Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” Ignored by Dailies

Alternatives Sole Source for Continued Investigation of the CIA/Contra/crack connection.

Gary Webb’s Woodward-esque stint was fleeting.

In the months following the publication of his series “Dark Alliance” in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996, Webb saw his stock fall from giant slayer to sewer rat inside the pages of the daily papers.

Led by the big three — Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times — Webb’s “Dark Alliance,” which suggested that the CIA helped Nicaraguan Contras introduce crack cocaine to South Central Los Angeles, was dissected and damned. His own paper didn’t take the heat well. Mercury News editors were quick to disown Webb’s story. He eventually quit the paper.

Two years later, Webb has re-emerged. His book, “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion” was released in June.

But you wouldn’t know about it by reading the dailies. When it comes to Gary Webb or the feds-as-drug-dealing-enablers story, daily papers have shown little interest and few column inches.

In contrast, Webb’s book — and the continuing CIA/Contra/crack story — have garnered plenty of ink in the country’s alternative papers such as the San Francisco Bay Guardian, LA Weekly and Sacramento News & Review.

Why the disparity?

“When the controversy surrounding Webb’s series started, the Mercury News wimped out,” says Dan Pulcrano, executive editor of San Jose’s Metro. “The big three papers began to poke holes in the articles, and all the paper has done since is repeatedly discredit Webb’s reporting. Every time the CIA does a study absolving themselves of being connected to drug dealers, [the Mercury News and other dailies] run the story on the front page …

“I think the reason you see a difference in coverage is that alternatives — unlike the dailies — don’t need the government insiders for stories — especially when it comes to a beat like the CIA. The dailies don’t want to burn bridges with their sources. Because of that, the CIA has been able to use their spin machine on the establishment media.”

Riverfront Times writer C.D. Stelzer is working on a local angle to the CIA/Contra/crack connection, interviewing a St. Louis private investigator who has also dabbled as a federal informant and Costa Rican drug henchman. Stelzer thinks dailies were quick to stamp Webb’s work “conspiracy bullshit” because the folks in Langley, VA wouldn’t allow it to be reported any other way.

“The group of people covering this stuff everyday never discredit the CIA,” he says. “I guess they value their careers more then what they’re supposed to do as reporters.”

Of the three major dailies, only the Washington Post has reviewed Webb’s book. Nancy Martinez of the New York Times Book Review says, “I can’t really tell you if we’re going to review it. We haven’t made a decision.” Ethel Alexander at the Los Angeles Times says “Dark Allianc” has been assigned to a reviewer, but “I don’t know when it’s going to run.” Even the Sacramento Bee, which has a reputation of supporting local authors, has yet to mention “Dark Alliance,” according to Webb, who spoke to AAN News from his home in Sacramento.

“And the Bee usually does lavish spreads on local authors … My old paper [the Mercury News] hasn’t said a word about the book either,” he says. “I’m not surprised by it. It’s not in their best interests to make the story legitimate. The Reagan administration had a hold on the mainstream press — which was the absolute worst thing to have. The Contras were anathema to the Reagan administration; the mainstream press was made to believe they were freedom fighters … By admitting there’s a [CIA/drug] connection, the Washington press corps admits they fucked up. It’s easier for them to report what the government tells them and not challenge it.”

But the dailies’ aversion goes beyond Webb’s book. It appears that minimal coverage is the status quo anytime the CIA/Contra/crack connection is mentioned.

While the New York Times ran a front page story July 17 publicizing a CIA study that said the agency had associated with Nicaraguan coke-dealing rebels, other dailies’ coverage that same day was marginal: “Study Questions CIA Contacts in ’80s,” appeared on A13 of the Orlando Sentinel; likewise, the Bee buried a few hundred words on the story deep in the paper.

The Post — which shot down Webb’s series in October ’96 with the A1 headline: “The CIA and Crack: Evidence Is Lacking of Alleged Plot” — has run three stories about the CIA’s “alleged” ties to drug traffickers in the past 12 months, according to a search of the paper’s archives.

The paper’s Walter Pincus, who co-authored the Post’s ’96 dismissal of “Dark Alliance,” wrote a story in March about the CIA inspector general’s admission that the agency knowingly cavorted with cocaine merchants.

The story got 500 words on A12.

Scant coverage of stories showing links between CIA-backed jungle patriots and drug trafficking is old news, says David Corn, The Nation editor and New York Press columnist who reviewed “Dark Alliance” for the Washington Post and said the book “has flaws,” but also called it “an important piece of recent history.”

“Over 10 years ago, [AP reporters] Bob Parry and Brian Barger did a bunch of stories about the government and Contra drug dealers,” says Corn. “[Senator] John Kerry’s subcommittee that came out a few years later also had evidence connecting the Contras and drugs. In both instances, it was treated as too unbelievable to be mainstream by the Washington press corp. They took and printed what the government wanted and didn’t think there was any basis to look anymore into the subject.

“I assume the alternative press is covering this because they’re doing their jobs. They’re looking into subjects the mainstream media has ignored or hasn’t caught onto yet … If the Washington Post or New York Times had done their job back in the ’80s, we wouldn’t be talking about this now.”

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