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Gary Webb

February 1, 2012

drug traffickers – “…The first New York Times article on the subject (9/21/96) foreshadowed much that was to follow. Headlined “Inquiry Is Ordered Into Reports of Contra Cocaine Sales in U.S.,” the news story focused on assurances from Central Intelligence Agency director John Deutch and unnamed “former senior CIA officials” that the Mercury News assertions were groundless. “I regard these allegations with the utmost seriousness,” Deutch said. “They go to the heart and integrity of the CIA enterprise.” Not only did Deutch contend that “the agency never had any relationship” with Nicaraguan drug traffickers Oscar Danilo Blandon and Norvin Meneses–the Times also reported the reassuring news that “former senior CIA officials involved in the contra operations said this week that they had never heard of” Blandon or Meneses. None of the article’s dozen paragraphs included any suggestion that the CIA might be a dubious touchstone for veracity. The notion that the CIA’s internal probe held a key to unlocking the story’s mysteries was to be oft-repeated. Yet the uproar over the Mercury News series, written by reporter Gary Webb, continued to grow. Denials from the CIA carried little weight with much of the public, particularly African-Americans outraged by the series. Protests mounted in cities from Los Angeles to Washington, and members of the Black Congressional Caucus demanded federal investigations. October brought a fierce counterattack from the Washington Post, the New York Times and L.A. Times, all of which published lengthy news articles blasting the Mercury News series. In the process, a number of recurrent debunking themes quickly gained the status of media truisms. “Last month,” Newsweek reported in November (11/11/96), “the Merc started getting trashed — by its peers. In turn, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times poked holes in the story, exhaustively and mercilessly…” (Snow Job. The Establishment’s Papers Do Damage Control for the CIA)

digging and risk – “…As he began research on the story, Gary Webb didn’t know what was at risk. When he first spoke with Bob Parry–the Associated Press reporter who, along with Brian Barger, broke the Contragate and Contra/drug stories–Webb thought Parry was being “overly cautious.” “I thought he was being kind of foolish,” Webb recalled, when Parry asked him: “Are you sure you want to ruin your career?” Webb kept digging. In the weeks that followed the series’ initial publication, the Mercury News defended it. But after what Webb describes as the “Los Angeles Times/New York Times double-whammy”–the two papers, along with the Washington Post, ran articles furiously attacking the series–the Mercury News began a slow but steady backstep. By January 1997, when Webb turned in follow-up stories, none of his editors called to edit them. “It was just total silence,” he said. By March, Webb was told that the paper was going to write a letter to readers about the series. On May 11, 1997, the Mercury News published an editorial written by executive editor Jerry Ceppos which characterized the series as “important work” and “solidly documented,” but outlined several aspects of the series in which the paper should have done a better job in presenting the “gray areas…” (‘Are You Sure You Want to Ruin Your Career?’)

historic gift – “…To this day, no editor or reporter who missed the Contra-drug story has been punished for his or her negligence. Indeed, many of them are now top executives at their news organizations. On the other hand, Gary Webb’s career never recovered. At Webb’s death, however, it should be noted that his great gift to American history was that he—along with angry African-American citizens—forced the government to admit some of the worst crimes ever condoned by any American administration: the protection of drug smuggling into the United States as part of a covert war against a country, Nicaragua, that represented no real threat to Americans. The truth was ugly. Certainly the major news organizations would have come under criticism themselves if they had done their job and laid out this troubling story to the American people. Conservative defenders of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush would have been sure to howl in protest. But the real tragedy of Webb’s historic gift—and of his life cut short—is that because of the major news media’s callowness and cowardice, this dark chapter of the Reagan/Bush era remains largely unknown to the American people.” (America’s Debt to Gary Webb. Punished for reporting the truth while those who covered it up thrived)

Gary Webb exposed, in his Dark Alliance series, how CIA-led Nicaraguan rebels brought cocaine to poor L.A. neighborhoods in the early ’80s–and started the crack epidemic. Profits earned from this crack market allowed the Los Angeles-based Crips & bloods to expand into other cities and spread crack use to other black urban areas, turning a bad local problem into a bad national problem. The San Francisco Bay Area drug ring then funnelled profits to the Contras for the better part of a decade. The series traced the drugs to dealers Danilo Blandon and Ricky Ross, leaders of a CIA-run guerrilla army that terrorised Nicaragua for 10 years. The milestone in exposing government drug dealing which ended his career as a mainstream media journalist, and his life. “Authentic journalism is telling people something that the government doesn’t want them to know.” – Gary Webb (Whale)

Gary Webb (August 31, 1955 – December 10, 2004) was a Pulitzer prize-winning American investigative journalist. Webb was best known for his 1996 “Dark Alliance” series of articles written for the San Jose Mercury News & later published as a book. In the three-part series, Webb investigated Nicaraguans linked to the CIA-backed Contras who had allegedly smuggled cocaine into the U.S. Their smuggled cocaine was distributed as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, with the profits funneled back to the Contras. Webb also alleged that this influx of Nicaraguan-supplied cocaine sparked, & significantly fueled, the widespread crack cocaine epidemic that swept through many U.S. cities during the 1980s. According to Webb, the CIA was aware of the cocaine transactions and the large shipments of drugs into the U.S. by Contra personnel. Webb charged that the Reagan administration shielded inner-city drug dealers from prosecution in order to raise money for the Contras, especially after Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which prohibited direct Contra funding. Webb’s reporting generated fierce controversy, & the San Jose Mercury News backed away from the story, effectively ending Webb’s career as a mainstream media journalist. In 2004, Webb was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the head, which the coroner’s office judged a suicide. Though he was criticized & outcast from the mainstream journalism community, his reportage was eventually vindicated as many of his findings have since been validated: since Webb’s death, both the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune have defended his “Dark Alliance” series. Journalist George Sanchez states that “the CIA’s internal investigation by Inspector General Frederick Hitz vindicated much of Gary’s reporting” and observes that despite the campaign against Webb, “the government eventually admitted to more than Gary had initially reported” over the years (Wikepedia).


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