By Contributor on June 27, 2013

I began working as Gary Webb's editor on "Dark Alliance", the book, in July 1997, almost a year after his newspaper series of the same name broke so controversially in the San Jose Mercury News. As recently as one year earlier Gary Webb had been one of the nation's top investigative reporters. His awards included a Pulitzer in 1990 as part of a team, and at least four other major prizes for his solo work. But by the time I met him, he'd already begun the spectacular fall that ended with his suicide several weeks ago, barely seven years later, at the age of forty-nine.

What would turn out to be the biggest story of his life ran as a three-day series beginning on August 18, 1996. Here's how it started: "For the better part of a decade, a Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found."

The "Dark Alliance" story documented a network of collusion in the 1980s that joined together the crack cocaine explosion, the Contras, and the CIA. But it might have vanished without a trace had the paper not chosen this story to create a splash for its website, complete with graphics and links to original source documents. It became, arguably, the first big Internet news story, with as many as 1.3 million hits on a single day. Talk radio picked it up off the Internet, and citizens' groups and media watchdogs soon followed. The CIA launched its own internal investigation. Gary's star had never shone more brightly.

The mainstream print media was ominously silent until October and November 1996, when The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times all finally picked up the story. But instead of launching their own investigations into whether the CIA had shielded drug traffickers, these papers went after Gary's reporting, although they "could not find a single significant factual error," as Gary's then-editor at The Mercury News, Jerry Ceppos, would write in an internal memo. But after that, the series was described frequently as "discredited." Soon the story and Gary himself were spoiled goods. Gary's editor switched sides and penned an apologia distancing the paper from the series. Gary was forced out of his job, even though the body of evidence supporting Gary's account was actually growing.

Two years later, the CIA's internal investigation would prove to be a vindication of Gary's work. So would another internal investigation conducted by the Justice Department. Gary took solace in the historical significance of these findings, but shamelessly the mainstream press barely covered them, whereas the attacks on Gary had been page-one news.

With characteristic irony and faith in the facts, Gary faulted himself only for not being able to fathom initially the depths of the CIA's complicity. Writing in 2002 for a book called Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Gary said: "When the CIA and Justice Department finished their internal investigations two years later, the classified documents that were released showed ... the CIA's knowledge and involvement had been far greater than I'd ever imagined. The drug ring was even bigger than I had portrayed.... And agents and officials of the DEA had protected the traffickers from arrest, something I'd not been allowed to print."

Gary had loved writing the "Dark Alliance" book, and together we relished presenting finished copies to the very same newspapers of record that had allowed themselves to be used as tools against Gary. The book was reviewed with high praise in two out of the three, and it was a strong seller.

The alternative media, to its credit, honored Gary. But the community of his peers in corporate journalism never again embraced him. He could never quite get over their betrayal. When you are an investigative reporter armed with the truth, the gun often fires backwards.

Gary once wrote about the "Dark Alliance" series, "It wasn't so much a conspiracy that I had outlined as it was a chain reaction." The same can be said of what happened to Gary.

Now when I reread the opening sentence of the "Dark Alliance" series, I realize Gary had found the big story, the one about the betrayal of a people by its own government. A monumental sadness remains.

Dan Simon is founder and publisher of Seven Stories Press.

Section: 

Topics: 

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Subscribe to The Progressive and Get A Free 2015 Calendar

From a puny real-estate deal to campaign finance scandals, Walker's stench is in the air.

By Julia Burke
Ali Abd ElRahman believes the United States has the potential to take a leadership role in food...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter