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Gary Webb dead, suicide claimed -- ?
by Sam Stanton and Sandy Louey -- Bee Staff Writ
Monday Dec 13th, 2004 10:13 PM
Gary Webb, prize-winning investigative journalist whose career was capped with a newspaper series linking the CIA to the crack cocaine epidemic in LA, died Friday of "self-inflicted gunshot wounds", according to the Sacramento Municipal Tooth Fairy.
Obituary: Gary Webb, prize-winning investigative reporter
By Sam Stanton and Sandy Louey -- Bee Staff Writers
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, December 12, 2004

Gary Webb, a prize-winning investigative journalist whose star-crossed
career was capped with a controversial newspaper series linking the CIA to
the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles, died Friday of self-inflicted
gunshot wounds, officials said.
Mr. Webb, 49, was found dead in his Carmichael home Friday morning of
gunshot wounds to the head, the Sacramento County Coroner's Office said
Saturday.

He left a note, but officials would not disclose its contents.

"I'm still in a state of shock," said Tom Dresslar, who works as a spokesman
for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and had known Mr. Webb for 15
years.

"He was a hard-core, no-fear investigative reporter," Dresslar said. "He
wasn't afraid to stand up to whatever authority."
The two worked together when the Joint Legislative Audit Committee was
investigating the Davis administration over the failed Oracle Corp. software
contract.

Dresslar said Mr. Webb brought all the skills and tenacity that he had honed
as an investigative reporter to his job as an investigator for the Assembly.
"I was proud to work with him and call him a friend," Dresslar said.

Mr. Webb was divorced and had three children, according to Dresslar.

Most recently, Mr. Webb had been reporting for the Sacramento News & Review,
covering politics and state government.

Mr. Webb had been working in the California Assembly speaker's Office of
Member Services until February, when he was ousted after the new speaker,
Fabian Núñez, took office.

Mr. Webb won more than 30 journalism awards in his career, which included
stints with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the San Jose Mercury News.

But it was Mr. Webb's tenure at the Mercury News from 1988 to 1997 that made
his name in the business and eventually drove him from daily newspapers.

Mr. Webb, who was based in the newspaper's Sacramento bureau, authored a
three-part investigative series in 1996 that linked the CIA to Nicaraguan
Contras seeking to overthrow the Sandinista government and to drug sales of
crack cocaine flooding south-central Los Angeles in the 1980s.

The series, "Dark Alliances: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion," was
controversial almost from the start.

Even as newspapers nationwide carried versions of Mr. Webb's reporting and
congressional leaders called for investigations, the CIA director at the
time visited Los Angeles for an unprecedented town hall meeting with area
residents at which he denied the allegations and was met with loud jeers.

Three of the nation's leading newspapers, the New York Times, the Los
Angeles Times and the Washington Post, followed up with reports questioning
Mr. Webb's conclusions, and eventually his own newspaper turned on him.

In a letter to readers published in the Mercury News in May 1997,
then-Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos told readers there had been problems with
the series and that "we fell short at every step of our process - in the
writing, editing and production of our work."

Within a month of that note's publication, Mr. Webb told the Washington Post
that he had been pulled off the story, and his editors had told him they
would not publish his follow-ups.

He also said he was fighting a transfer from the Sacramento bureau to a
posting in Cupertino.

By then, however, his fate at the Mercury News was sealed, and he left the
paper that year, eventually taking a job with the Assembly.

Mr. Webb later published a 548-page book based on his series, and in a 1998
interview with The Bee he said he still was befuddled over how he became
notorious while the allegations in his stories were dismissed.

"That is an amazing phenomenon," he said. "I'm still not exactly sure how
that happened."


About the writer:
The Bee's Sam Stanton can be reached at (916) 321-1091 or
sstanton [at] sacbee.com.


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