I know and like Peter Baker. He is a top journalist for The New York Times.
He is a consummate professional, yet Mr. Baker missed the mark recently in a piece about the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis and the Ronald Reagan for president campaign. Mr. Baker seemingly has a theory in search of the facts.
The 1980 campaign has been pawed over and over for 40 years.
Some on the left still can’t buy the notion that this "Grade B movie actor" Ronald Reagan trounced the Georgia peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, in a landslide.
They tried the lie that the Reagan campaign stole the "Carter Briefing Books."
That is, until I proved, in my book on the 1980 campaign, "Rendezvous With Destiny," that the "Carter Briefing Books" were actually stolen by an aide to Mass. Sen. Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy.
Mr. Baker wrote a single sourced article quite recently about a non-event of over 40 years ago spun by a notoriously uneven man. Those in politics have known Ben Barnes, former Texas Democratic official, is capable of tall tales.
One knowledgeable source said Barnes has been "influence peddling . . . for years."
Barnes is the main protagonist in Mr. Baker’s yarn.
Barnes boasted some years ago that he helped get George W. Bush in the Air National Guard in order to avoid the draft.
However, the story proved empty — a fabrication that cost news anchor Dan Rather his job, if not his credibility, at CBS.
Barnes was later a fundraiser for John Kerry, which it can be said, proves his political leanings.
In 1971 Barnes was involved in a scandal in the state of Texas. None of the particulars of which he remembers, yet he supposedly remembers every detail of this Iranian event.
Barnes has never been a Republican but others doubting the validity of this story are also Democrats; also, the Republican and Democratic Party lawyers serving on a lengthy investigative task force investigating the hostage crisis said that this event involving Barnes and former Texas governor John Connally never crossed their "radar screen."
And they wrote a nearly 1,000 report on the whole matter.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that William "Bill" Casey, serving as Reagan’s campaign manager asked Connally to travel to five Mideastern countries in the summer of 1980 to ask them to tell the Ayatollah of Iran to keep the American hostages he was holding as a means of defeating Jimmy Carter in the campaign.
Isn’t it also convenient that everybody directly associated with this fable is dead?
And Barnes provided no contemporaneous notes, or documentary evidence.
By the way, Connally was at the Detroit Republican Convention in the summer of 1980, delivering a speech lauding Reagan’s candidacy.
And, if the Reagan campaign somehow convinced the ayatollah to keep the American hostages long enough to influence the election, why then wait until the inauguration, three months later?
Why not release them immediately after Reagan’s victory?
The unpleasant answer is the Iranians kept the hostages as long as possible to keep Carter twisting in the wind.
Everyone this writer interviewed for my book said the Iranians just plain didn’t respect Jimmy Carter.
I worked on the 1980 campaign, but in a different way.
I ran the old Fund for a Conservative Majority’s independent expenditure effort on Reagan’s behalf in the 1980 primaries.
It was heady stuff for a then 24-year-old kid, but that was politics.
I knew many of the folks with the official Reagan campaign and never, ever heard this story.
Moreover, I interviewed Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and our chargé d'affaires in Iran, L. Bruce Laingen for my book on the 1980 campaign and they never told me of such an event.
But Laingen did tell me the Iranians were terrified that a President Reagan would send the Marines in to Iran to liberate the captives.
Laingen was of course one of the American hostages.
If anyone would know about such a farcical plot, he would.
Yet, he said nothing about it.
The story goes that former Texas governor John Connally (who was in the limo with JFK when he was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963) was travelling in the Mideast in the summer of 1980 with Barnes, when they somehow delivered a bankshot message to the ayatollah via five Mideastern countries that the Iranians could get a better deal from Reagan than from Carter as long as the delayed the hostages release.
But if Connally and Barnes encouraged five Mideastern leaders to push Iran into holding the American hostages, then why in 44 years has not one of those with whom they met has ever corroborated the story?
No one has ever come forward.
Furthermore, the story alleges that Connally was angling for a position in the Reagan administration; again, there is no evidence of such and he did not receive an appointment.
John Connally’s own son denies the story and says it does not sound like his father, but that's buried deep in Mr. Baker’s story.
Finally, would any campaign operative actually be so monstrous as to try to have over 50 American hostages held captive; beaten, starved, tortured, their lives threatened just to win an election?
While this writer has an arguably notoriously low opinion of campaign consultants, he would not charge such calumnies.
Reagan won a 44-state landslide over Carter in 1980 for a variety of reasons: inflation, unemployment national malaise, the Iranian hostage crisis, Soviet advances.
That litany of disasters all boiled-down to Carter’s failures, culminating in nationwide fatigue.
Americans thus rejected the catastrophe of liberalism and embraced Reagan’s new direction for the country. A direction firmly rooted in a can-do optimism, wrapped in a sense of unwavering hope.
Casting factless aspersions and rewriting history 40-some years later is not the way to define Carter’s loss.
It was the triumph over a failed ideology and failed president.
The sooner the misty-eyed left faces those facts, the better it will be for the rest of us.
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian having written six books on Reagan. He's also written The New York Times bestseller, "December, 1941" and just published the companion book, "April, 1945" to wide acclaim. He's also the author of the book "Mary Ball Washington," which won the People’s Choice Award from the Library of Virginia. His book on the 1980 presidential campaign, "Rendezvous with Destiny" was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the five best campaign books of all time. Read Craig Shirley's Reports — More Here.
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