Briefly: In 1991, PBS’ Frontline ran an investigation making a strong case that top Reagan officials cut a secret deal with Ayatollah Khomeini’s agents during the 1980 election campaign, in which the Iranians promised to help Reagan defeat Carter by holding on to the American hostages until after the elections, and in return, the Reagan Administration would arrange secret arms shipments to Khomeini for his war with Iraq. Carter was unable to work out a deal with Iran; Reagan won the election; and the hostages were freed during his inauguration ceremony; and the secret arms shipments to Khomeini became the Iran-Contra Scandal.
By late 1991, the evidence of an October Surprise was so great that a Congressional committee was formed to investigate. That’s when 28-year-old Andrew Sullivan hired Steve Emerson — recently named one of America’s five most influential promoters of Islamophobic hate propaganda, cited twice by Anders Breivak in his manifesto — to “debunk” the reporting on the October Surprise with a cover story headlined “What October Surprise?” that relied on invented evidence later exposed as fake and disowned even by Emerson.
Despite the fact that Emerson’s hit piece was later exposed as based on fraud — or, as Emerson claimed, a mistake he blamed on his research assistant — nevertheless, Emerson’s hit-piece remained out on the market long enough to succeed in its goal of smearing one of the great journalism scoops of the past few decades, scaring away everyone from Congressmen to journalists from seriously pursuing it any further.