THE PASSION OF GARY WEBB. The accounts of investigative reporter Gary Webb's suicide over the weekend are as conventional as you can get. Typical is the lead in today's Los Angeles Times:
Gary Webb, an investigative reporter who wrote a widely criticized series linking the CIA to the explosion of crack cocaine in Los Angeles, was found dead in his Sacramento-area home Friday. He apparently killed himself, authorities said.
Webb's three-part series on the connection between the CIA, the Nicaraguan contras, and crack was a sensation when it was published in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996. It was also one of the first big breakthroughs in Internet journalism: the Mercury put it all online, and people around the country logged on to learn about how the CIA - at the very least - looked the other way while right-wing death squads financed their US-supported rampages by selling drugs.
Sadly for Webb, the Mercury lacked the courage of its reporter's convictions. And after the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times published long pieces debunking Webb's reporting, Webb was thrown overboard. Webb's reporting wasn't perfect, but his series, "Dark Alliance," was full of valuable information - information that the mainstream media had been notably lax in reporting during the preceding decade.
Norman Solomon's 1997 overview for Extra!, published by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, is a useful corrective. As Solomon observes, the debunkers relied to a large extent on unnamed CIA sources. Senator John Kerry, who headed an investigation into contra drug-running in the late 1980s, was also mocked by some of these same dubious characters.
In recent years Webb kicked around, even doing some work with Al Giordano at NarcoNews.com. Giordano has posted a Spanish-language tribute to Webb; perhaps the English version will be available soon for us monolingual ugly Americans.
Robert Parry, whose reporting for Newsweek and the Associated Press unearthed pieces of the contra/CIA/crack connection as well, has uploaded an overview of Webb's reporting here.
So the Mercury "lacked the courage"?? what? to print conjecture and conspiracy theories? What's next Dan? Are you going to note the passing of every author who penned some novel about the Sasquatch?
Well, the CIA confirmed core parts of Webb's story in, um, 1998:
I recognize that the CIA chose to deny the findings of its own Inspector General, but you can decide which stories hold up better.
Dark Alliance had its (significant) faults, but as Dan points out, in his basic claims Gary Webb was right. Not only right, but uncontroversially right. It is a shame only conspiracy theorists will remember that.
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