Congressional leaders should be thankful. They have been handed an opportunity to avoid looking silly. Two national magazines have shot down a crazy rumor that Congress has been preparing to investigate.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that the leadership will have the good sense to call off the investigation.
The crazy rumor has to do with what some people call the October surprise. The allegation is that emissaries of the Reagan presidential campaign in 1980 conspired with Iran to keep American hostages in captivity. The alleged purpose was to hurt Jimmy Carter's re-election chances by keeping the embassy hostage crisis going until after the election.
Newsweek and The New Republic investigated the rumor. Their findings leave little to be done by congressional investigators.
Newsweek said: `Newsweek has found, after a long investigation, including interviews with government officials and other knowledgeable sources around the world, that the key claims of the purported eyewitnesses and accusers simply do not hold up. What the evidence does show is the murky history of a conspiracy theory run wild.'
The New Republic said: `The conspiracy as currently postulated is a total fabrication. None of the evidence cited to support the October surprise stands up to scrutiny. The keys sources on whose word the story rests are documented frauds and impostors . . . they have concocted allegations that are demonstrably false, and their stories, full of internal inconsistencies, are also contradictory.'
Secret Service logs and campaign schedules show indisputably that George Bush did not attend secret 1980 meetings in Paris, as former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr once alleged. Evidence of such meetings is lacking. Bani-Sadr has distanced himself from his earlier stories.
Further evidence shows that William Casey, the Reagan campaign manager who later became CIA director, could not have been in Madrid when he would have had to have been there if the October surprise story were true.
One man who identified himself as a go-between was discredited when someone looked at the man's credit cards and diaries and determined that he could not have seen what he claimed to have seen. Senate investigators said that `nothing he said was the truth--he had made it up based on what he had read in the newspaper and what he was told.'
Nonetheless, the man became one of the sources of Gary Sick, a former Carter administration official whose article in The New York Times this year revived the interest of conspiracy theorists, some members of the press and some members of Congress.
Another self-described witness failed a lie-detector test. Still another was convicted of perjury. And a number of others told stories that collapsed when seriously questioned.
`By any measure of honest reporting, the October surprise conspiracy should have died long ago,' The New Republic writers said.
One of the more disturbing revelations came in the Newsweek story. The magazine, in trying to trace the rumors back to their origins, encountered the tracks of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche.
The LaRouche organization, which uses bizarre conspiracy theories to frighten gullible people and solicit funds, published a story in 1980 alleging that Henry Kissinger had tried to make a secret deal with Iran. The LaRouche people gave the story, without the Kissinger angle, another push in 1983 when almost no one else was talking about an October surprise.
Eventually the rumors worked their way into other publications, and the likes of Bani-Sadr and others began to tell ever more fanciful stories.
Some people, regrettably, are so gullible or mean-spirited that they will swallow any allegation about a public figure, no matter how cruel or improbable. The fact that such people exist places a greater duty on responsible public officials and journalists to stand up for what is true and right. Newsweek and The New Republic have done so, to their credit. The next step is up to Congress.