Kill the Messenger, a new movie starring Jeremy Renner, tells the story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb’s investigation into the CIA’s involvement in the trade of cocaine and crack cocaine in America.
Webb wrote a three-piece series, “Dark Alliance,” which examined the CIA’s role in allowing, or possibly aiding in, the Nicaraguan cocaine trade in the US as a means to fund the Contra war during the 1980s. Despite turning up evidence to support his claims, Webb was blacklisted by the mainstream media and struggled to work as a journalist until his suicide in 2004.
Now that Renner’s movie has brought Webb’s legacy back into the national spotlight, media outlets are taking the chance to once again attempt to tarnish Webb.
Jeff Leen, the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, published an op-ed last week in which he says Webb “was no journalism hero,” despite what the film might say.
“The Hollywood version of his story – a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media – is pure fiction,” wrote Leen. “Webb’s story made the extraordinary claim that the [CIA] was responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in America. What he lacked was extraordinary proof.”
As Leen pointed out, things fell apart for Webb. “The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, in a rare show of unanimity, all wrote major pieces knocking down the story for its overblown claims and undernourished reporting.”
Leen is, however, dragging Webb through the mud for something that The Post itself is guilty of. “Many extraordinary claims, such as assertion in 2002-2003 that Iraq was hiding arsenal’s of WMDs, were published as flat-fact without ‘extraordinary proof’ or any real evidence all, including by Leen’s colleagues at the Washington Post,” wrote Robert Parry for Consortium News.
Parry suggests that many of the problems with Leen’s criticisms stem from the fact that they are incorrect in their basis.
“…there was ‘extraordinary proof’ establishing that the Contras were implicated in drug trafficking and that the Reagan administration was looking the other way,” said Parry, noting his own work in investigating this issue decades before, he had turned up documents from Costa Rica, statements by Contras and Contra backers, and admissions from officials in the DEA and Reagan’s National Security Council staff.
“[Leen] also falsely characterizes the US government’s later admissions contained in inspector general reports by the CIA and Justice Department,” wrote Parry. “If Leen had bothered to read the reports thoroughly, he would have realized that the reports actually establish that Webb … grossly understated the seriousness of the Contra-cocaine problem which began at the start of the Contra movement in the early 1980s and lasted through the decade until the end of the war.”
Webb, working for the San Jose Mercury News, managed to expose what countless other journalists had previously been unable to do. And for that, Big Media turned on him and ruined his reputation and his life. Nearly twenty years later, The Washington Post just can’t leave it alone.