Parry on the American crisis
In early 1996 I had Parry as a guest on my radio talk show on WGDR (Plainfield, Vermont), and we talked extensively about the October Surprise scandal, which he helped uncover. In fact, it is this scandal that first sparked my interest in investigative journalism in the 1980's.
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So, by the mid-1970s, it could be said that the institutions of the Republic were operating, more or less, as intended. There were real checks and balances. The rights of citizens, especially racial minorities and women, were finally being protected; the press was exposing wrongdoing; accountability was imposed on the Executive for constitutional and legal violations.
Of course, these institutions had been pushed by popular movements, millions of citizens demanding redress of longstanding grievances. There was also a vibrant “underground press” and other outlets for disseminating information when the mainstream media didn’t. It was Dispatch News that exposed the My Lai massacre and Ramparts that revealed CIA penetration of student groups.
Yet, while this progress toward a more perfect union made undeniable headway in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the changes also bred resentment.
In the South and in many white areas of the North.
The demand for racial justice was viewed as infringing on traditions of white preference and superiority. Many men objected to the women’s movement, too. Meanwhile, social conservatives hated the “counter-culture” and the sexual revolution.
As early as the 1950s, the pushback from the Right was evident in calls for the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren and the physical assaults on blacks seeking to integrate schools, lunch counters and other public institutions. White segregationists denounced the press as “liberal” for its coverage of the civil rights struggle. The federal government was viewed as infringing on states’ rights.
The resistance grew in the 1960s as Alabama Gov. George Wallace and other right-wingers rallied blue-collar whites against “hippies,” feminists, “uppity” blacks, academics, environmentalists and “unpatriotic” journalists. These Americans saw their traditional way of life under siege, and they were backed by wealthy businessmen who worried that their dominance of the economy might be threatened.
Though the Right decried the national press corps as “liberal,” it actually was run by businessmen who were mostly conservative and protective of the establishment. Many top news executives chafed against the era’s progressivism and the anti-establishment tone of reporters as much as other businessmen did.
By the 1970s, the American Great Backlash was gaining strength. Well-placed conservatives, such as Lewis Powell (who later became a Supreme Court justice) and William Simon (who was Nixon’s Treasury Secretary), were calling for massive investments in a right-wing infrastructure of media, think tanks and attack groups to reverse the nation’s progressive trends.
Simultaneously, as the Vietnam War was winding down, the Left largely dismantled its own media infrastructure that had become a powerful grassroots force in the 1960s and early 1970s but was deemed too expensive.
In a short time, the vibrant “underground press” of the Vietnam era disappeared; flagship publications, like Ramparts and Dispatch News, were closed; popular radio outlets, like WBCN in Boston, were bought up by media conglomerates; key liberal outlets, like The New Republic, fell into the hands of neoconservatives.
Much of the Left bought into the notions that media was not essential; that working inside the Washington system was corrupting; and that “local organizing” was the key to the future. Other leftists fell victim to the vanity of perfectionism, putting their own political purity ahead of any practical idea for improving the lives of average citizens.