Journalism

Gary Webb, R.I.P.

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Gary Webb, the Pulitzer-winning reporter whose 1996 series for the San Jose Mercury News "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion" put him into a career-ruining controversy, is dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound (or wounds). I never got hot and bothered over either the original series of stories (which suffered from overstatement, the chronic ailment of hot-scoop journalism) or their subsequent debunking by the mainstream media. But "Dark Alliance" was a country mile more interesting than what you usually find in the Merc (which ungraciously didn't even bother to write its own obit), and the series' long-lost web page was an early masterpiece of melodramatic web design and promotion. Continuing in De Mortuis mode, here is a defense of Webb's journalism overall, and a defense of his "Dark Alliance" findings. Since, at a time like this, conspiracy-mongering feels less like an idle pursuit than a civic duty, you can also try here, here, here, and here.

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  1. Wounds? As in several shots? Sounds like a fucked up assasination attempt. Another lousy effort by the CIA I guess. 🙂 Trying to silence the TRUTH!!! Where’s Mulder? 🙂 **

    ** The comments above are sarcastic in nature.

  2. The other DU thread on this is here.

    This article has an interesting and perhaps prophetic quote.

    For a suicide you never heard about, try this.

  3. I had to move my car yesterday and I caught this on Air America. Chuck D and his friends were absolutely convinced that someone killed the ol’ irrelevant journalist.

  4. Tim, I’m confused by your comments here. Are you saying you never got “hot and bothered” because you _didn’t_ believe Webb, or because you _did_? I realize that those who were closely following the unraveling of the US adventure with the Contras might have already had an inkling about what Webb revealed, but, in retrospect, doesn’t it seem clear that Webb did have a real story, and a real scoop?

    I guess what bothers me is that you say his series was “overstated” but nevertheless “interesting.” But, if my memory serves, at the time Webb was being shredded the issue was whether his work was “wrong.” After the time that has passed and the various CIA statements that have been released, are you still on the fence about whether or not Webb was “right”? Put all the caveats on “right” that you want — hell, for all I know, Webb was personally a jerk — but if you believe he was right, then his treatment by the Times (various), the Post, and, of course, his own newspaper, surely must strike you as something “disgusting.” Or maybe you would prefer “distasteful.”

    I write this because, when I first head the news, I had basically the same response you post here. But after thinking about it, it seemed to me that, overstatement and all, Gary Webb was mostly right. And the fact that, six years on, the taint of the smear campaign against him made me feel mixed emotions at the notice of his suicide…Well, it kind of disgusted me.

    But maybe you disagree with me. As someone who was, I think, probably more politically aware than I was at the time, what is your opinion? Was Gary Webb right?

    Anon

  5. Yeah, I’m kinda curious about that too, anon. I don’t think I ever actually finished the book (it was pretty damn long and I was probably imbibing lots of recreational substances at that time, myself), but it was damn interesting. (Of course, I get into conspiracy theories, see ‘Behold a Pale Horse’ by Bill Cooper. 🙂

    At the same time, I never really looked into the veracity of the claims, and never read enough mainstream news to know that he was ever vilified. And I would also hazard a guess that Tim was much more politically savvy at that time than I (and still is, I’m sure), not to mention knows/knew a helluva lot more about journalism than I do/did.

  6. Waters at one point vowed to make the CIA-drug connections, fully documented by Webb, her “life’s work” if necessary.

    If leftist politicians followed through on promises like this, I’d be lot less averse to voting for them.

  7. And I would also hazard a guess that Tim was much more politically savvy at that time than I (and still is, I’m sure), not to mention knows/knew a helluva lot more about journalism than I do/did.

    Ha! Wrong on all counts! I don’t know dick about politics or journalism!

    It’s true that there was a general feeling that dealings with the Contras put the CIA in at least indirect contact with the drug trade. The problem with “Dark Alliance” is that its tone (for which Webb was responsible) and its packaging (for which the scumbag Merc was responsible) gave the impression that it was going to give a smoking gun that went well beyond this general sense. It never delivered that smoking gun, though as far as I can tell it did accurately document the stuff it did discuss. It would have been a better series if both Webb and the Merc had pitched it as a detailed history of this relationship rather than as a blowing-the-lid-off investigative breakthrough.

  8. Tim – ok, fair enough. But don’t sell yourself short on the politics and journalism…or at least don’t buy too much of my politics and journalism stock! 🙂

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