cj#896> Gary Webb interview: WAITING TO EXHALE


Richard Moore

From: <a friend>
Date: Sun, 17 Jan 1999
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: Fwd:  [] Waiting To Exhale

a nicely done easy to grasp article about one of the greatest of US evils and
how the media tried to make it go away.

Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999
To: •••@••.•••
From: Peter Webster <•••@••.•••>
Subject: [] Waiting To Exhale

Source: Eugene Weekly (OR)
Copyright: Eugene Weekly 1999.
Website: http://www.eugeneweekly.com/
Contact: •••@••.•••
Pubdate: 15 Jan 1999
Author: Alan Pittman


Crack-Contra/CIA scandal still smolders as nation turns its attention to
sex scandals.

The CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras funded their war in Central America with
crack sold on the streets of L.A. ghettoes, according to Gary Webb, a
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who will speak in Eugene this Saturday.

Webb reported on the links between the CIA, the Contras and the deadly
crack cocaine explosion in the U.S. in a 1996 series of articles in the San
Jose Mercury News. After the series sparked public outrage in Congress and
the African-American community, the national media and the CIA began
attacking Webb's reporting as unfounded.

Webb stuck to his story and quit the Mercury News after the paper failed to
back him up. Now, he's published a book, Dark Alliance (Seven Stories
Press, 1998) on the scandal.

Webb will speak at 7:30 pm Jan. 16 at the United Methodist Church behind
the Eugene Public Library. He spoke to EW by telephone from Sacramento
about his work uncovering the crack-Contra/CIA connection.

How are sales of your book going?

Beyond my wildest expectations. I got my first report, and it was stunning.
We sold like 50,000 books in five weeks.

Why did the mainstream press attack your newspaper series?

There were a number of reasons for that. This was a story that those papers
- specifically the Washington Post, New York Times and L.A. Times - could
have done if they had wanted to back in the '80s when this stuff was going
on. There were certainly enough clues around. But in some cases for
political reasons, in some cases for sheer incompetence, nobody ever put
the pieces together and figured out what it meant. So when a little
Northern California newspaper comes along 10 years later and has this big
huge story, it pissed them off.

The deeper problem was this is not the kind of story these papers have done
for many, many years. Essentially, you're talking about a crime of state -
you've got the U.S. Government complicit in drug trafficking.

The other thing that I think annoyed them was that the story got out in
spite of them. The big papers are used to being able to set the national
agenda for what's news and isn't news. Here we came along, a paper that
nobody on the East Coast reads, and we put the thing up on the Web with all
our supporting documentation, and I went on talk radio. Suddenly we've got
a Web site that's getting a million hits a day, and everybody is talking
about this story that they [the big papers] have never printed a word of,
and their readers are calling them up wondering why the hell they're
sitting on this story.

You put all that together, and I think they're natural inclination was,
well, we're going to knock the hell out of this thing. The fact that nobody
ever found a factual error in it, I thought was lost in the controversy.

Was the CIA involved in the drug smuggling or did they just turn a blind
eye to it?

All my theories ever said was there were CIA agents who knew about it. And
we proved it, we had pictures of a CIA agent meeting with these drug

The scenario a lot of people took from that was that this was a CIA plot to
dump cocaine in the black ghettoes. I never found any evidence of that. But
given what has come out since my series - there were two investigations
that were done, by the Justice Department and by the CIA internal
investigations - I didn't go nearly far enough in retrospect. The CIA knew
a lot more about this than I would have imagined, and they've now admitted
it. The problem is you haven't seen these stories in the paper because they
contradict everything they were writing two years ago. The agency has
basically confessed and nobody wants to hear the confession because [the
big papers] had all declared them innocent.

How does the Monica Lewinsky scandal compare to the story you uncovered?

Well, that wasn't even a scandal as far as I'm concerned. It's just some
guy getting his ashes hauled. This [crack-CIA] thing is a crime of state,
and millions of Americans have paid for this over and over again.

That's the problem with the press today. They'll focus on the trivial and
titillating and let the big huge stories just go by in the night because
they don't want to devote the effort to do them. It took me a year to work
on this full time. Reporters don't get that kind of time anymore, they
don't get the space to do that kind of story. You get the space for sex

Nobody is going to get in trouble for writing a story about a politician
getting laid. The stories that I like to do are the stories that get
newspapers in trouble. They [the mainstream press] have just become so
timid. I saw it as not even worth hanging around, I mean, who wants to do
that kind of crap?

What's the significance of this story? It happened a number of years ago
under a different president.

Because we're still living with the aftereffects of it. We've still got
crack raging in inner city neighborhoods, they're locking people up left
and right for selling minuscule amounts of what government agents were
bringing into this country by the plane-load.

One of the things I hoped to do with this story is open up people's eyes to
this parallel universe that exists out there in the intelligence community
which we rarely if ever get a glimpse of. I think Washington was scared of
that. I don't think they wanted extensive CIA drug-dealing hearings.
Because people would sort of wonder what they're spending they're $26
billion a year on.

Some of the critics said the story said or implied that the CIA was
responsible for the entire crack epidemic. Is that what you were saying?

All I ever said in that story was they were responsible for starting the
first major market for it. What I really saw was really a chain reaction
rather than a vast conspiracy.

But I think the black community, because they have been so put upon over
the years and have been the victims of conspiracies before, saw this as
another CIA conspiracy to keep them down. I never found any evidence of that.

But the more I think about it, it's the difference between manslaughter and
murder. It's the intent. The intent was not to poison black America but to
raise money for the Contras, and they didn't really care what it came from.
If it involved selling drugs in black communities, well, this was the price
of admission.

The CIA has been involved in some questionable things such as torture and
overthrowing democratically elected governments. Why were your stories
surprising to people?

It beats the hell out of me. This is an agency that has murdered foreign
leaders, why would they have any qualms about selling cocaine?

In this country - and I think in a large part due to the mainstream press -
we have this delusion that the CIA is this noble enterprise of honorable
men, and they're not. You really don't get that prospective until you go to
a foreign country where the CIA is allowed to operate openly and ask people
there what they think of the CIA. It's like asking people about the Klu
Klux Klan, they hate them because of the stuff they do.

Does your experience say a lot about how the press in Washington works?

Absolutely. I get into in the book about the reporter at the Washington
Post who launched the attack against my series. It turns out that the guy
actually worked for the CIA in the '60s [spying on students]. If I was the
editor at the Washington Post, he'd be the last person I'd assign to cover
the CIA. The guy's compromised, he's too close to the agency. You want
someone that's going to go in there and kick some ass, not someone who's
going to go out and have lunch with these guys. But that's the attitude. I
worked in the Washington press corps for a while, they want to be the
people they are covering, they didn't want to be reporters.

I think the alternative press is becoming more important as the mainstream
press becomes more corporatized and more sanitized and homogenized. You'd
be hard pressed to go to any major city in the United States and pick up
the daily newspaper and tell it from any other daily newspaper. They're all
pretty much the same anymore, which is boring.

If the CIA hadn't been involved, would there still have been a crack
epidemic in the U.S.?

There would have been. It was coming anyway. Whether it [crack] would have
wound up in South Central Los Angeles in the hands of the street gangs is a
completely different question. That's one we'll never know the answer to. I
doubt it would have happened the same way, with the same intensity. We're
not talking about a little cocaine, we're talking about tons that were
allowed to come into this country through this drug ring.

editor's note: Eugene Media Action, a committee of Eugene Peace Works,
organized Webb's talk in Eugene. The group works for more accuracy and
diversity in the mainstream media and recently opened a Community Media
Center in the Growers Market at 454 Willamette. 
Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
MAP posted-by: Mike Gogulski

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