Gary Webb

December 2004


Investigative reporter Gary Webb, who Linked the CIA to Crack Sales, found dead of apparent suicide.

Many readers may recall the crusading journalist Gary Webb, the man who broke the astounding story in the mid-1990s about the CIA involvement in the US cocaine trade. His book, "Dark Alliance," and his Pulitzer Prize winning pieces for the San Jose Mercury News stirred up considerable controversy within the press establishment. Most "responsible" journalists accused him of being a "conspiracy theorist" and he was effectively banned from participation in the mainstream media. This professional shunning occurred despite the quiet admissions by CIA operations staff before Congressional hearings (and elsewhere) that the majority of Gary Webb's allegations were true.

The crime here is not that a journalist should have broken an unpopular and dangerous story -- that is supposed to happen, it is one of the principal reasons for supporting a "free and vigorous press." Neither is the crime that this story was loudly denounced by government officials as bunk, and then much later and much more quietly admitted to -- that happens all the time, too. What is the crime here is that the professional life of a dedicated reporter was ruined by the very liars he denounced (and by collaborators within the press), totally without comment.

If you believe the picture-book representations of our glorious, liberty-loving free press, then you might be tempted to conclude that anyone who broke a story about government wrong-doing would earn a place as a valued and esteemed member of a proud profession. Let's get this straight: for any agency of our government to manage the importation and sale of cocaine to inner-city youth qualifies as "wrong-doing," right? Most of his facts and many of his conclusions were later (much later) admitted to by officials of the agency Gary Webb denounced, right? So, where is the problem here? What was his crime?

Gary Webb's crime was to stray too far into reality. He committed the unpalatable and unforgivable sin of telling us the whole truth about something we were not supposed to even suspect might happen. Instead of doing another piece about loose-moraled, corrupt (black) athletes doing drugs, instead of doing another piece about the tough beat cops wrestling with heavily armed (black/hispanic) gangs running the drug trade, Gary Webb broke a different kind of story. He broke a story that challenged some of the carefully cultivated myths we hold about our government and the people who work within our national security establishment. He wrote an article that challenged us to take a critical look at our government and what it does.

That is not "responsible" journalism. In most countries of the world, particularly those in which we have supported "stable" regimes, a reporter who sought to get such a story published would just be killed outright. Certainly, in those countries, the story would never see the light of day in any "legitimate" publication.

But this is America, and the story was published by a respected and legitimate news organization. The response is telling. The corporate-owned, big-media conglomerates ignored the story for as long as they could, and then they ridiculed it. When it turned out to be true, they reported the facts on page 14 and quietly moved to make sure that Mr. Webb no longer transgressed. When Mr. Webb was fired from his job he got a prestigious journalism award. Mr. Webb was silently blacklisted from the legitimate press. In the end, he apparently committed suicide.

There will be some people who will question that his death was a suicide. Certainly the CIA has a long history of killing people and then getting coroners to rule their deaths to be suicides, but it is scarcely better for the powerful elite to have driven a man to suicide than it is for them to kill him and call it such. I can certainly understand his reasons for despair. To find yourself arrayed against Orwellian forces is reason enough for suicide, but when they win against all your own best effort and conviction...

We're all victims here. Mr. Webb is dead. Every community in which a child dies needlessly from cocaine or because of cocaine holds victims. We suffer, but the guilty ones who have perpetrated these crimes against us and against our children prosper and not a single one (to my knowledge) has been convicted of any crime. The story about CIA involvement in drug trafficking in LA has been declared a non-story, and life goes on, for most of us.

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