AFRICANGLOBE – There’s no question that “Dark Alliance” included flaws, which the CIA was able to exploit.
In his CJR piece, Kornbluh said the series was “problematically sourced” and criticized it for “repeatedly promised evidence that, on close reading, it did not deliver.” It failed to definitively connect the story’s key players to the CIA, he noted, and there were inconsistencies in Webb’s timeline of events.
But Kornbluh also uncovered problems with the retaliatory reports described as “balanced” by the CIA. In the case of the L.A. Times, he wrote, the paper “stumbled into some of the same problems of hyperbole, selectivity, and credibility that it was attempting to expose” while ignoring declassified evidence (also neglected by the New York Times and theWashington Post) that lent credibility to Webb’s thesis. “Clearly, there was room to advance the contra/drug/CIA story rather than simply denounce it,” Kornbluh wrote.
The Mercury News was partially responsible “for the sometimes distorted public furor the stories generated,” Kornbluh said, but also achieved “something that neither the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, nor The New York Times had been willing or able to do — revisit a significant story that had been inexplicably abandoned by the mainstream press, report a new dimension to it, and thus put it back on the national agenda where it belongs.”
In October, the story of Gary Webb will reach a national moviegoing audience, likely reviving old questions about his reporting and the outrage it ignited. Director Michael Cuesta’s film, Kill the Messenger, stars Jeremy Renner as the hard-charging investigative reporter and borrows its title from a 2006 biography written by award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou, who worked as a consultant on the script.
Discussing the newly disclosed “Managing a Nightmare” document, Schou says it squares with what he found while doing his own reporting. Rather than some dastardly, covert plot to destroy (or, as some went so far as to suggest, murder) Webb, Schou posits that the journalist was ultimately undone by the petty jealousies of the modern media world. The CIA “didn’t really need to lift a finger to try to ruin Gary Webb’s credibility,” Schou said. “They just sat there and watched these journalists go after Gary like a bunch of piranhas.”
“They must have been delighted over at Langley, the way this all unfolded,” Schou added.
At least one journalist who helped lead the campaign to discredit Webb,feels remorse for what he did. As Schou reported for L.A. Weekly, in a 2013 radio interview L.A. Times reporter Jesse Katz recalled the episode, saying, “As an L.A. Times reporter, we saw this series in the San Jose Mercury Newsand kind of wonder[ed] how legit it was and kind of put it under a microscope. And we did it in a way that most of us who were involved in it, I think, would look back on that and say it was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the L.A. Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.”
Schou, too, readily concedes there were problems with Webb’s reporting, but maintains that the most important components of his investigation stood up to scrutiny, only to be buried under the attacks from the nation’s biggest papers.
“I think it’s fair to take a look at the story objectively and say that it could have been better edited, it could have been packaged better, it would have been less inflammatory. And sure, maybe Gary could have, like, actually put in the story somewhere ‘I called the CIA X-amount of times and they didn’t respond.’ That wasn’t in there,” he said. “But these are all kind of minor things compared to the bigger picture, which is that he documented for the first time in the history of U.S. media how CIA complicity with Central American drug traffickers had actually impacted the sale of drugs north of the border in a very detailed, accurate story. And that’s, I think, the take-away here.”
As for Webb’s tragic death, Schou is certain it was a direct consequence of the smear campaign against him.
“As much as it’s true that he suffered from a clinical depression for years and years — and even before ‘Dark Alliance’ to a certain extent — it’s impossible to view what happened to him without understanding the death of his career as a result of this story,” he explained. “It was really the central defining event of his career and of his life.”
“Once you take away a journalist’s credibility, that’s all they have,” Schou says. “He was never able to recover from that.”
In “Managing a Nightmare,” Dujmovic attributed the initial outcry over the “Dark Alliance” series to “societal shortcomings” that are not present in the spy agency.
“As a personal post-script, I would submit that ultimately the CIA-drug story says a lot more about American society on the eve of the millennium that [sic] it does about either the CIA or the media,” he wrote. “We live in somewhat coarse and emotional times–when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community.”
Webb obviously saw things differently. He reflected on his fall from grace in the 2002 book, Into the Buzzsaw. Prior to “Dark Alliance,” Webb said, “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,” Webb wrote. “The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.”
By: Ryan Devereaux
Dark Alliance: The Story Of The Crack Epidemic