Tangled Webb

We here at the Chico News & Review never got a chance to meet journalist Gary Webb during the short time he worked for the Sacramento News & Review, but we did have the chance to run one of his stories on our cover (“The Killing Game,” Oct. 21). And we have felt the sting of his Dec. 10 suicide—albeit from 90 miles away. In the wake of his death, we’ve been reminded of the shoddy treatment he received at the hands of his editors and former fellow journalists in the mainstream press after the San Jose Mercury News published his 1996 series investigating the Contra/CIA/crack cocaine connections. Those reminders have come from how papers like the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee and even the Mercury News handled his obituary. There was speculation in those papers that Webb took his own life because he was unable to climb back to their level of journalism and had to settle instead for the second tier of news reporting and investigation. Not only is that an insult to alternative papers like ours, it also defies logic. Why would Webb want to get back into a business that criticized and abandoned him because of an investigation whose outrageous findings were later confirmed, at least in part, by the CIA itself? We may never know why Webb ended his life when he did, but we’re sure it was his decision, despite notions to the contrary by some conspiracy theory enthusiasts.

Webb’s investigation was hardly an isolated, one-person scream from the wilderness. A decade before Webb’s stories were published, Sen. John Kerry, who you may recall recently ran for president, led an investigation into the same allegations, sparked by the Iran-Contra congressional hearings into the Reagan administration and its frothing (and legally questionable) obsession with bringing down the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Kerry’s investigations made the same connections—CIA/Contras/cocaine—and like Webb he was criticized in the mainstream press because of his audacity in questioning the moral integrity of insanely popular President Ronald Reagan. In response, Reagan’s administration tried its best to discredit Kerry, a brave guy who didn’t shrink from shouting the unpopular truth to an unappreciative audience. Sound familiar? Finally, in 1998, the CIA conducted an internal investigation into the matter and confirmed much of what Kerry and later Webb had uncovered.

Last week Sacramento News & Review Editor Tom Walsh shared with us this e-mail he’d just received: “Gary Webb had the courage to investigate connections between elements of the U.S. government and Central American drug traffickers in the 1980s when it was political quicksand. Because of his work, the CIA launched an Inspector General’s investigation that found dozens of troubling connections to drug-runners. That wouldn’t have happened if Gary Webb hadn’t been willing to stand up and risk it all. I hope he finds the peace that eluded him in this life.” It was from Sen. John Kerry.

Want to show your support for the troops in Iraq? What better way than putting one of those yellow magnetic “Support our troops” stickers on your vehicle? (Is it me, or has anyone else noticed a disproportionate number of these yellow messages slapped onto those illogically large, petroleum-inefficient SUVs? Do the drivers feel guilty every time they have to stop and pump 30 to 40 gallons of gas into their tanks while our troops fight to protect the oil fields and pipelines of Iraq?) This week I got one of those magnets in the mail here at work from the good folks at the Grocery Outlet. But apparently I threw away the letter explaining the promotion. All I can suggest is that, if you want to do your part in the struggle to bring democracy to Iraq and lower prices to the pump, go to the local Grocery Outlet and ask them for the details. Hey, I wonder if Donald Rumsfeld has one of these deals on the back of his car.