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Why we have the news media that we deserve

19 June 2013

Summary: Two recent new articles revisit a sad story from our past. Gary Webb had a distinguished career in journalism, until his series in the San Jose Mercury News about the CIA’s involvement in smuggling drugs into America. What happened afterwards tells us much about America. We’re ignorant because we have the news media we deserve, since we do not appreciate or protect whistleblowers and journalists who tell us unpleasant truths. This leaves them vulnerable to attack by powerful interest groups. It’s a story of America’s decline.

We some journalists better than we deserve

Some journalists are better than we deserve

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Contents

  1. Webb’s allegations about the CIA
  2. The Empire strikes back
  3. Conclusions
  4. For More Information about the CIA

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(1) Webb’s allegations about the CIA

Urban legends that circulate to this day that the CIA created and profited from the crack epidemic that devastated our inner cities in the 1980s.There was an element of truth in these allegations, with their origin in a 1996 series of articles by Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News. They had a core of truth, but were wildly exaggerated. For details see:

(2) The Empire strikes back

Fast, open and thorough investigations could have shown the small CIA involvement in drug smuggling (their dirty work prevents them from working only with nice people). Eventually investigations did so with varying degrees of credibility.

But that’s not our government’s way. One way or another steps were taken to ruin Webb’s career. Perhaps by coincidence, Webb’s accusations against the government received massive investigations by major newspaper, which they never given to investigations of government iniquity.

Two recent articles describe this sad history.

Ex-L.A. Times Writer Apologizes for ‘Tawdry’ Attacks“, LA Weekly, 30 May 2013 — “Jesse Katz admits that attacking journalist Gary Webb’s CIA-cocaine expose ruined Webb’s life”. Excerpt:

“Dark Alliance” blew the lid off the CIA’s ties to America’s crack market by showing for the first time not just the agency’s role in turning a blind eye to Nicaraguan contras smuggling cocaine to the United States but also vividly illustrating the role of that cocaine in the spread — via marketers like Ross — of crack in America’s inner cities.

The movie will portray Webb as a courageous reporter whose career and life were cut short when the nation’s three most powerful newspapers piled on to attack Webb and his three-part Mercury News series on the CIA’s crack-cocaine connection.

The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times each obscured basic truths of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series. But no newspaper tried harder than the L.A. Times, where editors were said to have been appalled that a distant San Jose daily had published a blockbuster about America’s most powerful spy agency and its possible role in allowing drug dealers to flood South L.A. with crack.

Seeing the Gray in ‘Dark Alliance’“, Los Angeles Magazine, 6 June 2013 — “Jesse Katz on the life and death and Hollywood resurrection of Gary Webb, the reporter who linked the CIA to the crack epidemic.” Excerpt:

Dark Alliance

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“As an L.A. Times reporter, we saw this series in the San Jose Mercury News and kind of wonder[ed] how legit it was and kind of put it under a microscope,” Katz explained. “And we did it in a way that most of us who were involved in it, I think, would look back on that and say it was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the L.A. Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.”

The LA Weekly gives the rest of the story:

Katz seems to be referring to the fact that Times editor Shelby Coffey assigned a staggering 17 reporters to exploit any error in Webb’s reporting, including the most minute. The newspaper’s response to “Dark Alliance” was longer than Webb’s series. It was replete with quotes from anonymous CIA sources who denied the CIA was connected to contra-backing coke peddlers in the ghettos.

Eventually, Webb’s unnerved editors in San Jose withdrew their support for his story.

LA Magazine tells the result:

Much of the Times‘ attack was clever misdirection, but it ruined Webb’s reputation: In particular, the L.A. Times attacked a claim that Webb never made: that the CIA had intentionally addicted African-Americans to crack.

Webb, who eventually could find only part-time work at a small weekly paper, committed suicide {in 2004}.

(3) Conclusions

Charles Pierce at Esquire gives a post-mortem on this sad story.

This whole business stank from jump. For all the whining about the current administration’s knuckling of the press, the Reagan people were the true masters at it. They were able to scare editors and publishers out of stories about what was really going on with the Moral Equivalents Of Our Founding Fathers down in Central America. They scared them into selling out their reporters; Ray Bonner and Alma Guillermoprieto over the El Mozote massacre, and Bob Parry over a lot of his Iran-Contra work, much of which itself had to do with Contra drug running.

The Reagan people got the L.A. Times and a lot of the prestige press to do its dirty work on Gary Webb, who got destroyed in the process, but who now gets to be a hero in a movie, so there’s that, I guess. And he gets an apology from one of the journalistic button men who did him in.

(4) For More Information about the CIA

  1. A must-read book for any American interested in geopolitics, 5 March 2009 — About Legacy of Ashes
  2. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
  3. The CIA’s forecast about the Iranian Revolution – and the revolution prediction tool, 6 January 2010
  4. The Flynn report, itself a symptom of deep problems in the government establishment, 11 January 2010 — “Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan“
  5. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 20 January 2010
  6. How useful are our intelligence agencies? To what degree are they blinded by prejudice and institutional needs?, 13 April 2010
  7. About our intelligence agencies: the struggle to find an accurate AND institutionally useful narrative, 14 April 2010
  8. A major function of our intelligence agencies is to shape the narrative. They do it well, molding history like clay on a wheel, 15 April 2010
  9. The intelligence community’s meritocracy in action, 24 December 2012

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Demeter permalink
    19 June 2013 4:59 am

    As far as who was exaggerating what…I wouldn’t trust the CIA to tell me if my hair was on fire. Don’t trust, Verify! (to make sane the ramblings of an addled former president).

    WE the People do NOT deserve this kind of press–the stenographers and typists who take dictation from the Government and the Corporations and Banksters. However, we don’t get to vote, because money is speech and speaking loudly is what passes for voting in this Brave New World order.

    Our only alternative is the Internet, and knowing where to go for real news and factual reporting takes time. (If you aren’t bothered by the NSA recording everything in their files.) (May they suffer irreparable disk crashes).

    It is a shame that Webb let the bastards grind him down to suicide. It is truly the case that he who laughs last, laughs best. Even if it means under-achieving for decades. Survival is the only way to justice. Susan B. Anthony worked all her life for women’s suffrage, and never lived to see it, though she lived to be 86. This is the kind of dedication we ordinary people need to make change. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it is the current reality.

    Like

    • 19 June 2013 5:30 am

      It is not that simple.

      Time has shown that the multiple sources showing that Webb had exaggerated were correct. His core story was right, but the exaggerations led to more exaggerations, and so a toxic urban legend was born.

      “WE the People do NOT deserve this kind of press–the stenographers and typists who take dictation from the Government and the Corporations and Banksters.”

      Ultimately “deserve” is up to God. Who else can say with certainty?

      IMO we deserve what we earn. A passive people unwilling to work the Republic’s political machinery, unwilling to protect whilstleblowers and journalists, eager to believe government lies — such a people deserves little.

      Like

  2. Lewis Austin permalink
    19 June 2013 4:24 pm

    Why isn’t any part of the media covering the story of the man on the United flight from Hong Kong to Newark who claimed he worked in the US embassy in Dubai and was being abducted by the CIA? We saw him on TV being bundled off the plane, his head completely shielded from view, and not even his name has yet been made public. What kind of power does the intelligence establishment have to completely suppress all coverage of this non-event? What happened to habeas corpus?

    Like

    • 19 June 2013 6:06 pm

      Lewis,

      I assume you are kidding us, with a bizarre version of today’s news about a guy who started screaming like a madman on a plane, was tackled by passengers and restrained.

      Like

  3. Thomas More permalink
    19 June 2013 8:46 pm

    There’s little question that Webb’s story was wildly exaggerated, and the evidence is clear — that CIA Gulf Stream II jet that crashed in 2007 with 4 tons of cocaine aboard was simply an hallucination. A mass hallucination. Which people managed to photograph, mysteriously.

    Avión usado por la CIA y la DEA traficaba drogas

    (Airplane used by the CIA and the DEA dealt drugs)

    BOGOTA

    G.GUILLEN / El Nuevo Herald

    Un jet ejecutivo que el gobierno de Estados Unidos usó durante año para extraditar delincuentes desde Colombia y talibanes desde Europa a la base de Guantánamo, Cuba, es el mismo que have dos meses se precipitó a tierra en una selvática zona de la península de Yucatán, México, con un cargamento de 3.3 toneladas de cocaína que, al parecer, fueron cargadas en Medellín, en donde hizo el último despegue.

    El avión, un Gluf Stream II, de matrícula norteamericana N987SA, era célebre en Colombia porque durante años en él fueron embarcados en Bogotá centenares de delincuentes para ser puestos en poder de la justicia estadounidense.

    And that document that surfaced providing evidence that the pilot of that crashed cocaine jet was a U.S. government operative?

    Optical illusion.

    Let us congratulate Fabius Maximus on his mental dexterity.

    “To know and to not know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy is impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy. To forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.” [George Orwell, 1984, pg. 35]

    Like

    • 19 June 2013 11:25 pm

      More,

      I don’t know what you use as a standard of evidence. I report even major sources — Reuters, government reports, etc with skepticism. You apparently have far lower standards, reporting as *fact* material from NarcoNews and the Daily Kos.

      Whatever, dude. Neither the tone nor the substance gives me much interest in the discussion.

      Like

    • Zemtar permalink
      22 June 2013 3:07 pm

      http://www.madcowprod.com/10092007.html

      http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5j6QonBKKMo2gw1e3ql-xUcQEZbVg

      “The daily said it had obtained documents from the United States and the European Parliament which “show that that plane flew several times to Guantanamo, Cuba, presumably to transfer terrorism suspects.”

      “It said the European Parliament was investigating the private Grumman Gulfstream II, registered by the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, for suspected use in CIA “rendition” flights in which prisoners are covertly transferred to a third country or US-run detention centers.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_drug_trafficking

      In order to provide covert funds for the Kuomintang (KMT) forces loyal to General Chiang Kai-shek, who were fighting the Chinese communists under Mao Zedong, the CIA helped the KMT smuggle opium from China and Burma to Bangkok, Thailand, by providing airplanes owned by one of their front businesses, Air America.[5][6]….

      Released on April 13, 1989, the Kerry Committee report concluded that members of the U.S. State Department “who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking… and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers.”

      The CIA has been accused of moneylaundering the iran-contra drug funds via the BCCI, the former U.S. Commissioner of Customs William von Raab said that when customs agents raided the bank in 1988, they found numerous CIA accounts.[9][10] The CIA also worked with BCCI in arming and financing the Afghan mujahideen during the Afghan War against the Soviet Union, using BCCI to launder proceeds from trafficking heroin grown in the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands, boosting the flow of narcotics to European and U.S. markets.

      It goes on and on. If anything, Webb was too restrained. Of course, the real question is why wouldn’t the CIA smuggle drugs for profits to fund off the books operations and just to enrich various agents, since the CIA operates completely beyond the law.

      Like

    • 22 June 2013 3:42 pm

      Zemtar,

      This is a good example about the importance of sources. The world is filled with urban legends, information, disinformation, and errors. When providing evidence it is of the first importance to give the sources. Otherwise you are just sharing fun stories.

      The AFP cites an unnamed Mexican newspaper. Needless to say, when you included that info, the story loses most of its zing.

      Wikipedia is a reference – a source of links. Some are good. Some are garbage. Citing Wikipedia without the sources tells us absolutely nothing. In this case, they cite books. Are they reliable? I don’t know, and I suspect you don’t either.

      You could use Google Books to see what sources those authors relied upon. That would be interesting.

      The more shocking and important the story, the more reliable the source needed to prove it. I don’t see anything like that here.

      Like

  4. Paul permalink
    24 June 2013 1:16 am

    We have the media we deserve, or we have the media we seek? There are so many Internet, TV, and radio media sources, we choose the sources that reflect our beliefs and values back to us. It’s the rare citizen who looks beyond their fundamental belief system to find a media source that challenges their basic assumptions. (…much the way it was in the newspaper age before radio and TV emerged)

    Like

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  1. 10 People Who Exposed US Government Secrets And Lies | Chronically Bored

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