14 January 2005
On December 16, 2004, Editor & Publisher reported, "Gary Webb, former San Jose Mercury News reporter, was found dead in his Carmichael, Calif. home on Friday morning, December 10, 2004. 'The cause of death was determined to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head,' said a statement issued by the Sacramento County Coroner's Office. Information and evidence gathered at the scene of death, including a handwritten note indicating an intention on the part of the decedent to take his own life, resulted in 'suicide' as the determined manner of death.
I never met Gary Webb, but my daughter Cassandra did. As a fledgling investigative reporter for the Associated Press, she conducted the last interview with him for AP just before he left the San Jose Mercury News. She had been the most junior reporter at AP's Sacramento office where all the senior reporters had personally known Webb too well to prepare an impartial story. So they sent the "new kid." After Cassandra had filed her report, I asked her what Webb was like. "Oh, he's a really gentle, cool guy -- 100% journalist."
"How's he taking it?" I asked.
"Well, I think, philosophically," she replied. "He told me that's sometimes the price good journalists have to pay for getting the truth out. They can lose their jobs."
Thereafter, Webb wrote "Dark Alliance" and gave lectures on his work and the drug smuggling into the United States that is a part of America's covert wars.
Earlier, writers such as Michael Levine and Laura Kavanau-Levine who published, "The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic" or Alfred W. McCoy who wrote "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade," seemed to have come through it unscathed. Maybe the C.I.A. and their domestic propagandists allow historians to "get away with it. " That was then, but Gary Webb had written about them about now. Webb's serialized exposé in the San Jose Mercury News, where his book's title originated, caused such a public outcry that his reports simply couldn't be ignored. Indeed, when Webb's stories first broke one drug gang-infested Los Angeles community became so enraged that the then CIA Director Deutsch was obliged to visit the public in a futile attempt to calm them and protect the "good name" of the CIA. He was virtually run out of town -- shown on national televison.
Investigative journalist Robert Parry, Gary Webb's comrade in arms who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek, recently wrote of his fallen colleague:
"At Webb's death, however, it should be noted that his great gift to American history was that he -- along with angry African-American citizens -- forced the government to admit some of the worst crimes ever condoned by any American administration: the protection of drug smuggling into the United States as part of a covert war against a country, Nicaragua, that represented no real threat to Americans.
"But the real tragedy of Webb's historic gift - and of his life cut short -- is that because of the major news media's callowness and cowardice, this dark chapter of the Reagan-Bush era remains largely unknown to the American people."
Robert Parry perhaps put it best when he wrote:
"For his brave reporting at the San Jose Mercury News, Webb paid a high price. He was attacked by journalistic colleagues at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The American Journalism Review and even The Nation magazine. Under this media pressure, his editor Jerry Ceppos sold out the story and demoted Webb, causing him to quit the Mercury News. Even Webb's marriage broke up.
"On Friday, Dec. 10, Gary Webb, 49, died of an apparent suicide, a gunshot wound to the head. Whatever the details of Webb's death, American history owes him a huge debt. Though denigrated by much of the national news media, Webb's contra-cocaine series prompted internal investigations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department, probes that confirmed that scores of contra units and contra-connected individuals were implicated in the drug trade. The probes also showed that the Reagan-Bush administration frustrated investigations into those crimes for geopolitical reasons."