Thom Hartmann Unearths Long-Discredited October Surprise Crackpottery

As he was rushed into the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, a grievously wounded President Ronald Reagan prayed for John Hinckley, the man who had just tried to kill him.

"He was a mixed-up young man from a fine family," Reagan wrote in his memoirs, "An American Life." "That day, I asked the Lord to heal him, and to this day, I still do." (Audio after the jump)

Though he's been gone nearly a decade, Reagan is still a frequent target of character assassins on the left, such as radio host and writer Thom Hartmann. No doubt Reagan would forgive him too.

Hartmann, ranked number 10 in the Talkers Magazine Top 100 annual rankings of radio talk show hosts, right behind fellow liberals Ed Schultz and Joe Madison, dragged out a conspiracy theory so moldy and moth-eaten that I couldn't remember the last time I actually heard a left-winger bloviate about it.

Hartmann on March 13 was talking with a caller who blamed baby boomers for the nation's ills, leading Hartmann to dredge up a about Reagan that was discredited decades ago (audio) --

So, I mean, you can blame an entire generation for something, if you want. But it wasn't an entire generation that said yes to what Ronald Reagan was doing. It was, it was people who, you know, I mean, Reagan wouldn't have even been president if his campaign had not cut a deal with the Iranians to hold onto the hostages. If you're, I doubt, Mike, if you're blaming the boomers, you're probably not old enough to remember that, but the reality is that Jimmy Carter would have been re-elected president if it weren't for the hostages in Iran. And those hostages were held throughout the election cycle because Ronald Reagan's campaign cut a deal with the ayatollahs.

And when Bani-Sadri, President Bani-Sadri was elected in the summer of 1980 on a platform, with over 70 percent of the vote, and he wrote about this in March of last year in the Christian Science Monitor, it's still up, you can read it on their website. The president of Iran was elected on a platform of release the hostages and he went to the ayatollahs and he said, time to release the hostages and they said, you can't do that, we're already getting the military spare parts, they had just taken a delivery of tires for F15s via Israel, we're already getting this stuff from the Reagan, you know, from America. And our deal was, keep the hostages until after the election so Ronald Reagan gets elected. Reagan was elected by treason and fraud.

Wow, talk about a sore loser. Reagan was elected fair and square more than 30 years ago, Thom ... let it go ...

This is one of the times I really love Google, along with the voluminous files I've kept since I was a teenager. Sure enough, one of my manila folders is duly labeled "October Surprise." Plenty of clips there from the '80s and early '90s, not much since then -- because the theory has been thoroughly debunked.

The theory claims that top officials in Reagan 1980 campaign for president conspired with the Khomeini regime to delay release of American hostages in Iran until after the 1980 election, out of fear that the hostages getting sprung before the election would result in Jimmy Carter's re-election.

For those inclined to wade through this muck again, Daniel Pipes wrote a scathing critique of the October Surprise theory in 2004, titled "Remember Ronald Reagan's October Surprise? It Never Happened."

Pipes, historian and director of the Middle East Forum, pointed something out that never gets mentioned by left wingers in their increasingly infrequent mentions of this conspiracy theory -- that it first surfaced in a magazine published by Lyndon LaRouche -- insert laugh track here -- right after he ran for president in 1980.

LaRouche devotees aside, no one paid much attention to the theory until after the Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986, and the joint congressional committee investigating Iran-Contra dismissed the allegation of an earlier deal with Iran. "Reagan campaign aides were, in fact, approached by individuals who claimed to be Iranian emissaries about the potential release of other hostages, as were other campaign staffs," the committee's report concluded. "The committee was told that the approaches were rejected and found no credible evidence to suggest that any discussions were held or arrangements reached on delaying release of hostages or arranging an early arms-for-hostages deal."

This did little to deter conspiracy mongers, who included the late Christopher Hitchens and the aforementioned Bani-Sadr, whose memory amazingly improved with age, to the point that he alleged in an October 1988 Playboy article (co-written by, ahem, Abbie Hoffman -- yes, that Abbie Hoffman) that then-VP candidate George H.W. Bush took part in secret negotiations with Iranian officials in Paris less than three weeks before the 1980 election.

Between the sordid, deceitful cast of characters making the claims and their tendency to contradict and undermine each other while doing do, it was just a matter of time before the conspiracy fell apart, which it did when examined again in the early '90s. Among those doing the debunking were such reliably right-wing publications as Newsweek ("Making of a Myth," John Barry, Nov. 11, 1991); The New Republic ("The Conspiracy That Wasn't," Steven Emerson and Jesse Furman, Nov. 18, 1991); and The Village Voice ("October Surmise," Frank Snepp, Feb. 25, 1992; no link found).

Two more congressional inquiries also dismissed the allegations. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation stated that "by any standard, the credible evidence now known falls short of supporting the allegation of an agreement between the Reagan campaign and Iran to delay the release of the hostages." The Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union (cited by Daniel Pipes in his 2004 post) found "wholly insufficient credible evidence" that communications took place between the '80 Reagan campaign and Iran and "no credible evidence" that release of the hostages was delayed.

"Surprisingly, given that once started, conspiracy theories tend to live on indefinitely, this one did not," Pipes wrote in 2004. "Symbolic of this was that Oliver Stone decided not to make a movie on this topic." (emphasis added)

Newsweek's "Making of a Myth" story from November 1991 ended with this --

There is, finally, one tantalizing coincidence in the secret record of the hostage crisis. On July 1, or July 2, 1980, Cyrus Hashemi met with a member of the Iranian leadership at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid. He was, apparently, acting as a go-between for the Carter administration, which by then was desperately seeking some new avenue to reopen the hostage negotiations. (That meeting, Newsweek sources say, led to a last-minute diplomatic initiative by Secretary of State Edmund Muskie in September.) Within a week, according to Bani-Sadr's diaries, Bani-Sadr was told by the Ayatollah Khomeini's nephew that Iran had been approached by Reagan's men with a proposition on the hostages. Could it be that the ayatollah's nephew confused Reagan with Carter -- and that the whole notion of the October Surprise stems from that simple mistake? (emphasis added)

In the spirit of giving credit where due, I've long believed that Reagan did play a role in persuading Iranian militants to release the American hostages. All that Reagan did to compel this was to get elected -- and our people were freed within minutes of him taking office in January 1981. By then, the Iranians were keenly aware that a new sheriff was in town, one far less inclined to negotiate with outlaws for months and years and decades. Whereas it took Carter 14 months to get the hostages released, it took Reagan all of 14 minutes.
 

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts