by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

On April 15, 1991, Gary Sick, a former Carter administration staffer and now professor at Columbia University, gave added credibility to the “October Surprise” theory with a 2,000-word op-ed piece in The New York Times. In brief, the “October Surprise” thesis suggests that 1980 Reagan/Bush campaign officials cut a deal with Iranian revolutionaries to delay the release of the 52 hostages until after Reagan’s inauguration.

For two and a half weeks, President Bush didn’t respond to the charges -and the White House press corps didn’t ask him about them. The first official administration response came in the form of a Marlin Fitzwater one-liner: he called Sick “the Kitty Kelley of foreign policy.”

The day Sick’s piece appeared in the Times, listing dates and participants in suspected meetings between campaign staffers and Iranian clerics, none of the network evening newscasts even mentioned the story. The New York Times ran a page 10 story the day of Sick’s op-ed piece but didn’t return to the issue until two weeks later, with another page 10 piece. The first report in The Washtngton Post, a five-paragraph Reuters story, ran eleven days after Sick’s op-ed piece. And over the next three months, Time and Newsweek dealt with the October Surprise one time each: Newsweek in a page 28 story in the  April 29 issue, Time on pages 24 and 25 of the July 1 issue.

Between mid-April, when Sick’s piece appeared and early August, when Speaker of the House Thomas Foley announced his decision to move ahead with a full-scale inquiry, there were a number of newsworthy developments that were reported by the wire services and picked up by alternative papers but missed altogether by the major media. When the story does appear, the key questions not only go unanswered, they go unasked. And this is a story that could make the Watergate scandal look like a third-rate burglary.

Finally, back to Fitzwater’s Kitty Kelley analogy.

When Kelley’s book was released on April 8, all three network evening newscasts ran a reporter story. The local news shows and tabloids went wild. Both Time and Newsweek ran Kitty Kelley cover stories. And The New York Times scooped everyone with a Sunday front-page article outlining Kelley’s assertions about Nancy Reagan’s fabricated childhood and her private lunches with Frank Sinatra. And there were follow-up stories and analysis-of-the-Kitty­-Kelley-hype stories.

Within days every marginally conscious American knew about Kitty Kelley and her charges about Nancy Reagan; but even now, few know about Gary Sick and the essence of his allegations about the Republican campaign in 1980.


SOURCE: COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, 700 Journalism Bldg., Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, DATE: September/October 1991

TITLE: ‘Who Will Unwrap the October Surprise?

AUTHOR: Julie Cohen

COMMENTS: The “October Surprise” story originally was one of the top 25 censored stories of 1987. Based on articles in L.A. Weekly and The Nation, the story revealed reports that Reagan’s campaign staff had conspired with Iranians to delay the release of the 52 hostages until after the election. As noted in the synopsis of Julie Cohen’s story in the Columbia Journalism Review, the mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to the story until Gary Sick’s op-ed article appeared in The New York Times. Even then, the subsequent coverage was minimal.

Cohen noted there had been interesting developments since her article appeared last September. Last fall, “both houses of Congress started, then cut­off investigations into the October Surprise. Some of the goings-on were pretty dramatic (like when Senate Republicans walked out in the middle of a public hearing) but you wouldn’t have known about it from the major media.”

Craig McLaughlin, an investigative journalist with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, cited the journalists who had kept the “October Surprise” issue alive through the years (Bay Guardian, 8/28/91).

Noting the brief flurry of interest by the establishment media after Sick’s op-ed article appeared, McLaughlin said that “But by and large, the scandal has been kept alive through the efforts of a handful of journalists working for the alternative press” including: Joel Bleifuss, In These Times; David Corn, Washington reporter, The Nation; Christopher Hitchens, Minority Report columnist, The Nation; Doug Ireland, Press Clips columnist, Village Voice; Curtis Lang, Dan Bischoff, and other reporters, Village Voice; Frank Snepp, former CIA agent turned national security reporter; Robert Morris, Creative Loafing, of Atlanta; and Martin Killian, of Der Spiegel, and Robert Parry, then of Newsweek, both of whom worked with Gary Sick.

McLaughlin also noted two additional sources for those interested in obtaining more detailed information about the October Surprise:

The Fund for Constitutional Government

121 Constitution Avenue, NE

Washington, DC, 20002


The Data Center

464 19th Street

Oakland, CA, 94612


The Fund for Constitutional Government will send you a packet of information about “October Surprise” for $10; The Data Center has extensive files on the subject available to members ($35 annual membership fee).