ROBERT PARRY WINS 2017 MARTHA
GELLHORN PRIZE FOR JOURNALISM
John Pilger made the following remarks in presenting
the 15th Martha Gellhorn Prize to the American
journalist Robert Parry at a dinner in London on 27
There are too many awards for journalism. Too many
simply celebrate the status quo. The idea that
journalists ought to challenge the status quo – what
Orwell called Newspeak and Robert Parry calls
‘groupthink’ – is becoming increasingly rare.
More than a generation ago, a space opened up for a
journalism that dissented from the groupthink and
flourished briefly and often tenuously in the press and
broadcasting. Today, that space has almost closed in the
so-called mainstream media. The best journalists have
become – often against their will – dissidents.
The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism recognises
these honourable exceptions. It is very different from
other prizes. Let me quote in full why we give this
‘The Gellhorn Prize is in honour of one of the 20th
century’s greatest reporters. It is awarded to a
journalist whose work has penetrated the established
version of events and told an unpalatable truth – a
truth validated by powerful facts that expose what
Martha Gellhorn called “official drivel”. She meant
Martha was renowned as a war reporter. Her dispatches
from Spain in the 1930s and D-Day in 1944 are classics.
But she was more than that. As both a reporter and a
committed humanitarian, she was a pioneer: one of the
first in Vietnam to report what she called ‘a new kind
of war against civilians’: a precursor to the wars of
She was the reason I was sent to Vietnam as a reporter.
My editor had spread across his desk her articles that
had run in the Guardian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
A headline read, ‘Targeting the people.’ For that
series, she was placed on a black-list by the US
military and never allowed to return to South Vietnam.
She and I became good friends. Indeed, all my fellow
judges of the Martha Gellhorn Prize – Sandy and Shirlee
Matthews, James Fox, Jeremy Harding – have that in
common. We keep her memory.
She was indefatigable. She would call very early in the
morning and open up the conversation with one of her
favourite expressions – ‘I smell a rat’.
When, in 1990, President George Bush Senior invaded
Panama on the pretext of nabbing his old CIA buddy
General Noriega, the embedded media made almost no
mention of civilian suffering.
My phone rang. ‘I smell a rat’, said a familiar voice.
Within 24 hours Martha was on a plane to Panama. She was
then in her 80s. She went straight to the barrios of
Panama City, and walked from door to door, interviewing
ordinary people. That was the way she worked – in
apartheid South Africa, in the favelas of Brazil, in the
villages of Vietnam.
She estimated that the American bombing and invasion of
Panama had killed at least 6,000 people.
She flew to Washington and stood up at a press
conference at the Pentagon and asked a general: ‘Why did
you kill so many people then lie about it?’
Imagine that question being asked today. And that
is what we are honouring this evening. Truth-telling,
and the courage to find out, to ask the forbidden
Robert Parry is a very distinguished honourable
I first heard of Bob Parry in the 1980s when he broke
the Iran-Contra scandal as an Associated Press reporter.
This was a story as important as Watergate. Some would
say it was more important.
The administration of Ronald Reagan had secretly and
illegally sold weapons to Iran in order to secretly and
illegally bankroll a bloodthirsty group known as the
Contras, which was then trying to crush Nicaragua’s
Sandinista government – on behalf of the CIA. You could
barely make it up.
Bob Parry’s career has been devoted to finding out,
lifting rocks – and supporting others who do the same.
In the 1990s, he supported Gary Webb, who revealed that
the Reagan administration had allowed the Contras to
traffic cocaine in the US. For this, Webb was crucified
by the so-called mainstream media, and took his own
Lifting the big rocks can be as dangerous as a
In 1995, Parry founded his own news service, the
Consortium for Independent Journalism. But, really,
there was just him. Today, his website consortiumnews.com
reflects the authority and dissidence that marks Parry’s
What he does is make sense of the news – why Saudi
Arabia should be held accountable; why the invasion of
Libya was a folly and a crime; why the New York Times is
an apologist for great power; why Hillary Clinton and
Donald Trump have much in common; why Russia is not our
enemy; why history is critical to understanding.
For his journalism, Robert Parry is the winner of the
2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize. He joins the likes of Robert
Fisk, Iona Craig, Patrick Cockburn, Mohammed Omer, Dahr
Jamail, Marie Colvin, Julian Assange, Gareth Porter and
other honourable exceptions.