Gary Webb: A Journalist Who Dared

Journalist Gary Web.AlterNet ran an interesting story about Gary Webb‘s recent suicide and the events that may have led to it.

Webb was the 49-year-old former Pulitzer-winning reporter who in 1996, while working for the San Jose Mercury News, touched off a national debate with a three-part series that linked the CIA-sponsored Nicaraguan Contras to a crack-dealing epidemic in Los Angeles and other American cities.

The resulting firestorm swept the country. The CIA was quick to deny Webb’s accusations, and the L.A. Times worked quickly to fully discredit him. Webb left journalism, and never really recovered.

Recently, Webb was interviewed for a book profiling 18 journalists who found themselves discredited or censored. Let his own words be a more fitting epitaph than the hack-job L.A. Times obituary:
[quote]If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me… I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests….

And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job…. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.

And about those connections between drug dealers? Internal CIA and Justice department investigations confirmed Webb’s story, according to CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz’s testimony to Congress in 1998. It turns out that a 1982 policy exempted the CIA from reporting drug activity to the Justice department. “In short, it was the policy of the U.S. government to turn a blind eye to such connections.” At least, until people like Webb brought the matter to the public’s attention.

[update:] Webb continued to follow the story about connections between government and drug runners and, in 1999, published his findings in Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. His book tour included a stop in Eugene, Oregon. has a transcript and photos from the speech there. Though I’m not sure what Parascope is, I’m amused to find they also have a Freedom of Information Act Help Center with a fancy FOIA Request-o-Matic.