The recent release of the Jeremy Renner vehicle Kill The Messenger has, predictably, led some of the papers who attacked Webb’s work on the Dark Alliance series to resurface to resume their attacks on the deceased investigative reporter. Jeff Leen’s hitjob in the Post took a familiar approach: claim superior knowledge of the subject, then denigrate the weak points in the opponents story while ignoring the elephant in the room.
What’s most interesting about Leen’s piece is not what’s in it, but what is not. A few examples will help illustrate the point:
Marc Cooper of the LA Weekly told Schou in the book Kill The Messenger that “If Gary Webb made mistakes I have no problem with exposing them. But given the sweep of American journalism of the past fifty years, this is an outstanding case where three of the major newspapers in the country decided to take out somebody, a competitor whose mistakes seem by any measure to be very minor.”
Very minor, given the Post’s boostership of the 2003 Iraq war with its “reporting”.
Dawn Garcia, Webb’s immediate editor at the Mercury News during the “Dark Alliance” series and its aftermath, told Schou that “Two years after that series ran, a CIA Inspector General’s report acknowledged that the CIA had indeed worked with suspected drug runners while supporting the contras. The IG report would not have happened if ‘Dark Alliance’ had not been published.”
And then of course, there are the files of the LA County Sheriff’s department records on Ronald Lister (an arms merchant) and his ties to CIA and Reagan administration officials, including Oliver North. Schou’s elucidation on Lister is too lengthy to quote here, but it is damning.
There are many more such examples I could cite, such as how the CIA worked the press behind the scenes to smear Webb and his reporting, but I think these are more than sufficient to support what others have said: that the Post, LA Times and NY Times got scooped by a medium-sized paper in California by a reporter who went were they refused to go. They just couldn’t get over it then, and it seems things haven’t changed very much since “Dark Alliance” was published in 1996.