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Robert Parry, 68; reporter who exposed details of Iran-Contra affair

Photo provided by Diane Duston via Associated Press

Robert Parry.

By Sam Roberts New York Times 

NEW YORK — Robert Parry, a tenacious investigative reporter and author who exposed details of the Reagan administration’s secret support for Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980s, died on Saturday in Arlington, Va. He was 68.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, his wife, Diane Duston, said.

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Mr. Parry won the George Polk Award for national reporting in 1984 for his revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency had provided an assassination manual to the so-called Contras, the right-wing insurgents who were seeking to topple the socialist government in Nicaragua. Mr. Parry was part of an Associated Press investigative team based in Washington when he broke the story.

For that reporting, he was also named a finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

In 1985, Mr. Parry broke news of the involvement of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North, a deputy director of the National Security Council, in a covert operation to support the Contras with proceeds from clandestine arms sales to Iran. Congress had banned such support. The weapons had been sold to Iran to speed the release of American hostages in Lebanon.

In 2015, Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism awarded Mr. Parry the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. Last year, he received the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, named for a 20th-century war correspondent and presented by a trust set up in her name.

Mr. Parry complained that some articles on the Iran-Contra scandal, including those he wrote for the AP with a colleague, Brian Barger, had been watered down or even withheld because his bosses had been meeting with North to negotiate the release of Terry Anderson, an AP reporter who was being held hostage during Lebanon’s civil war. AP executives denied the accusations.

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Frustrated with the mainstream news media, in 1995 Mr. Parry established the Consortium for Independent Journalism. The organization’s website, Consortiumnews, is financed by contributions from readers.

Mr. Parry left the AP for Newsweek in 1987 and later worked on documentaries for the PBS series “Frontline.” In one, broadcast in 1991, he investigated whether Reagan, as a presidential candidate, had sabotaged the release of American hostages in Iran in 1980 to keep President Carter, his Democratic rival, from benefiting politically from their release. The hostages were freed on the day of Reagan’s inauguration.

“Those looking for a smoking gun are coming to the wrong place if they hope ‘Frontline’ will provide it,” The Boston Globe wrote in a review of the documentary. “ ‘Frontline’ does, however, provide so much circumstantial evidence that you can suspect only the worst after watching it.”

A congressional investigation discounted Mr. Parry’s version of Reagan’s role, but Mr. Parry amassed more evidence after publishing a book, “Trick or Treason” (1993), which implicated Reagan.