to unnamed spooks in the “intelligence community”. Who knows? Maybe the aforementioned F. Michael Maloof was one of them.

Demonstrating a laughable departure from the rigorous norms of investigative reporting, Parry wrote:

According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site.

No, this is Parry and not Onion.com. I love the bit about beer bottles scattered around the site. You’d think that he would have mentioned vodka in order to make it sound more plausible. Those Ukrainian troops were just like Bluto and Otter getting into trouble in “Animal House”. They must have gotten loaded and shot down a civilian airliner.

Parry also casted doubt on the possibility that the separatists had a ground to air missile capable of reaching the plane. Supposedly, they had MANPAD’s that were only capable of bringing down low-flying airplanes or helicopters. But in fact, just days before the Flight 17 shoot-down, a separatist missile had brought down a Ukrainian military transport, an AN-26 that was flying four miles above the ground and well beyond the reach of a MANPAD.

All of this demonstrates that one of the greatest collateral damages of the past seven years of conflict in Syria and Ukraine, besides the loss of lives, is its tendency to turn accomplished investigative reporters into shoddy propagandists.

After Trump’s election, Parry posed the question whether Trump would decide to be a great president in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt or someone more of the caliber of Calvin Coolidge. I am not sure whether Parry’s illness had some effect on his ability to clearly assess Donald Trump but it had already been established by then that Trump was a shameless liar who treated his workers like slaves. In 1980, he used undocumented Polish workers to clear the future site of Trump Tower, forcing them to work 12-hour shifts in unsafe conditions and paying them $4 per hour. To imagine that someone with a record like Trump could have been anything like FDR was as much a failure to do the proper job of an investigative reporter as was his articles on sarin gas and Flight 17. If Parry had read David Cay Johnson, he could have never considered this in the realm of possibility.

It is too bad that Parry did not retire in 2011. A book could be written about the decline of investigative journalism over the past 6 years. Let’s hope that the next generation of reporters can take their cue from Anand Gopal who is continuing in the tradition of the pre-2011 Robert Parry as well as all the other journalists who I held in great esteem until the awful assault on the truth and humanity that began under the combined power of Assad and Putin’s air force and their respective propaganda machines.

19 Comments »

  1. Well written, as always.

    I too noticed the exact paragraph that Parry wrote about “drunk Ukrainians” and MH17. I couldn’t help but laught and stare at disbelief that this was the same guy who broke the Iran-Contra story. Probably one of the best examples of the lunacy of so-called “anti-imperialist” journalists.

    Comment by Matt — January 30, 2018 @ 2:12 am

  2. Reblogged this on nickweechblog's Blog and commented:
    The point is, not who is right but that it’s almost impossible for anyone to be able to tell what is “true” without context. The context seems more important than truth, because there isn’t any absolute truth now it’s all mixed up both accidentally and on purpose.

    Comment by nickweechblog — January 30, 2018 @ 8:54 am

  3. This sad event underlines the rust-ridden and long-pending collapse of a functioning Left consensus after the Arab Spring, especially the collapse of thorough and reliable independent journalism. There have always been Mike Whitneys chiseling around the edges–demagogic propagandists, to some extent at least paid by the likes of Putin or other manipulative paymasters, who in the long run make little difference–but figures like Parry and i dare say Fisk and even Hirsh were far more consequential, and their ability to retail conspiratorial nonsense like “the reality” of the Syrian chemical attacks therefore all the more alarming.

    I.F. stone, where art thou–hell, Liberation News Service where art thou? Maybe we need a collaborative between old farts with long memories and a quorum of functioning brain cells and young folks who, unlike B. Sunkara apparently, are willing to sacrifice a glitzy career for the pursuit of the truth. And then we need a way for the younger ones to make some sort of living at their work–to be journalistic revolutionaries by trade, if you like–without climbing an Iwo Jima of murdered wannabes to plant the flag of stardom or entombing themselves in the bowels of a cult.

    Greenwald performed this function for a while, but jumped squarely on the Khan Shaykhun False flag bandwagon togehter with Hersh and the rest of the living dead,. Besudes his libertarianism is too reactionary to make The Intercept a daily resource nowadays–money, stardom, and Ron Paul more than putin and Assad have pretty well knocked him–along with Laura Poitras and his other collaborators–out of bounds, And as the historical moment of the great leakers passes, Greenwald is more and more looking back rather than forward. Plenty of anti-Putinolators and people outraged by the carnage Putin and Assad have wrought in Syria share Greenwald’s contempt for the Democratic party’s absurd invocation of a Cold War Russian menace thwarted by young Kennedys. But that is no reason to drink the Putin-Assad Kool Aid.

    Chris Hedges writes for Trughdig, which publishes Theodore Postol’s crazy lies about the Syrian rebels. What’s left?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 30, 2018 @ 1:40 pm

  4. Eagles soar where vultures feast. Parry’s legacy is assured for no other reason than he so ostentatiously stands on the right side of history. When historians sift through the detritus of a long faded Pax Americana, Parry’s work will be among the beacons that will guide them to the critical fault lines of deceptions and failures that an army of the Empire’s propagandists of various persuasions struggled valiantly to elide during the last quarter of the 20th century through the first two decades of the 21st.

    Enjoy your tap dance on the grave of a giant Louis. Long after your footprints fade along with those of your fellow Hasbarists For Empire, the names and words of Robert Parry, Julian Assange, Edward S. Herman, John Pilger, Wilfred Burchett, and Chris Hedges among other truth seekers will endure.

    Comment by Bill J. — February 1, 2018 @ 8:18 am

  5. I am a Hasbarist? I guess I neglected to cite the crypto-fascist WND in my various articles rather than the Syrian left.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 1, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

  6. Hey Bill, the only ones tap dancing are the giants themselves, on the grave of their own reputation. Their audience cannot ignore Syrians, a rather large group still adjusting but learning the language and gaining confidence, telling their own incredible stories.

    Comment by seaspan — February 1, 2018 @ 4:44 pm

  7. I admired Robert Parry and will miss his columns a lot. It is true that he and Consortium News were adamant in not even discussing Assad’s repression and in refusing to consider the possibility that the gas attacks could have been carried out by the Syrian government. I remember pointing this out in their comments section, which brought a lot of heat on me from some of the other commentators. On the other hand, in your site, Mr. Proyect (which I also enjoy very much), you have been systematically downplaying the evident fact that what you call the “Syrian revolution” was dead on arrival, as soon as the good people that had legitimate reasons to rise against Assad allowed their movement to be taken hostage by some of the worst fanatics and blood-thirsty criminals the world has seen in the last 100 years. For everyone except you (or so it seems), the peaceful protests that began in 2011were clearly overridden by the cruel savagery of the Al Nusra and ISIS lunatics, plus a letter soup of bands armed and financed by the Saudis, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey and…yes..the US and the West. The propaganda coming from the MSM constantly pounded on the slogan “Assad must go”, and the atrocities of the illiterate beheaders were brushed aside as some sort of collateral damage in the way of “liberation”. The civilians maimed and killed by the “moderate rebels” were ignored, and so forth. It was clear for many people, left or right, that by at least 2013 no such thing as a “revolutionary” movement existed in Syria any longer, as the real military power of those trying to topple Assad was in the hands of the Al Nusra guys in the west and Isis in the east. It became apparent that in order for Syria and its people to have any future at all, the priority was to end the support that the West had been pouring on the fanatics who wanted to go back to the seventh century. Robert Parry’s voice was essential in the debunking of the western cynical rhetoric. Perhaps he was wrong in not taking a more nuanced approach to Aasad and his government, but he was absolutely right in pointing to the “main contradiction” while tons of ink (or lots of gigabytes) were spent in singing the praises of a non existent army of freedom fighters, ready to oust the “tyrant du jour”. With all his faults, Parry should still be hailed as one of the most courageous journalists the US has produced. In the meantime, I will keep enjoying the richness of your views on the left and the world at large.

    Comment by FobosDeimos — February 2, 2018 @ 12:25 am

  8. Robert Parry’s voice was essential in the debunking of the western cynical rhetoric.

    Especially relying on WND that published a 6-part series on how eating soybeans causes homosexuality.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 2, 2018 @ 1:23 am

  9. The crazy article about soybeans and homosexuailty was published by WND in 2006, and was written by a born again Christian named Jim Rutz. Parry’s approving comment about something that Maloof said in 2013 does not mean that Parry endorsed Rutz and his “theory”. Have a good time.

    Comment by FobosDeimos — February 2, 2018 @ 2:38 am

  10. Oh, right. The WND was really the place to go in order to establish the innocence of Bashar al-Assad. Why not Breitbart News or David Duke? How the fuck did Robert Parry even end up reading the WND? Early onset of Alzheimers?

    Comment by louisproyect — February 2, 2018 @ 3:11 am

  11. non existent army of freedom fighters … .

    What about the non-existent armies of hijab-chewing Muslim fanatics, beards alight with the flame of uncouth vocables like lighted farts, who can leap across nations at a single bound and who want nothing more than to blow up little Christian and Jewish girls and boys in their beds, preferably after raping them–i.e., the Muslim Menace?

    That, of course, is incontestably real.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — February 2, 2018 @ 7:07 pm

  12. ‘Syria is being destroyed by the ignorance and silence of the world. Everyone is bombing them. There is still a lot happening. It’s far from over. 20 civilians were killed in heavy airstrikes on e- Ghouta today’

    Parry represented part of ‘the ignorance’ and it is ‘a good riddance’ to him. ‘Fobos deimos’ ( fear of the people indeed) lazily imo mischaracterises the escalating violence as emanating from the protestors when the extreme violence was there from the start and from the regime side overwhelmingly, and regime released AQ fighters and targeted democratic activists.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — February 3, 2018 @ 5:21 pm

  13. I never blamed “the protesters” for the violence. I stated the obvious: “the protesters” were quickly taken over by hordes of ignorant beheaders who believe in the wahabbi version of Islam (I never talked about a “muslim menace”). The AQ and ISIS guys were not “released” by Assad. They were funded and sponsored by the Saudis, Qatar and the UAE with the approval of the US (who created them in the ’80s to fight “communism”). They nearly destroyed Iraq and Syria. This was candidly admitted by Joe Biden, among others. The “revolution” and the “moderate rebels”, have been for a long time (five years at least) only the product of your dreams and US propaganda. The “real” rebels, on the other hand (i.e. the Nusra guys) have been receiving aid and medical treatment in Israel, whose officials have openly declared that they would rather see AQ and ISIS win the war in Syria than allowing Assad remain in power. That is what Robert Parry said and he was damned right. The peaceful protesters of early 2011 were indeed the victims of brutal repression by Assad, but the political forces behind them allowed themselves to be used by fanatic religious zealots who would never tolerate “democracy”, women in school and the professions, minority religions like the 2,000 year-old Christian faith that was almost totally eradicated from Iraq, etc. So please continue to enjoy the company of your imaginary friends, the Syrian enlightened revolutionaries, while some of the more clear-headed opposition leaders give it a try at rebuilding a better Syria, for example at the Astana talks, as UN Secretary General Guterres has recognized.

    Comment by FobosDeimos — February 3, 2018 @ 6:16 pm

  14. That is what Robert Parry said and he was damned right.

    He also said that they used sarin gas on their own supporters. If he was so damned right, how could he have come up with such a preposterous lie?

    Comment by louisproyect — February 3, 2018 @ 6:35 pm

  15. Fobos,

    You do realize that Iran, whose IRGC forces practically run the country, is by its constitution a theocracy that considers women as half worth men, has stoned women to death, has hanged gay men from cranes in groups in public executions, allows no freedom of expression, no free press, no freedom of assembly, no right of forming free and independent trade unions? Democracy? No, it is THEOCRACY that is upholding Assad’s family ‘holdings’. Assad is not even in control of his own country anymore; it’s run by Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolution Guards, as Iran colonizes Syria more and more. Syrian Sovereignty? B.S.!

    Maybe you can read this detailed evaluation of the Syrian situation by Franklin Lamb:
    The Intensification of Syria’s Civil War
    (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/31/the-intensification-of-syrias-civil-war/)

    Comment by Reza — February 3, 2018 @ 7:31 pm

  16. ‘AQ and IS guys were not ‘released’ by Assad’

    You are a liar. He released hundreds in 2011. They ‘were high profile people who were released’ (Aron Lund). You keep repeating the idea that ‘fanatics’ are being opposed by those more ‘tolerant’ of democracy , and it doesn’t wash. Your hatred of atrocities committed by zealots seems only to last as long as the zealots aren’t supporting the regime. Baniyas? al-Bayda? Ghouta? Enjoy the idea of your journalist heroes , in reality they are deluded hacks, peddling conspiracist claptrap, for the edification of mindless idiots. You believe in ‘A better Syria , via the ‘Astana talks’ ! What a chump you are. You should write slogans for tyrannical regimes. Perhaps you do.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — February 3, 2018 @ 7:53 pm

  17. Reza, it looks like Franklin Lamb’s views on Syria and the Middle East are not so different from those exposed by Parry. Take a look at this interview of last year, published by the Syrian Law Journal:

    http://www.syrianlawjournal.com/index.php/inside-syrian-war-legal-ramifications-one-one-dr-franklin-lamb/

    Just one excerpt:

    “To its credit, the Syrian government continues to seek the implementation of President Al-Assad’s 2013 set of good governance initiatives. It envisages a broader and more representative national unity government that will supplement members of the current government with opposition figures, independents and broad-based citizen involvement particularly on the local levels of the 14 governorates. The new government would then oversee constitutional reform followed by a referendum and then elections. As the excellent 2016 Workshop heard from attendees, Syria is not obliged to adopt a Western-style democracy but rather one based on its own culture and history”.

    He criticizes all foreign intervention in Syria, including Iran’s, but if you read the full interview you will notice how he correctly blames the fanatics controlled by the Saudis and other GCC countries for seizing the peaceful protests of 2011 and turning Syria into a nightmare.

    Comment by FobosDeimos — February 4, 2018 @ 3:12 am

  18. Fobos,

    As far as I know, Franklin Lamb has never said that ALL Syrian opposition groups today are a bunch of Jihadi’s (in that article he is pictured with an armed opposition group), nor that opposition groups have sarin gas but use it only to bomb their own communities. Nobody around here (meaning on this blog) has written to say that Saudi’s or the UAE are not involved; nobody in our region would deny that either. But, the point remains that there are revolutionaries to be supported if you’re not a suck-up to the butcher Assad.

    Comment by Reza — February 4, 2018 @ 5:09 pm

  19. ‘Kafr Nabl Surgical Hospital in Idlib, Syria, was bombed today’

    Assad/Putin terror against civilians, and infrastructure. Drivel about ‘Astana peace talks’ is about as accurate as calling a Baathist dictatorship based on violent suppression , a Syrian form of democracy.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — February 5, 2018 @ 5:00 pm


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