[This piece has been substantially updated since it was first posted]
I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that eighteen years after Dark Alliance was published, the release of a film about investigative journalist Gary Webb would inspire a new round of smears. Nevertheless, I am.
In my last post I stressed how the government’s own investigations largely vindicated Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series. Implicit in this, of course, is the obvious point that these investigations only took place because of his reporting. By any normal human standard, that makes him uniquely accomplished as journalists go, and you’d think our media culture might see some practical merit in unequivocally recognizing that, if only to market their own commitment to the truth while neatly compartmentalizing Contra drug trafficking as uniquely Reaganesque and Webb’s ostracism as a grievous anomaly. That Webb is still being smeared almost two decades after “Dark Alliance” on the pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post and by ‘advocacy’ simulacra like The Intercept, shows how little chance elites are willing to take in validating a bullshit-proof purchase on reality.
Of course, Webb’s story remains highly combustible because it is singularly rich in valuable lessons: that the Intelligence Community executes policy objectives without even the pretense of oversight or ethical constraints; that the Drug War clearly has never been about preventing drug abuse; that the intelligence apparatus regards poor, black Americans with the same murderous contempt it regards Nicaraguan socialists and anyone else of no use to the ruling class; and that the mainstream media is a fraud, a highly sophisticated instrument of ruling class disinformation that can shift into propaganda overdrive whenever conditions require it.
Many of the leading players in elite journalism’s own dark alliance with the CIA to destroy Webb continue to ply their trade — Walter Pincus, Howard Kurtz, Tim Weiner and Tim Golden among others –and that itself, apart from everything else, limits how much fault any socially and professionally savvy reporter can find. The system of rewards and punishment that fortifies those mens’ long careers and destroyed Webb’s now guides discussion of his legacy. Among the first to obediently tailor a Kill The Messenger tie-in to these constraints was The Intercept‘s Ryan Devereaux — discussed in my last post — and after publication of his velvet-gloved hit piece, journalists in higher places followed suit.
David Carr in The New York Times, a paper which did so much of the heavy-lifting for the CIA last time around, begins by cynically feigning amazement at the CIA/Contra scandal — “did that really happen?” — and, consistent with the recurring hack insistence on the Agency’s minor, bystander role in its own scandals and cover-ups, reduces its drug-trafficking complicity to “turning a blind eye.” He then proceeds in a vein similar to Devereaux, claiming Webb made himself “open to attack” and disparaging his “deeply flawed”, “oversold” series, his “lurid presentation”, “his willingness to draw causality based on very thin sourcing and evidence”, and his series’ “overheated” language and graphics.
Like Devereaux, Carr deftly suggests this victim-blaming is all conventional wisdom, by disobliging himself of providing evidence for any shred of it, apart from, like Devereaux, citing the original graphic accompanying Webb’s piece, which had a photo of a crack smoker superimposed on the CIA’s logo (inserted above). We know from the CIA document, “Managing a Nightmare“, that this graphic was particularly vexing to The Agency. We also know that this graphic — which simply suggests Agency complicity in the crack epidemic — is indisputably apt. Therefore, whenever you see this 18-year-old CIA complaint trotted out as if the basis for it is self-evident, know that you are in the midst of subservient hack fuckery, even if that hasn’t been plain from the lede on, as it is in Carr’s case.
Keeping to the trail blazed by Devereaux at The Intercept, Carr generously quotes people disparaging Webb’s reporting, including supporters like Kill The Messenger star Jeremy Renner and Carr’s Times colleague Tim Golden. Golden is an unrepentant veteran of the original smear campaign, noted for writing a full page hit piece constructed entirely from interviews with CIA officers, former rebels, and narcotics agents, only one of whom — Aldolfo Calero, the leader of the FDN and certainly involved in trafficking — allowed the use of his name.
“Webb made some big allegations that he didn’t back up” Golden tells Carr. “You can find some fault with the follow-up stories, but mostly what they did was to show what Webb got wrong.” Of course this is bullshit, which Carr knows, since he finally does what Devereaux didn’t do: acknowledge the CIA report that vindicated Webb’s reporting. Webb “lived long enough to know that he did not make the whole thing up”, writes Carr with contemptible, inane flippancy, before noting The Agency’s corroboration at the tail end of his piece.
For all his faults, Carr looks almost like, well, Gary Webb, compared to the Washington Post‘s assistant managing editor for investigations, Jeff Leen, writing under the brave title, “Gary Webb was no journalism hero, despite what ‘Kill the Messenger’ says.” Readers of my last post may recall that The Agency’s own report singled out The Washington Post as uniquely helpful to bringing down Webb, using a team that consulted with L. J. O’Neale, the CIA’s man at the Justice Department, and which included Walter Pincus, a reporter with ties to the intelligence apparatus going back to the fifties. By way of The Post‘s national reputation, the CIA’s report approvingly noted, it created a “firestorm of reaction against [Webb’s paper,] the San Jose Mercury News.”
Leen’s hamfisted, shamelessly dishonest piece suggests the paper’s cozy relationship with the CIA endures, eighteen years on. Near the top Leen claims “The Hollywood version of [Webb’s] story — a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media — is pure fiction.” Things go steadily downhill from there, with Lee excoriating Webb as vigorously as his colleague, CIA loyalist Walter Pincus, did eighteen years ago, finding very little fault with The Agency or the cannibalism on its behalf. Too much wading around in garbage like this is bad for the soul, so I’ll leave Leen to others, like Robert Parry, who, with Brian Barger, broke the first Contra Cocaine story, and has ardently defended “Dark Alliance” for years.
By far, the best antidote to new injections of old poison is getting the true measure of Dark Alliance and its aftermath, which is enduringly fascinating, revealing and horrifying. It also provides an instructive backdrop to the pernicious clowning of the Celebrity Left. The difference between Webb’s courageous interrogation of racism and power and the exhausting banality of Greenwald’s one-note showboating, the careerist narcissism of Weevgate, and the bad faith of David Graeber’s anarcho-imperialism could not be more stark.
So, inspired by a friend who solicited resources on Webb, I’m providing the following links to things I used in writing my last post and some good material I’ve discovered since. I recommend starting with “Dark Alliance” itself. The Democracy Now interviews and the Cockburn/St. Clair excerpt from their book Whiteout are particularly worth your time. The Huffington Post surprisingly stands out as doing the best reporting to tie in with the film by far and both pieces listed below are worth reading. I invite people to share other resources that I can add via updates.
- Dark Alliance – The Narco News archive of the original series
- Kill the Messenger: How the Media Destroyed Gary Webb — Ryan Grim in The Huffington Post
- Key figures in the CIA Crack Cocaine Scandal Begin to Come Forward — Ryan Grim, Matt Sledge and Matt Ferner in The Huffington Post
- Snow Job – Normon Solomon’s analysis of the media frenzy
- How the Press and The CIA Killed Gary Webb’s Career – The Gary Webb excerpt from Cockburn/St.Clair’s excellent, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press
- The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On – Gary Webb reflecting on Dark Alliance and the ensuing media assault
- Inside the Dark Alliance: Gary Webb on the CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion – Three amazing interviews from Democracy Now
- Gary Webb on ‘Dark Alliance,’ CIA and Drugs – Audio of Webb talking about Dark Alliance at a bookstore, from FAIR
- Managing A Nightmare – The CIA’s recently released account of the Webb affair
- The Storm over Dark Alliance – Peter Kornbluh’s shitty “balanced” report that Devereaux cites in his Intercept piece.
- Why They Hated Gary Webb — Alexander Cockburn, following Webb’s death
- Deposed King of Crack – Jonathan Katz’s pre-Dark Alliance account of Freeway Rick
- LA Crack Epidemic Not a Plot – Jonathan Katz’s post-Dark Alliance reversal
- Reply to My Blog Post on Ryan Devereaux’s piece from Webb’s friend Bob Harris – The Rancid Honeytrap
- The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga — Detailed report on Contra Cocaine trafficking by Robert Parry
- The CIA and the Art of the Uncover-Up — Alexander Cockburn, Jeffery St. Clair
- Wikipedia: Gary Webb
- Wikipedia: “Freeway” Ricky Ross
Hat tip to Walter Glass for inspiring this post.
Resources provided by readers:
The Contras, Cocaine and Covert Operations — The National Security Archive’s comprehensive index of official records documenting “official knowledge of drug operations, and collaboration with and protection of known drug traffickers.”
Washington Post’s Slimy Assault on Gary Webb — Robert Parry, the co-author of the first, largely ignored reporting on Contra drug trafficking, unpacks WaPo’s latest hatchet job.
Gary Webb: In His Own Words — an interview of Webb by the Guerrilla News Network / Narco News
KXJZ’s Insight: Gary Webb — features interviews with Robert Parry, one of Webb’s sons, Peter Kornbluh, and others
Obituary of Gary Webb & “The Pariah” — Charles Bowden, Webb’s friend and confidante. Via the Web Wayback machine
The CIA-Contra-Crack Cocaine Controversy: A Review Of The Justice Department’s Investigations And Prosecution — U. S. Department of Justice