Gary Webb, the enterprising investigative journalist who, in 1996, wrote the “Dark Alliance” series for the San Jose Mercury News alleging that links between the CIA and the Nicaraguan contra army helped fuel the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles, has committed suicide.
On Friday he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head in his Sacramento home. Webb was only 49.
I met and interviewed Webb several times and I was deeply pained to hear the bad news.
Webb who had been black-balled by the mainstream press after his series appeared had fallen upon hard times.
Indeed, while his physical suicide took place this week, Gary Webb's professional life was killed off by his colleagues in the MSM shortly after his controversial series was published. The Washington Post, the New York Times and most notably the Los Angeles Times ganged up on Webb and spent extraordinary resources to discredit him and knock down his story. If these papers routinely submitted our elected officials to the sort of harsh scrutiny reserved for fellow reporter Webb, this world would be a better place.
Webb’s lynching was facilitated by his own editors who refused to stand by him and publicly cast doubt on the same stories they had vetted only recently before.
No question that Webb had over-reached in some of his conclusions and had relied too much on less than reliable sources. But the gist of his story, that the CIA was willing to get in bed with drug traffickers to bolster the Nicaraguan contras was indisputably true.
The L.A. Times went into cold panic when Webb’s story came out in 1996, fearing it has been scooped in its own backyard by a second-rate paper in the Bay Area. Much to its discredit, the Times did nothing to advance Webb’s story with whatever proper course corrections. Instead, it published a lengthy trashing of Webb – led by reporter Doyle McManus. For his take-down, McManus relied heavily – are you ready?--- on CIA sources to prove that the CIA would never, I repeat never, stoop to dealing with dealers.
It was a shameful moment of self-serving arrogance displayed by the Times.
And now, even in Webb’s death, the Times obit is something less than charitable. . Webb’s alleged errors are emphasized rather than his courage and his gumption to take on a crucial story that the rest of the media – the Times included—abandoned after the initial drugs-for-guns revelations of Iran-Contra.
Webb, a humble guy from a California conservative military family, never fully recovered from the gang-banging dished out by his pin-striped Establishment Media colleagues. His paper downgraded him to a local beat and he soon quit. When he published a Dark Alliance book a few years later, it was barely reviewed. Webb worked for a stint as an investigator for the California legislature but had spent the last few years scrambling to recover some sort of journalism career—but to little avail.
I’m preparing a longer and more detailed remembrance of Webb for later this week which I will publish in the L.A. Weekly.
Webb’s loss is a tragedy for the family he leaves behind as well as for the increasingly troubled profession of journalism.