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Unmasking October Surprise "debunker"

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In another blow to the crumbling cover-up surrounding Ronald Reagan's secret dealings with Iran during the 1980 presidential campaign, a key "journalist" who "debunked" the October Surprise allegations in the early 1990s has now been identified by a recent study as a member of a right-wing "misinformation" network.

Entitled "Fear, Inc.," the 129-page report by the Center for American Progress lists Steven Emerson as one of five "scholars" who act as "misinformation experts" to "generate the false facts and materials" that are then exploited by politicians and pundits to frighten Americans about the supposed threat posed by Muslims.

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Steven Emerson

The report offers a rare glimpse into the right-wing propaganda network that has exploited America's post-9/11 hysteria and transformed those fears into a powerful political movement to get millions of Christians and Jews to support legislation and policies that target Muslims and their communities.

But the historical significance of noting Emerson's role in this "Islamophobia network" is that he is revealed to be a propagandist willing to distort information for ideological ends, not the serious journalist that he successfully posed as during the 1980s and 1990s.

In more recent years, followers of Emerson's work have come to understand that he has very close ties to Israeli right-wingers in the Likud Party -- and that his "journalism" often has reflected their political needs and interests.

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But Emerson also had those ties in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Iran-Contra scandal -- and a precursor scandal known as the October Surprise -- threatened to expose Likud's secretive actions in helping Republicans unseat President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election and to entangle the Reagan administration in a clandestine foreign policy outside the view of the American people.

The Iran-Contra investigation exposed Israel's hand in facilitating illicit arms shipments from the Reagan administration to Iran in 1985-86. But the inquiry also unearthed evidence that those Israeli-brokered arms sales dated back years earlier -- and may have emanated from treacherous contacts between Republicans and Iranians in 1980.

In 1980, as President Carter was trying desperately to free 52 Americans who were being held hostage in Iran, Israel's Likud leaders were eager to see him defeated for reelection out of concern that he was too friendly to the Palestinians and might demand that Israel accept a Palestinian state. At the time, Likud was envisioning an expansion of Jewish settlements into that land.

Ronald Reagan's campaign, too, had an obvious interest in seeing Carter fail to gain a last-minute release of the hostages, what vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush termed Carter's possible "October Surprise" to help his chances right before the election.

The Evidence

Over the years, about two dozen sources -- including officials from Iran, Europe, Israel, the United States and the Palestinian movement -- have asserted that Reagan's representatives went behind Carter's back to strike their own deal with Iran, ensuring that the hostages were not released until after the election.

After a full year of humiliation over the hostage crisis, American voters repudiated Carter on Nov.4, 1980, giving Reagan a landslide victory. The hostages were kept in Iran until Reagan was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 1981.

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Then, after the secret Iran-Contra arms deals were exposed in 1986, it was discovered that the flow of U.S. weapons to Iran, via Israel, began not in 1985 as was then acknowledged but right after Reagan took office. However, the full story about those earlier shipments remained hidden.

It was not until the early 1990s that Iran-Contra investigators, including special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, turned their attention to these initial shipments and whether they were approved by Reagan's team before the 1980 election, as some witnesses were alleging.

In April 1991, interest in the so-called October Surprise mystery also was spurred by a New York Times op-ed written by former National Security Council aide Gary Sick and a PBS "Frontline" documentary that I helped produce. A reluctant Congress grudgingly agreed to consider authorizing special House and Senate inquiries.

There was sudden alarm among Republicans who feared the investigation would expose then-President George H.W. Bush's role in illicit dealings with Iran and thus jeopardize his reelection prospects in 1992. The inquiry also threatened to implicate Israel's Likud leaders in a plot to unseat one U.S. president (Carter) and replace him with another (Reagan).

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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