By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
And here’s the low point in this tale: After the CIA inspector general made public the second part of his investigation — the one sparked by Webb — which admitted to some links between the agency and Central American drug dealers, the L.A. Times chose not to publish a single story about the report. (No surprise here. Back in 1989, when a panel led by Senator John Kerry found similar CIA–drug-running links, the Times showed equal disinterest.)
In short, when it came to the Gary Webb series and its allegations, the L.A. Times wound up being more protective of the CIA than the CIA itself.
None of this explains why, in Webb’s obit, Lelyveld and Hymon omit the on-the-record admissions by the CIA of its involvement with drug-connected Contras, an admission owed directly to Webb’s work. Maybe, you say, the Times reporters are lazy and just didn’t look beyond their own paper’s archives. And because the Times didn’t cover those admissions, Lelyveld and Hymon remain (eight years after the fact) in the dark.
No. I fear the answer is worse than that. One of the Times reporters who wrote the obit, we now learn, called veteran reporter Bob Parry the other day for comment on Webb’s death. Back in 1985, Parry and his partner Bob Barger — working for the AP — were the first to break the story of CIA involvement with drug-linked Contras. Says Parry: "The Times reporter who called to interview me ignored my comments about the debt the nation owed Webb and the importance of the CIA’s inspector-general findings. Instead of using Webb’s death as an opportunity to finally get the story straight, the Times acted as if there never had been an official investigation confirming many of Webb’s allegations."
Gary Webb’s work deserved to betaken seriously and to be closely scrutinized precisely because of the scope of his allegations. As more-objective critics than the Times have pointed out, Webb overstated some of his conclusions, he too loosely framed some of his theses, and perhaps (perhaps) overestimated the actual amount of drug funding that fueled the Contra war. And for that he deserved to be criticized.
The core of his work, however, still stands. When much of the rest of the media went to sleep, Gary Webb dug and scratched and courageously took on the most powerful and arrogant and unaccountable agencies of the U.S. government. His tenacious reporting forced those same agencies to investigate themselves and to admit publicly — albeit in watered-down terms — what he had alleged.
Webb’s reward was to be drummed out of the profession. After his editors cowardly recanted his stories (which they had vetted), he was demoted to a suburban bureau. After a year, Webb quit and wrote up his findings into a book. The book was mostly ignored by the press. Webb took up a job as an investigator for the California Legislature and helped spit-roast one Gray Davis. Last year, Webb lost that job and yearned, unsuccessfully for the most part, to get back into journalism. From a conservative Southern California military family, Webb was driven not by an ideological agenda but rather by a sense of fairness and justice. He was found last Friday in his Northern California home after he shot himself to death.
Recently, Webb was interviewed for a book profiling 18 journalists who found themselves discredited or censored. Let his own words be a more fitting epitaph than the hack-job L.A. Times obituary:
"If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me . . . 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 . . . The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress."
Gary Webb, R.I.P.