Monday, December 13th, 2004

R.I.P. Gary Webb

Births and deaths. This one hurts. A suicide. Will we someday need to put that word in quotes, bad-sushi Yushchenko-face-style?

Gary Webb was one of the most influential journalists on the hip-hop generation. You may not know his byline, he never covered Run DMC or Bambaataa, he never worked the Biggie death beat. No, he broke the CIA-Cocaine story in the Mercury News in 1996, one of the most important stories of our time. He later released a classic book, Dark Alliance, detailing the story.

And for covering that story, he was mercilessly hounded–first by his employers, then by the force of the mainstream media outlets, who, with teams of investigative reporters, and CIA and government internal inquiries, still never were able to refute Webb’s most central allegation: that high-end CIA operatives were deeply involved with Contra-supporting cocaine importers, who in turn, helped fuel the crack explosion in Los Angeles.

Even below, in the wire story, you’ll see that the official line is that Webb’s story was “discredited”. But the bottom line is that the CIA inquiry actually confirmed Webb’s story.

Find more info here. You can read the CIA inquiry for yourself here.

The entire sordid story behind the story–how the media went after Webb with a singular fury–is documented in Cockburn and St. Clair’s important book, White Out.

Who knows what role all this played in Webb’s apparent suicide? Certainly, he was blacklisted by the mainstream media for simply doing a better, more courageous job at being a journalist than most all of the rest of us.

Perhaps had he been born into a different time, he’d still be alive to be recognized for what he stands as: the hip-hop generation’s Seymour Hersh. Webb was someone to look up to, someone I hoped sometime to meet in this lifetime, and now I never will.

Here’s the AP wire story:

SACRAMENTO – Gary Webb, a prize-winning investigative reporter who wrote a controversial series of stories linking the CIA to crack cocaine trafficking in Los Angeles, has died at age 49.

Webb was found Friday morning in his home in Sacramento County’s Carmichael area, dead of an apparent suicide. Moving company workers called authorities after discovering a note posted on his front door that read ‘Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance.’

He was killed by gunshot wounds to the head, according to Sacramento County Deputy Coroner Bill Guillot. Authorities are treating the death as a suicide, Guillot told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Webb’s 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News concluded that a San Francisco Bay area drug ring sold cocaine in South Los Angeles and then funneled millions of dollars in profits to the CIA-supported Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980s. The articles did not accuse the CIA of directly aiding drug-dealing to raise money for the Contras, but implied that agency was aware of the activity.

Major parts of his reporting were later discredited by other newspaper investigations. A CIA probe found no evidence of CIA drug trafficking with Contras, but said the agency had continued to work with Contras suspected of trafficking.

Mercury News executive editor Jerry Ceppos eventually backed away from the series, saying ‘we fell short at every step of our process.’ Webb was transferred to one of the paper’s suburban bureaus.

‘This is just harassment,’ Webb said after his demotion. ‘This isn’t the first time that a reporter went after the CIA and lost his job over it.’

After quitting the newspaper in December 1997, Webb continued to defend his reporting with his 1999 book ‘Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.’

Born in Corona to a military family, he moved around the country frequently. He dropped out of journalism school and went to work for the Kentucky Post and the Cleveland Plain Dealer before landing at the Mercury News.

There, Webb was part of reporting team that won a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of a Loma Prieta earthquake.

He later worked in state government, most prominently as a member of an audit committee investigating former Gov. Gray Davis’ controversial award of a $95 million no-bid contract to Oracle Corp. in 2001.

‘The guy had a fierce commitment to justice and truth. He cared deeply about the people who are forgotten, that we try to shove into the dark recesses of our minds and world,’ Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the California attorney general’s office, told the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier this year, Webb was one of a group of employees fired from the Assembly speaker’s Office of Member Services for failing to show up for work. He continued writing occasionally for a various of publications. He recently covered government and politics for the weekly Sacramento News and Review.

‘All he ever wanted to do was write,’ said Webb’s ex-wife, Susan Bell, who met him when they were both high school students in Indiana.

Webb is survived by two sons and a daughter. Services were pending.

posted by @ 3:23 pm | 4 Comments

4 Responses to “R.I.P. Gary Webb”

  1. angelowilliams says:

    Dark Alliance
    (For GaryWebb)

    I got here
    By hidden hands
    Arab, Jew, Caucasian, African

    “It’s just trade,”
    How we became slaves
    Igbo, Hausa, Kormanti, Ewe

    Friends in this flame
    Some unknown by name
    Quakers, exCrackers, Gary Webb, John Brown

    Triangles in a pentagon
    A pentagram brand on dark skin:

    Rum, Molasses, Sugarcane
    Iran-Contra, CIA, crack cocaine

    To legitimize our truth
    Around some white necks a noose
    Or a gun shot to the head in Sacramento.

    December 13, 2004

  2. Anonymous says:

    Contributor’s profile:

    Two weeks after Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series appeared in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996, contributing editor Charles Bowden found himself in a bar, having a few drinks with some narcs (his idea of a good night). “For some reason, Webb’s piece came up, and I asked the guys, ‘So, what do you think? Is what Webb wrote about the CIA true?'” recalls Bowden, the author of fifteen books, including Blood Orchid and Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future. “And they all turned to me and said, “Of course it is.’ That’s when I knew that somebody
    would have to do this story, and I figured it might as well be me.” “The Pariah,” Bowden’s story on Webb — a man he describes as “real smart, real straight, lives on a cul-de-sac, family man, all that crap” — begins on page 150.

    Editor’s letter [excerpt]:

    ….The world Charles Bowden leads us into in his story, “The Pariah” (page 150), is, on the other hand, a place few would willingly visit. Reporter Gary Webb chose to enter the alternate universe where the CIA sponsors armies and sometimes finds itself allied with drug dealers who sell their wares in the United States. Webb wrote a newspaper series that documented how the Nicaraguan contras of the 1980s were in part financed by just such an arrangement — and he was then professionally destroyed for it. Bowden, in the course of reporting this story over the last six months, found considerable evidence that parallels and supports Webb’s articles — including revelations from one of the DEA’s most decorated agents, who speaks for the first time about the CIA’s complicity in the drug trade. It was not, however, the agency’s ties to drug traffickers that Bowden found most disturbing. It was that a man can lose his livelihood, his calling, his reputation, for telling the truth….

    –David Granger
    Editor, Esquire Magazine

    The Pariah

  3. Jeff says:

    Thanks yall for the comments. Really appreciated, deeply moving. Here also is Marc Cooper’s indictment of the LA Times in Webb’s suicide:

  4. Anonymous says:

    has anyone considered that webb didn’t kill himself? i mean, leaving a note saying “call 911, don’t come in” doesn’t sound the slightest bit suspicious to you for a guy who outed the CIA’s 80’s drug trafficking activities? Isn’t it equally plausible that the CIA waited till even lefties stopped paying attention to Webb and had him whacked, to get their revenge?

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