The Washington Post’s “Worthless and Whiny” Attack on Genuine Journalistic Hero Gary Webb

In 1996, in the wake of his explosive “Dark Alliance” series for the San Jose Mercury News (8/18-20/96), the Washington Post was one of the major newspapers to attack Gary Webb (FAIR Blog, 10/21/14).

It’s 2014, and they’re still at it.

Since the release of the film “Kill the Messenger,” there has been renewed focus on Webb’s story, which documented how CIA-linked drug traffickers were supplying US drug dealers with cheap cocaine that helped fuel the crack epidemic in the 1980s. For the Post, this means it’s time to argue once again that Webb got the story wrong.

This time around that task fell to Jeff Leen, an assistant managing editor at the paper. “An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof,” he writes (10/17/14), and by that standard, he thinks Webb failed: “The Hollywood version of his story — a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media — is pure fiction.”

The Washington Post’s Jeff Leen gets it wrong when he first describes what Gary Webb reported.

But Leen’s attempted takedown falls apart before it ever gets going, with this claim:

“Webb’s story made the extraordinary claim that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in America.”

That is not true. Webb’s report showed that a major crack dealer in California was working with suppliers linked to the CIA-backed Contras, who were waging a terrorist campaign in Nicaragua in the hopes of removing the left-wing Sandinista government. Some of the money from the drug trade went to supporting the Contras.

The idea that Webb reported that the CIA itself was directly dealing drugs, and that it was “responsible for the crack epidemic” in this country, is a misrepresentation designed to undermine Webb. And it’s not even a new one. As Norman Solomon wrote for Extra! (1-2/97) about the original Webb hit pieces:

“Judging the Mercury News series invalid, the preeminent denouncers frequently berated the newspaper for failing to prove what Webb never claimed. The Washington Post, for instance, devoted paragraph after paragraph of its October 4 barrage to illuminating what Webb had already acknowledged in his articles — that while he proves Contra links to major cocaine importation, he can’t identify specific CIA officials who knew of or condoned the trafficking.”

Webb spoke out about this after the series was published, since the misconceptions about what he reported were so common. As he said in one 1996 lecture, parts of which aired on CounterSpin (10/10/14), his story “doesn’t say that the CIA masterminded the influx of crack cocaine into America. What it says is that this Nicaraguan cocaine ring brought tons of cocaine into California.”

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