Gary Webb and the Shame of Journalism

Gary WebbOne of the best things we did when we all came over to Esquire in 1997 was give some of the last journalism work to a great reporter named Gary Webb. Webb, you may recall, reported the hell out of the story that some of our Moral Equivalents of the Founding Fathers in Central America during the glory days of Ronald Reagan’s advancing senility were running cocaine up into the United States with the blessings of their CIA handlers. This all helped jump-start the entrepreneurial triumph that was crack cocaine. The government came after Webb hard. Disinformation flew thickly and fast. His newspaper, the San Jose Mercury-News, chickened out on him. Other newspapers, most notably the Los Angeles Times, piled on. Of all the disgraceful episodes regarding the press and the Reagan administration, the discrediting of Gary Webb was probably the worst, given the fact that so much of the elite press was complicit in what was done to him. In 1998, a report by the CIA’s inspector general confirmed what Webb had reported, and several of the institutions that had smeared him were forced to apologize. But that turned out not to be enough. Gary Webb apparently took his own life in 2004.

Now, though, it seems there will be a movie about Gary Webb, and what happened to him. I hope to god every reporter in Washington DC, especially the famous ones, the ones that treasure their access so goddamn much that they’d never inconvenience the people they cover, will watch this movie and leave the theater with their raincoats over their heads in shame.

—Charlie Pierce
Out on the Weekend


Here’s the trailer. I’m sure, contrary to Pierce’s wish, the press will push it as a story of one of their own, even though the primary reason that Webb seems to have taken his life is that no one would hire him.

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