Part 3 - Gang Pressure
In 1996 Gary Webb, a prize-winning investigative journalist at San Jose Mercury News, found himself at the center of a major storm caused by his three-part investigative series published under the title “Dark Alliance.” The series connected the CIA to the contra-cocaine scandal and alleged that Nicaraguan drug traffickers had used the drug profits from selling crack cocaine in the U.S. to finance the CIA-supported Nicaraguan Contras. The connections documented by Webb did not claim ‘direct involvement’ by the CIA but thoroughly established that the CIA was aware of the cocaine transactions and the large shipments of cocaine into the U.S. by Contra personnel. Webb’s story was supported by hundreds of documents obtained through FOIA, transcripts, and audio interviews - all of which were published later on his website.
The attacks on and denials of Webb’s series began right away. The ‘Gang of Three’ – Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, put on a united front and viciously attempted to debunk the link between the crack epidemic in the U.S. and the Contras. A decade earlier, the same ‘Gang’ had either downplayed or dismissed the 80s contra-cocaine scandal. Despite all the facts that came out of Sen. Kerry’s half-way Contra Hearings, despite sound evidence presented in an AP article by Robert Parry and Brian Berger, the ‘Gang’ never truly followed up or provided deserved coverage of Contra Crimes.
Here is what Robert Parry had to say on this:
“Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series offered a unique opportunity for the major news outlets to finally give the contra-cocaine scandal the attention it deserved. But that would have required some painful self-criticism among Washington journalists whose careers had advanced in part because they had not offended Reagan supporters who had made an art out of punishing out-of-step reporters for pursuing controversies like the contra-cocaine scandal.”
And here is another plausible reason offered by Mr. Parry:
“There was the turf issue, too. Since Webb’s stories coincided with the emergence of the Internet as an alternate source for news and the San Jose Mercury News was at the center of Silicon Valley, the big newspapers saw a threat to their historic dominance as the nation’s gatekeepers for what information should be taken seriously.”
The ‘gang’ attacks and the pressure did not deter Webb. In fact they increased his resolve to dig deeper and pursue the story further. However, the same pressure did its magic when it came to the editors at Mercury News. After their initial support and back-patting of Webb, they bent under the pressure, made their 180 degree turn, and caved in. First, they issued their retreat in writing, which did not retract on the factualness of the report but turned it into a matter of ‘gray areas’ such as “…presented “only one interpretation of complicated, sometimes-conflicting pieces of evidence” in a “few key instances.”” Next, they refused to publish the rest of the series. Then, the paper transferred Webb from Sacramento to the paper’s outpost in Cupertino (a four-hour commute) and told him he was no longer an investigative reporter; finally succeeding in having him resign and leave the paper.
In 1996, prompted by Webb’s series, the CIA started its investigation of the agency’s involvement in cocaine sales in the U.S. The CIA released the report in 1998, and George Tenet came out publicly and denied Webb’s allegations. Interestingly, weeks prior to the release of the report, ‘mysterious leaks’ made their way, and again interestingly, into The Washington Post and The New York Times stories, alleging that ‘no direct or indirect links’ were ever found between the CIA and traffickers. Of course, once the heavily redacted report was released these publications had their field day smearing and attacking Webb’s report.
While Tenet’s statement and the report’s vaguely worded conclusion were used as weapons in Webb bashing, the ‘actual’ content of the report was completely ignored and blacked out by the MSM ‘gang.’ For example: the report described a cable from the CIA's Directorate of Operations dated October 22, 1982, describing a meeting between Contra leaders in Costa Rica for "an exchange” (in the U.S.) of narcotics for arms, which then are shipped to Nicaragua.
Six weeks after the release of the report, the CIA IG testified before the House Intelligence Committee congress and here is an excerpt from his testimony:
“As I said earlier, we have found no evidence in the course of this lengthy investigation of any conspiracy by CIA or its employees to bring drugs into the United States. However, during the Contra era, CIA worked with a variety of people to support the Contra program. These included CIA assets, pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, as well as Contra officials and others. Let me be frank about what we are finding. There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to resolve the allegations.”
Almost anyone, even those with only vague familiarity of covert intelligence operations would recognize damning information like this, buried ‘in between the lines’ and delivered using a ‘bureaucratic CYA’ choice of words.
More significantly, the CIA Inspector General admitted that CIA officers were not required to report allegations of drug trafficking involving ‘non-employees,’ - defined as paid and non-paid CIA ‘assets’ such as pilots tasked with transporting supplies to the contras. Meaning, the so-called report published ‘by the CIA’ on ‘possible CIA illegal activities’ conveniently left out any incriminating report or information involving CIA ‘assets.’
In July of the same year DOJ IG Michael Bromwich also released a report which corroborated Webb’s report. It claimed that the Reagan-Bush administration was aware of cocaine traffickers in the Contra movement and did nothing to stop the criminal activity. Robert Parry nicely summarizes the key findings of the DOJ-IG report supporting Webb:
- • Bromwich’s report revealed example after example of leads not followed, corroborated witnesses disparaged, official law-enforcement investigations sabotaged, and even the CIA facilitating the work of drug traffickers.
• The report showed that the contras and their supporters ran several parallel drug-smuggling operations, not just the one at the center of Webb’s series.
• The report also found that the CIA shared little of its information about contra drugs with law-enforcement agencies, and on three occasions disrupted cocaine-trafficking investigations that threatened the contras.
• Though depicting a more widespread contra-drug operation than Webb had understood, the Justice report also provided some important corroboration about a Nicaraguan drug smuggler, Norwin Meneses, who was a key figure in Webb’s series. Bromwich cited U.S. government informants who supplied detailed information about Meneses’s operation and his financial assistance to the contras.
• The Justice report also disclosed repeated examples of the CIA and U.S. embassies in Central America discouraging Drug Enforcement Administration investigations, including one into contra-cocaine shipments moving through the international airport in El Salvador.
Despite the ‘real content’ of the CIA IG Report, the corroborating findings of the DOJ-IG Report, and various congressional hearings and investigations filled with direct or indirect admissions, the MSM never eased up on its attacks and criticism of Webb’s articles.
In March 1998 Barbara Osborn wrote a well-executed piece on the ostracizing of Gary Webb titled ‘Are You Sure You Want to Ruin Your Career,’ subtitled ‘Gary Webb’s Fate a Warning to Gutsy Reporters.’ It’s a fairly short piece and I encourage you to take the time to read it. The article cites the following ‘loaded’ exchange:
“…Gary Webb didn’t know what was at risk. When he first spoke with Bob Parry--the Associated Press reporter who, along with Brian Barger, broke the Contragate and Contra/drug stories--Webb thought Parry was being "overly cautious." "I thought he was being kind of foolish," Webb recalled, when Parry asked him: "Are you sure you want to ruin your career?"
Unfortunately Parry proved to be the ‘realist.’
Osborn’s piece cites several enlightening quotes from Professor James Aucoin, a former journalist and a University of South Alabama communications professor who specializes in the history of investigative reporting. Here is one:
“Another aspect of the "Dark Alliance" aftermath which strikes Aucoin as significant is who attacked the story. In the days when investigative journalist Ida Tarbell took on Standard Oil in the pages of Harper’s, Standard Oil came after Tarbell. “In the case of Gary Webb’s charges against the CIA and the Contras," he said, "the major dailies came after him. Media institutions are now part of the establishment and they have a lot invested in that establishment."”
And finally, here are a few thought provoking quotes from Gary Webb as reported by Osborne:
"The government side of the story is coming through the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post," he said. "They use the giant corporate press rather than saying anything directly. If you work through friendly reporters on major newspapers, it comes off as the New York Times saying it and not a mouthpiece of the CIA."
"The only way you’re going to do effective journalism is to be truly independent. It’s a difficult thing to do, but George Seldes and I.F. Stone did it. There’s no reason modern-day journalists can’t do it too. You don’t get 401-Ks and health benefits, but at least you get to tell the truth."
Webb’s case is only one example where the corporate media unite and gang up to smear, marginalize, and silence colleagues who dare to sidestep the conventional establishment trend, who insist on carrying out real investigative journalism independently and objectively, and who actually succeed in unveiling the truth buried in between the layers of the secrecy web created by the government. Sadly, ‘the gang’ has been effective and successful. Take a look at the field; how many Webbs do you see still standing? The last time I counted, not many.
And now it is your turn. When the MSM gangs up against these reporters:
Are they acting on behalf of the ‘establishment,’ as an extension of the government, as simply a mouthpiece; or as we discussed before on the Bernstein piece, as ‘Agents’?
Is it simply a turf battle, jealousy, and ego?
Is it the Big Corporate media v small independent media or independent investigative journalists?
Does the blame lie, partially, with ‘we the people’ for allowing this?
I am looking forward to reading ‘your’ thoughts and views on this.