|12.08.2006, 03:44 PM||#1|
invito al cielo
Join Date: Oct 2006
In August 1996, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Gary Webb broke a story in the San Jose Mercury News that not only sent shock waves through Los Angeles, but eventually through the entire newspaper industry. His cover feature series, “Dark Alliance,” was a groundbreaking exposé on connections between the CIA, the Nicaraguan contras, and L.A.’s crack cocaine explosion in the early 1980s. In the articles, Webb detailed how the CIA looked the other way (at the very least) while cocaine was imported to L.A. in order to raise money to fund the contras – U.S.-backed paramilitary forces working to unseat the leftist government there. It was a dangerous story, and Webb expected to get stiff resistance from the government. What he never anticipated, however, was a barrage of attacks by the mainstream media, unprecedented in its ferocity, not only on “Dark Alliance” but on his career and character. Within a year, one of the country’s top journalists found himself out of a job, with his reputation in ruins. On December 10, 2004, Webb committed suicide.
In the new book, Kill the Messenger, journalist Nick Schou explores Webb’s career, “Dark Alliance,” and its aftermath. Schou, a reporter with the O.C. Weekly, also picks up where Webb left off, and through his own investigation finds a clear link between the CIA and L.A.’s drug rings. Despite the fierce criticism Webb received from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, Schou asserts “all the reporting that Gary did has held up … . This is a very tragic, unique story in investigative journalism. There’s never been a case where a story has been attacked so widely without being really discredited.” –Jade Werner
CityBeat: Why do you think three of the country’s largest newspapers were so determined to kill Gary Webb’s story? Nick Schou: Gary wasn’t the first reporter to write about the connection between the CIA, the contras, and the drug problem in the U.S. A lot of reporters had tried to write about that back in the 1980s, but the three main newspapers really didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the story. Gary’s story was the first real solid evidence, and when people read this article, there was huge outrage. All three papers realized that they couldn’t just ignore this story any longer. So they did two things: First, they tried to act like this was old news; and second, they really went after the reaction that the story caused. Many people who read the story took Gary’s reporting further than he did, and claimed that the CIA had deliberately sparked the crack cocaine epidemic. So instead of actually trying to investigate the merits of Gary’s work [the three major newspapers] sought to universally debunk this notion that he had never even believed: that the CIA had intentionally tried to addict people to drugs.
What were the problems with “Dark Alliance”? What parts ultimately did turn out to be true?
The main problem with “Dark Alliance” was the lead paragraph, which ended up being misleading in that it implied that the CIA sparked the crack cocaine epidemic, and that’s something that may or may not be true. That was the one serious flaw, but all the facts of the story were essentially correct. After Gary had already left journalism, and after these big newspapers “discredited” his report, the CIA admitted they had lied for years about their knowledge and involvement with drug smugglers. Actually, it was interesting to talk to Leo Wolinsky, who is now the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times and was in charge of the paper’s overall response to “Dark Alliance.” He told me that in some ways, Gary got too much of the blame. He said, in fact, that the Los Angeles Times would have actually published Gary’s story but would have done a better job editing it.
A lot of Webb’s reporting would be about the cocaine flow into L.A. Did the Los Angeles Times devote any resources to checking this out?
As far as resources, the Los Angeles Times had about 20 reporters looking into every figure that was alleged to be in this drug ring, and they wrote a big story that there was no evidence that any of these people had any ties to the CIA. However, the same time the Los Angeles Times did that, I was able to on my own find evidence that this ex-Orange County cop, Ronald Lister – who was the money launderer for the drug ring, who gave them weapons and police scanners – was running off to El Salvador and pitching security deals to the death squads and to the military regime down there at the same time he was helping these drug rings. In retrospect, I think the Los Angeles Times could have done more. I got a couple of the reporters who attacked “Dark Alliance” to admit that when they were told by these anonymous sources of theirs that the CIA had nothing to do with this, they were a little bit [too] credulous. Just because anonymous government officials tell you something doesn’t make it true. It’s ironic that these same papers went on to publish huge stories about the weapons of mass destruction that they were being told Iraq possessed, which obviously turned out not to be the case.
You have a quote in Kill the Messenger about how Webb was subjected not to a straight censorship as we understand it, but a censorship of over-information, that there was too much media noise. That’s Paul Moreira, who’s a French filmmaker. When the CIA released this groundbreaking report – that, by the way, would never have come out without the “Dark Alliance” controversy – it should have been front-page news in every major newspaper, not just in this country but around the world. The CIA had always denied that it had anything to do with the drug problem in the 1980s, so when they finally turned around and admitted that they had lied about this, the fact that it wasn’t front-page news is a major scandal in and of itself. What Paul Moreira meant by “media noise” was all this focus on something relatively silly and banal involving Bill Clinton, an intern, and a dress that was eating up front-page headlines for months while more serious stories like the CIA admission were completely ignored. He raises a valuable point: that censorship isn’t so much a problem in a democratic society as the pack mentality and journalistic laziness.
Were there any other newspapers, other than the O.C. Weekly, that picked up where Webb left off and investigated the story further? Not really, no. I wish I could say that there were. Gary had his defenders in the alternative press who helped to expose the hypocrisy of the attacks against his work, but most stopped short of really doing the follow-up that was required for a story like this.
What have been the repercussions of Webb’s life and career on journalism? It’s hard to say. To some extent, the press is doing a much better job now, and is covering the government in kind of an adversarial way, the way they should. But still, the media has a lot of explaining to do. Many people just don’t trust the media, and I think what happened with “Dark Alliance” really destroyed public trust to a certain extent. The papers that attacked Gary’s article really didn’t do their readers a service. There were flaws in the story, and it’s fair to point those out, but the way they went after Gary Webb as a person and a reporter was completely unprecedented and uncalled-for. And then, to do so on the basis of secret sources – obviously, they didn’t learn their lesson about that given what they later reported in the build-up to the Iraq war.
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|12.08.2006, 03:51 PM||#4|
invito al cielo
Join Date: Mar 2006
This shit is still going on today, by the way, and on a far greater level than this author or any other on the subject has been able to document.
We're dealing with a product that has a 17,000 percent mark-up, people.
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