For The Nation‘s 150th Anniversary Issue, David Corn has taken a pungent stroll down memory lane, back to 1987 and the congressional investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal.
The picture painted by Corn, who had swooped into D.C. at the beginning of that year, is half-recognizable. There was no Internet, but then as now, many reporters were lazy.
Corn’s Washington correspondent predecessor, I.F. Stone, had counseled him to: “Stay to the end of any congressional hearing you attend and read everything.” He did just that, accepting handouts after many colleagues had left the chamber and reading them late into the evening:
Those papers were often treasure maps for stories untold by the hearings – journalistic gold. One document referred to [Oliver] North possibly signing up mercenaries fresh out of jail. (A committee staffer told me that a British mercenary recruited by North may have accidentally blown up a Nicaraguan hospital.) Another indicated that North and Admiral John Poindexter, who had been Reagan’s national security adviser, had plotted to sink a ship carrying weapons to Nicaragua.
I learned that the Justice Department had determined that CIA assets in Central America had committed “fraud” by using U.S. funds earmarked for humanitarian assistance to purchase weapons. High-ranking Justice Department officials monitored – and probably leaned on – a Miami-based federal investigation into Contra gunrunning. And the Customs Service had killed a federal probe of a White House–sanctioned but secret (and likely illegal) sale of high-tech speedboats to the Contras. In other words, there were sub-scandals and side scandals galore. But consumers of the major news outlets were not told any of this.
There’s also from Corn, currently Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, some insightful further examples of how he tried to avoid following the D.C. reporter pack, as well as a recollection of how an alt-weekly reporter’s legit question one day was greeted by a sneer from the New York Times end.
[Cover image via: thenation.com]