Reaction on Gary Webb *

The LA Weekly's Marc Cooper was quite disturbed by the Times coverage of the death of Gary Webb, the Sacramento reporter who shot himself last week. He's been writing about it on his blog and uncorks a scathing retort in the new issue of the Weekly. It's not just that he feels Webb was wronged, which he does; it's also that, he writes, the Times ignored a CIA report that confirmed the gist of Webb's 1996 series on ties between the agency and Central American drug runners.

First the L.A. Times helped kill off Gary Webb’s career. Then, eight years later, after Webb committed suicide this past weekend, the Times decided to give his corpse another kick or two, in a scandalous, self-serving and ultimately shameful obituary. It was the culmination of the long, inglorious saga of a major newspaper dropping the ball journalistically, and then extracting relentless revenge on an out-of-town reporter who embarrassed it.


The Times mustered an army of 25 reporters, led by Doyle McManus, to take down Webb’s reporting....When its own three-day series appeared a few months later — attempting to demolish Webb — the Times disproved a number of points that were never made by Webb, primarily that the CIA consciously engaged in a program to spread the use of crack.


And here’s the low point in this tale: After the CIA inspector general made public the second part of his investigation — the one sparked by Webb — which admitted to some links between the agency and Central American drug dealers, the L.A. Times chose not to publish a single story about the report....In short, when it came to the Gary Webb series and its allegations, the L.A. Times wound up being more protective of the CIA than the CIA itself.

Cooper quotes a former Associated Press reporter, Robert Parry, who says he told the Times reporters last week of Webb's vindication and said he was owed a debt of gratitutde, but the material didn't make it into the story. The LAT story by Nita Lelyveld and Steve Hymon, which ran Sunday, was more news report than obituary, since Webb had just been found dead—of two gunshot wounds to the head, it turns out, but authorities sound confident it was suicide. The Sacramento Bee has been reporting on Webb all week, and there are stories today (via Romenesko) by his former editor at the San Jose Mercury News and by David Corn at the Nation. * Update: Parry writes about the entire episode at Also, CityBeat's Kevin Uhrich covers the Webb story today with a piece called Death by Press, and OC Weekly's Nick Schou also writes a piece concluding the media killed Webb.

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