Most of you have heard about Gary Webb. Back in the 1990s, this excellent journalist penned an important series
about contra/CIA involvement in the dope trade. In response to his revelations, the purchased piglets of the mainstream media slammed Webb the way they had earlier slammed Jim Garrison and Richard Sprague. (In more recent times, Glenn Greenwald has received a softer variant of The Big Smear.)
The attack on Webb was savage. Pitiless. Hideous. And spectacular
. It had the barbaric majesty of an Aztec sacrifice.
I briefly corresponded with Gary Webb about a year before he committed suicide. By then, of course, he had already committed professional
suicide. My expressions of support may have added to his depression, since they probably seemed like premature bereavement cards. My basic message: I admire what you tried to do, Mr. Webb. But they screwed you with obscene ferocity, and right now, I can't think of any way to make things better.
Those may not have been comforting words, but what else was there to say?
The Washington Post is still publishing lies about Gary Webb
in order to undermine the new Webb biopic Kill the Messenger
. The film stars Jeremy Renner, who was the main force in getting this film off the ground. (Hawkeye is suddenly my favorite Avenger.)
The WP piece is written by one Jeff Leen. If you want some background on this guy, visit Narco News
, which has all the dirty details:
Why are we telling you about this Jeff Leen character? You’ve probably never heard of him or read any his work or, if you did, found it important or memorable, not even during his 17 years at the Washington Post. You might be able to name other Post writers and columnists, including people who’ve been there far less time than Leen. But for good reason, you’ve never heard of this guy.
Leen apparently burst a spleen when he saw “Kill the Messenger” on the silver screen. There was the late Gary Webb. Although he never made the “millions” Leen said back in 1997 that he aspired to win through journalism, Webb is suddenly occupying the heroic space in Hollywood’s star pantheon that Leen told us in 1997 was his dream to fill. And so Leen took his butthurt grievance to the Washington Post editorial pages last Friday.
This piece offers much more. A terrific read.
You should also take a look at Robert Parry's response
to the WP's variegated deceits.
Leen insists that there is a journalism dictum that “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” But Leen must know that it is not true. Many extraordinary claims, such as assertions in 2002-03 that Iraq was hiding arsenals of WMDs, were published as flat-fact without “extraordinary proof” or any real evidence at all, including by Leen’s colleagues at the Washington Post.
A different rule actually governs American journalism – that journalists need “extraordinary proof” if a story puts the U.S. government or an “ally” in a negative light but pretty much anything goes when criticizing an “enemy.”
If, for instance, the Post wanted to accuse the Syrian government of killing civilians with Sarin gas or blame Russian-backed rebels for the shoot-down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine, any scraps of proof – no matter how dubious – would be good enough (as was the actual case in 2013 and 2014, respectively).
However, if new evidence undercut those suspicions and shifted the blame to people on “the U.S. side” – say, the Syrian rebels and the Ukrainian government – then the standards of proof suddenly skyrocket beyond reach. So what you get is not “responsible” journalism – as Leen tries to suggest – but hypocrisy and propaganda. One set of rules for the goose and another set for the gander.
Actually, the situation is even worse than that
. I recall an NYT opinion piece published in the late 1980s which scoffed at the paranoid fools who thought that the CIA had tried to kill Fidel Castro -- a story which the New York Times had itself broken in the 1970s. Insert standard Orwell reference here
The best, most detailed, most hard-hitting piece on Webb you are likely to read is by Jim DiEugenio.
If you have time to read only one study of the Webb affair, Jim's article is a must. I had hoped to publish Jim's words on this very blog, but I need the permission of his publisher to do so, and Bob Parry is hard to reach. These excerpts will have to suffice:
Although the initial assaults on Webb’s series were mounted by the right-wing news media, including the Washington Times, the MSM soon prepared its own withering counterattack against Webb. It began on Oct. 4, 1996, with a front-page story, with sidebars, in the Washington Post. The lead article was written by Walter Pincus and Roberto Suro, entitled “The CIA and Crack: Evidence is Lacking of Alleged Plot.”
A relentless offensive followed designed to crush the populist uprising in its infancy. In short order, the New York Times joined in. Then came the Los Angeles Times with the most deliberate and vicious attack. Editor Shelby Coffey commissioned the equivalent of a journalistic SWAT team. No less than 17 reporters prepared a three-day series that was actually longer than Webb’s original “Dark Alliance” series. Internally, it was known as the “Get Gary Webb Team.” (LA Weekly, 9/29/14)
As the team worked, its common chorus was: “We’re going to take away this guy’s Pulitzer.” The hit team was headed by Doyle McManus and Leo Wolinsky. (A few months later, Coffey promoted Wolinsky to assistant managing editor.)
I recall that barrage very well. Representatives of the LAT hit team appeared in every public gathering that would have them, and their obvious lies generated palpable hostility from audiences. Whenever KPFK broadcast a "forum" featuring their voices, I came that
close to tossing my radio out of my second-floor window.
But was there more to all this than just a vendetta against a reporter from a smaller northern California newspaper unearthing a huge scandal on the Los Angeles Times’ home turf? While professional jealousy clearly played a role in the cruelty inflicted on Webb, the intensity of the counterattack also reflected the symbiotic relationship between the U.S. national security apparatus and Washington-based national security reporters who are dependent on official background briefings to receive pre-approved information that news organizations need, especially during foreign crises when access to on-the-ground events is limited.
This next section is important.
Seriously. I implore you to read these words with care, and to keep the message in your memory. I'll return to this theme in a few upcoming posts, including one on the heroic and embattled Syrian Girl.
(In the following excerpt, all emphases were added by me.)
A recently released CIA document on how the counterattack against Webb was promoted is revealing in this regard. Entitled “Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story,” the six-page internal report. described the CIA’s damage control in the wake of the publication of Webb’s story.
The report showed how the spy agency’s PR team exploited relationships with mainstream journalists who then essentially did the CIA’s work for it, mounting a devastating counterattack against Webb that marginalized him and painted the Contra-cocaine trafficking story as some baseless conspiracy theory.
Crucial to that success, the report credits “a ground base of already productive relations with journalists and an effective response by the Director of Central Intelligence’s Public Affairs Staff [that] helped prevent this story from becoming an unmitigated disaster.”
The Agency convinced friendly journalists to characterize Webb’s series as presenting “no real news, in that similar charges were made in the 1980’s and were investigated by the Congress and were found to be without substance.” That, of course, was a lie. In fact, Kerry’s investigation confirmed many of the Contra-cocaine allegations first reported by Parry and Barger for the Associated Press.
According to the CIA’s “Managing a Nightmare” report, journalists were advised to read Webb’s series critically and the CIA considered the initial attack by the Washington Post the key moment in blunting Webb’s story. The CIA distributed the negative stories to other members of the press.
From there, other papers refused to pick up Webb’s articles, but they often carried the articles attacking him. The CIA’s report noted that the tide of the public relations battle had fully turned by October and soon became a rout. Even the American Journalism Review, which – like similar publications – is supposed to stand up for honest journalists under fire, instead joined the all-out charge against Webb.
The Agency crowed how easy it was to work with journalists to first blunt and then turn around this negative national security story.
Are they going to go after Jeremy Renner the same way they went after Gary Webb? If they do, let's turn the attacks to our advantage. Jot down names. Anyone who targets Hawkeye goes on the list of scribblers who keep questionable "Company."
Bottom line: I've never before seen American journalism in such wretched health. Citizens who want to know what's going on in the world are given only these three options:
1. Mainstream journalism.
Largely corrupt. Too many professional newsfolk have established "productive relations" with the CIA and other arms of the government.
2. Fox News and environs.
Worse than corrupt. The far-right media infrastructure exists to send gullible, resentful proles into ecstatic trances of rage-gasm.
3. The conspiracy entertainment complex.
(That useful term was coined by the proprietor of Rigorous Intuition.) The Clown-King of this surreal realm is, of course, Alex Jones. We're talking about an infuriating gaggle of high-decibel screwballs and bleary-eyed Illuminati-spotters who think that they're the hippest of the hip, even though they unwittingly serve as faithful functionaries of the American intelligence establishment. The conspiracy entertainment complex exists to bring discredit to anyone who questions the worldview presented by the mainstream media and the Fox Newsers.
If you look beyond those three categories, you can still find a few real
writers -- seekers of truth who possess courage, insight and professional standards. These brave few have a patron saint: Gary Webb.