South Central, Los Angeles–Gary Webb is rarely talked about today within the world of investigative journalism, despite the film “Kill The Messenger” being made in 2014 about his life and work. Webb was a reporter with a small paper in San Jose, California called the San Jose Mercury News. In Aug. 1996, he wrote an explosive series of articles on the origins of the crack/cocaine epidemic that infested inner cities including South Central, Los Angeles. He alleged gangs in South Central were allowed access to large amounts of cocaine by a paid CIA operate, to fund U.S financed Nicaraguan Contra Rebels.
In the early days of the internet, prior to social media, Webb’s three part series was widely read, with the website his newspaper set up hitting millions of views daily. The series enraged people from community members in South Central, to leaders in congress. In the beginning, Webb’s editors fully supported him and the series. Then, Jerry Ceppos, who at the time was the top editor at the San Jose Mercury News, buckled under the good-ol-boys club of mainstream media.
“The Mercury News reporter came under sustained attack from the weightier US newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and, especially, the Los Angeles Times, infuriated at being scooped, on its own patch, by what it saw as a small-town paper.
When Webb pressed the Mercury News to allow him to investigate the LA connection further, his own newspaper issued a retraction which earned its editor, Jerry Ceppos, wide praise from rival publications, but effectively disowned Webb, who then suffered the kind of corporate lynching that reporters are usually expected to dispense rather than endure,” The Independent.
Ceppos wrote an open letter, apologizing for the “Dark Alliance Series.” He also sent Webb to another Mercury news located over 100 miles from his home. Currently, Ceppos is a journalism professor at Louisiana State University.
‘Dark Alliance’ – both as journalism and as a book – is a convoluted narrative, but the crucial link it establishes is between the “agricultural salesman” Oscar Danilo Blandón, a Contra sympathizer with close CIA links, and his best customer, an LA drug dealer known as “Freeway” Ricky Ross,” (The Independent).
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Disenfranchised folks around the U.S affected by the drug crisis in our country and specifically African-Americans in our inner cities, owe a great deal of respect to Webb. He sacrificed his career in what he thought was investigative journalism, to reveal the insidious nature of our government and their willingness to sacrifice Black communities for profit and self interest abroad.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters was one of the fiercest advocate for answers, calling for an investigation as well as testifying.
The calls for accountability were so demanding, that then CIA director John Deutch was forced to a town-hall meeting at Locke High School in Watts. He was unable to calm the upset community members who did not accept the CIA’s word of no involvement.
As noted in The Independent,” Webb’s critics in rival newspapers, “quoted these CIA guys – who had a tremendous amount to hide – as though they were telling the truth. Gary Webb became, quite unfairly, the victim of one of the most extraordinary examples of piling on by the mainstream press, ever.”
Photo: Rick Meyer