Webb gained national attention in the 1990s after writing a series of stories for the Mercury News linking the CIA to Nicaraguan Contras trying to overthrow the Sandinista government and to drug sales of crack cocaine flooding South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s.Why did Webb's articles on the CIA-Contra drug connection constitute a radial challenge, though, since some elements of the connection had already been reported in the mainstream media, to say nothing of the conclusion of the Senate Subcommittee on Narcotics, Terrorism, and International Operations (led by Senator John Kerry) that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems" (1989)? Peter Kornbluh wrote in 1997:
The Mercury News and others later questioned the conclusions in Webb's reporting, and he left the San Jose newspaper in 1997 after being moved to a suburban bureau. The paper later published an apology.
Webb's ex-wife, Sue Bell, told the Bee Tuesday that Webb, 49, had been distraught for some time over his inability to get a job at another major newspaper. "The way he was acting it would be hard for me to believe it was anything but suicide," Bell said.
The Bee also reported that Webb had paid for his own cremation earlier in the year and had named Bell months ago as the beneficiary of his bank account. He had sold his house last week, because he could no longer afford the mortgage, and was upset that his motorcycle had been stolen last week. (emphasis added, "Gary Webb's Death Confirmed as Suicide," December 15, 2004)
Although many readers of the Mercury News articles may not have known it, "Dark Alliance" is not the first reported link between the contra war and drug smuggling. More than a decade ago, allegations surfaced that contra forces, organized by the CIA to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, were consorting with drug smugglers with the knowledge of U.S. officials. The Associated Press broke the first such story on December 20, 1985. The AP's Robert Parry and Brian Barger reported that three contra groups "have engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua." ("Crack, the Contras, and the CIA: Storm over 'Dark Alliance,'" Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 1997)Kornbluh went on to explain:
The Mercury News series "touched a raw nerve in the way our stories hadn't," observes Robert Parry. One reason is that Parry and Barger's stories had focused on the more antiseptic smuggling side of drug trafficking in far-off Central America. Webb's tale brought the story home, focusing on what he identified as the distribution network and its target. the inner cities of California. Particularly among African-American communities, devastated by the scourge of crack and desperate for information and answers, Webb's reporting found ready constituencies. From Farrakhan followers to the most moderate of black commentators, the story reverberated. "If this is true, then millions of black lives have been ruined and America's jails and prisons are now clogged with young African-Americans because of a cynical plot by a CIA that historically has operated in contempt of the law," wrote Carl T. Rowan, the syndicated columnist.Webb's story sparked rallies, protests, and demonstrations in Black communities, criticizing not only Republicans but the Bill Clinton administration and the corporate media:
The wildfire-like sweep of "Dark Alliance" was all the more remarkable because it took place without the tinder of the mainstream press. Instead, the story roared through the new communications media of the Internet and black talk radio -- two distinct, but in this case somewhat symbiotic, information channels. With the Internet, as Webb put it. "you don't have be the New York Times or the Washington Post to bust a national story anymore." (emphasis added, January/February 1997)
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told a Los Angeles rally last month that "people in high places were winking and blinking, and our children were dying. . . . We are going to make somebody pay for what they did to our community."Blacks listened to Gary Webb, recognized the truth in his story, made connections between the impacts of Washington's domestic and foreign policies, spread the word through such channels as the Internet and Black talk radio that are not fully controlled by elite orthodoxy, and took public actions attempting to "Crack the CIA." That is what made Webb dangerous. Consequently, Webb was blacklisted by the white corporate media, unable to obtain "a job at another major newspaper" and pay for the mortgage ("Gary Webb's Death Confirmed as Suicide," December 15, 2004).
Joe Madison, a Washington radio host and NAACP board member, told his listeners yesterday: "Clinton doesn't want to take on the CIA. The Republicans don't want to expose the contras as drug smugglers and thugs. And the CIA doesn't want to admit it trampled all over the Constitution." Madison was arrested with activist Dick Gregory last month in a protest outside CIA headquarters.
Derrick Z. Jackson, a Boston Globe columnist who is black, declared: "The only conclusion is that Ronald Reagan said yes to crack and the destruction of black lives at home to fund the killing of commies abroad."
Some white journalists have also jumped on the bandwagon. New York Observer Editor Joe Conason praised the "stunning articles," saying: "If Bob Dole or Bill Clinton actually cared about drug addiction . . . they would start asking tough questions about the role of the Central Intelligence Agency."
In Internet postings complaining about the lack of coverage, one person said: "Why is The Post quiet about the CIA/LA Cocaine Connection?" Another questioned whether the paper's black writers have been "muzzled."
In fact, Post columnist William Raspberry has written that he does not know if the charges are true but is struck by the "willingness . . . of so many black leaders to take the story literally." The Post has run three news stories and several items and columns on the controversy. Webb, who has conducted numerous broadcast interviews and is now getting calls from the likes of Montel Williams, sees a clear racial split in the reaction.
"When I've done TV and radio things, the producers who have been pushing the story have been predominantly black or other minorities," Webb said. "They have thanked me. It was networking by minority journalists that got this thing out to the general public." (Howard Kurtz, "Running with The CIA Story; Reporter Says Series Didn't Go as Far as Readers Took It," The Washington Post, October 2, 1996, p. B1)
Gary Webb, R.I.P.