Do we have a free press today? Sure we do. It's free to report all the sex scandals it wants, all the stock market news we can handle, every new health fad that comes down the pike, and every celebrity marriage or divorce that happens. But when it comes to the real down and dirty stuff... that's where we begin to see the limits of our freedoms.
On December 18, I attended Gary Webb's memorial service in Sacramento, along with about 250 other people.
In 1996, Webb wrote a series of articles ("Dark Alliance") for the San Jose Mercury News reporting that, in the 1980s, "a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to... street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to an arm of the contra guerrillas of Nicaragua run by the Central Intelligence Agency" and the "cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America... "
The "contra guerrillas," of course, were the Reagan administration CIA-nurtured darlings who sought to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
The story, obviously, was huge. Too huge, as it turns out, for certain powerful sensibilities. The disinformation machine soon was cranked up full tilt, and shortly after the series' publication, the Big Three in American newspapers -- the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post -- shamefully dedicated time and column inches attacking the veracity of Webb's assertions instead of pursuing the story. His professional coup de grace was administered by his own editor, Jerry Ceppos, who journalistically ran for cover and left the Pulitzer-winning reporter twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.
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