By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
While he was still alive, the mainstream media savaged investigative reporter Gary Webb, whose 1996 SanJoseMercuryNewsseries "Dark Alliance" revealed CIA ties to inner-city cocaine sales. The Los Angeles Times, New York Timesand WashingtonPostpublished massive front-page stories purporting to debunk Webb's reporting, and his own newspaper cowardly backed off his stories. It wasn't until after Webb committed suicide last December that his former employer published a belated editorial apologizing for the betrayal.
So now that Webb's dead, the job of distorting him and his legacy is appropriately being taken over by right-wing ideologues like Chris Reed, columns editor for The Orange County Register's opinion pages. On March 20, Reed published an "Unspin" column calling Webb a "new hero for the advocates of 'fake but accurate' news." But contrary to its title, Reed's 345-word column contains nothing butspin.
"The fact is that while Webb did establish CIA links with drug figures in his 'Dark Alliance' series for the San Jose Mercury News, plenty of honest journalists looked hard at his evidence of a CIA-crack conspiracy, and just about all of them found . . . nothing," Reed wrote. "How did Webb respond? A responsible reporter would have gone back and done more digging. Instead, he allied himself with the Maxine Waters paranoids, who claim blacks are the target of government genocide."
Rather than provide evidence, Reed spends the rest of his column comparing Webb's defenders to supporters of disgraced CBS columnist Dan Rather. But if Reed had done his homework, he'd know that Webb never allied himself with the paranoids who used his reporting to claim the CIA deliberately put crack in the inner cities. The fact that Webb agreed to be interviewed by conspiracy theorists who distorted his reporting is no more relevant than the fact that he agreed to be interviewed by centrist blowhards like Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball.
In reality, Webb's Dark Alliance series had nothing to do with conspiracy theories. Rather, it alleged that "Freeway" Ricky Ross, whom the LATimeshad labeled the kingpin of crack, got his cocaine from Nicaraguan contra fund-raisers who had ties to the CIA. Webb wrote that the agency turned a blind eye to this activity and therefore was at least partly responsible for the crack epidemic.
After the mainstream media "debunked" Webb's stories, an internal CIA report acknowledged for the first time that it had a secret "memo of understanding" with the Drug Enforcement Administration not to report drug dealing by CIA operatives, including the contras. And contrary to Reed's assertion, Webb did a lot of additional digging after his series was attacked, and his cowardly editors refused to publish his findings, which totaled several thousand words of new reporting.
In fact, Webb included that information in his 1998 book, which also drew from the mainstream media's response as well as the Justice Department and CIA reports of that same year, which actually bolstered Webb's thesis. I also did a lot of digging and am still receiving declassified reports from the FBI about one of the drug dealers Webb exposed, an ex-Laguna Beach cop and weapons dealer named Ron Lister. (These stories can be read in our Dark Alliance archive).
Of course, the conspiracy nuts who distorted—and continue to distort—Webb's "Dark Alliance" to further their own agenda can be forgiven because, by definition, they're nuts. Supposedly sober journalists, as well as posthumously inclined hatchet men like Reed, should be ashamed of themselves. (NickSchou)
Photo by Jack Gould
Last year, while both OCWeeklyand the LosAngelesTimesinvestigated allegations of political shenanigans involving then-Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, the career politician could count on only one media ally: The Orange County Register-owned community newspaper Irvine World News. Even while its mother paper's seasoned reporters covered the scandal, the World News—staffed mostly by cub scribes or veterans on their last beat before retirement—remained peacefully ignorant, never even bothering to cut and paste the Register'scoverage within its Local and front-page sections.
But that era of benighted obliviousness is over—or so it would seem. In its April 14 issue, the WorldNewsran an article detailing how Agran allies Ed "The Knife" Dornan and Frank Michelena bankrolled the 2004 mayoral campaign of Republican Earle Zucht. Irvine political observers allege that Dornan and Michelena did this to siphon votes from the other Irvine Republican mayoral candidate, Mike Ward, and ensure the victory of Agran's hand-picked successor, Beth Krom.
This story is already familiar to readers of the Weekly(see R. Scott Moxley's "O, America," Nov. 5, 2004) and even the Register,which finally ran the story in its April 12 issue. Nonetheless, readers of the WorldNewsmust still be scratching their heads. Throughout Agran's 2004 campaign, the paper served as a tabloid for Agran and his allies. Just a month before the Weeklyand Timesreported Agran had tried to steer a lucrative utility contract to Dornan, the WorldNewsran a Registerarticle praising Agran as a gentleman.
Instead of digging into the relationships between Agran, Dornan and various corporations lobbying for Great Park contracts, the WorldNewsdevoted three articles in its Oct. 7 issue attacking a mailer published by Krom opponents that mimicked the look and feel of the World News. And even when Registerpolitical reporter Martin Wisckol finally reported on the Agran scandal on Oct. 23, the WorldNewsdidn't pick up his story.
Wisckol also wrote the April 12 piece that, for those who rely on the WorldNewsfor news, provided the first hint of Agran's well-known history of corruption. But while the Registerpublished it on its front page, the WorldNewsburied Wisckol's article on Page 11. (Gustavo Arellano)