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Tribute to 'Dark Alliance' and Gary Webb (pt. 3)
by Brian Covert / Independent Journalist
Sunday Dec 10th, 2006 3:30 PM
A decade after the "Dark Alliance" newspaper series sent shockwaves around the world with its investigation into crack cocaine/CIA/Contra connections, a tribute is presented to "Dark Alliance" and its investigator/author, journalist Gary Webb....and to the true spirit of journalism that he represented in his time.




'A NATURAL STORY':

A Tribute to 'Dark Alliance' and Journalist Gary Webb

— Part III —

(continued) Interview with Gary Webb at San Jose Mercury News office

Sacramento, California - Thursday, 13 February 1997


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Q: How did you get started on this story?

WEBB: I got a phone call from a woman [Coral Talavera Baca] in Oakland whose boyfriend [Rafael Corñejo] was part of this Nicaraguan drug operation, and he was in jail and she thought he was there undeservedly. She called me up and told me about his case, and in the process of telling me about his case, told me about this man, Danilo Blandón. After he poured all this cocaine into Los Angeles and became a rental car magnate, he then went to work for the United States government as a DEA informant. And this was one of the cases he was working on for them, against this woman’s boyfriend. In the process of preparing for that case, his lawyers had gotten a lot of information from the government about who Danilo Blandón really was. He wasn’t just a DEA informant: He had a long history of dealing drugs in California, and specifically South Central [Los Angeles], and he implicated himself in dealings with the CIA. And when their lawyers said, “Well, this is all very interesting, what’s under all this black stuff that you’ve put all over these pages?”, like this— [holds up blacked-out government documents]

Q: Would you mind showing that paper, and explain what it is?

WEBB: [holding up papers for TV camera] This is some documents we got from the DEA in response to a “Freedom of Information Act” request, which presumably gives the public the right to ask the government for documents about things like these cocaine dealers. And this is what you get back, because this is all considered secret or an invasion of his privacy or some other such nonsense.

Q: Who makes the judgment as to what should be considered secret?

WEBB: Oh, the agency that keeps the files goes through them and says, “Well, they don’t need to know this and they don’t need to know all this stuff here,” and they just cross it all out. So what you end up with is, like, a name and an address on a piece of paper. Some of these are even about newspaper stories. They are really agency rewrites of newspaper stories, and they’ve crossed them out.

Q: This woman [Coral Talavera Baca] called you. But you’re an investigative reporter, pretty well known, you’ve covered a lot of things in California, you get lots of calls. And I’m sure you get lots of calls from people telling you stuff that you look into and it’s totally preposterous, and you say, “Thank you very much.” Did you first think [in this case], “Aw, come on lady….”?

WEBB: Yeah. I mean, I thought “Oh, come on, lady” because she started talking about the CIA and drugs, and the thing that surprised me was that she had sounded very rational and very intelligent up to that point. And suddenly I started thinking, “What is she talking about?” And that’s when I started saying, “Well, I’ve written about this before. Thanks for your time. I appreciate your call.” And then she said, “Well, you don’t have to believe me, ’cause I’ve got documents. I can show you this stuff. I can prove it. If you want to look at the documents and say I don’t know what I’m talking about after that, fine. But at least look at them.” I thought that was a very intelligent [laughs] way to approach it and I said, “Fine I’ll come over and take a look at it.” I met her in court in San Francisco, when her boyfriend was having another one of his hearings. And she showed me these documents — and they did indeed back up what she was telling me.

Q: From this point, you were on it.

WEBB: Well, I was on it to the point that I thought, “Well, I believe what she’s saying. Now how do I know this stuff is right?” So that’s when I set out to try to figure out if there was evidence out there that would document what this man [Blandón] was telling the federal grand jury, which was he was selling cocaine [for] the Contras and the CIA knew about it.

Q: When you discussed it with your editors, did anybody say, “Aw, come on, Gary….”?

WEBB: I don’t think I told them about it until I had actually seen the documents. At that point, I’m sure the reaction — I don’t remember it, but I’m sure it was: “OK, yeah, what evidence does she have of this?” And that’s when I said, “Well, these federal grand jury transcripts, these DEA reports, these FBI reports, all these names and dates and places — she knows what she’s talking about.”

Q: Was Rick Ross essentially a classic fall guy?

WEBB: In the end, he was. He wasn’t a fall guy in the beginning. I mean, he was a major participant and he was one of the major reasons for this crack problem in Los Angeles. And he knew it. But Rick Ross was a businessman; Rick Ross didn’t take crack himself. He invested all his earnings in real estate, he built a multimillion-dollar crack empire from nothing. And he couldn’t read or write while he was doing most of this. Which is why he got into drug dealing in the first place.

Q: Where is Rick Ross now?

WEBB: He’s in prison.

Q: And what sentence?

WEBB: His sentence was life without the possibility of parole. So he is in jail for the rest of his life.

Q: The other principals, I assume, were given pretty much the same sentences.

WEBB: Well, he was the only principal. Blandón was a witness against him. And when he was caught — he got caught a couple years before Ross did — his mandatory minimum sentence was life in prison and a four-million-dollar fine. He ended up doing 28 months with no fine and getting a government job with the DEA. And that job happened to be setting up Rick Ross.

Q: Your series caused enormous consternation and anger in the Black community of the United States of America. [Columnist] Carl Rowan stated that “If this is true, it shows that millions of Blacks’ lives have been ruined and prisons clogged with young Blacks because of a cynical plot by the CIA that historically has operated in contempt of the law.” That’s very strong.

WEBB: Yes, it is. And I think that’s one of the implications of this series, is that if the government was aware that these drugs were coming in and they didn’t do anything to stop them, then they bear just as much responsibility as the people who were actually out there on the street selling it. Because under the federal conspiracy laws that we have that we prosecute people under all the time, that’s the law! If they knew about it and didn’t do anything about it, they’re as guilty as the guy that was selling it.

Q: Is it a result of racism? Or is it just like, “Well, so, Black people….”?

WEBB: There’s some indication that that was Blandón’s thinking. I’ve talked to a friend of his who said he [Blandón] had held all middle-class and lower-class people in a sort of contempt because he was a rich kid. Actually, this fellow that we interviewed was one of his contemporaries, and he told us of a conversation that he had with Blandón in which Blandón encouraged him to get into the Black drug market in San Francisco. And he said, “Why?” And [Blandón] said, “Well, ’cause nobody cares what happens to them….You’ve got a free rein down there.” And this dealer that we talked to said he was kind of offended because he was from San Francisco and considered himself a liberal [laughs] and he thought that was an offensive thing to hear. But there’s no indication that I have that it was anybody else’s motive to do this. It was an opportunity, more than anything.

Q: Many Black people, though, have said quite publicly — including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and others — that they feel that in some ways, if it wasn’t specifically targeted, it was ignored because it was affecting the Black community and poor people, as opposed to middle-class whites.

WEBB: According to the police who were down there [in L.A.], it was ignored because people didn’t believe the Black community could support the amount of cocaine that was coming in, that the cops saw coming in. When I interviewed one of the cops who was actually down there walking the streets, he said, “We started seeing guys who would be seen with ounces — and suddenly they had kilos! We couldn’t figure out where all this cocaine was coming from.” And he said, “We called down there [to headquarters] and said, ‘These guys are dealing kilos now’.” And he said the response was, “Aw, bullshit. How much cocaine could they be dealing down in South Central? It’s too expensive.” They weren’t believed.

Q: An extraordinary thing happened: The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who usually stays quite well behind locked doors, John Deutch, ended up addressing a community forum in Watts in Los Angeles.

WEBB: Right.

Q: Why do you think he did that?

WEBB: Because they had to tell people that they were serious about getting to the bottom of this. The denials in the newspapers, in the Washington Post, hadn’t had any effect. People were still mad about it. And people were mad about it because they were able to read our story everywhere in the United States because we put it on the Internet. There had been this national uproar over it that wasn’t going away.

Q: Did your series state that there was a direct CIA connection?

WEBB: No. No. Our connection was spelled out: Our connection was the fact that these men took their orders, took their fundraising orders, from a man whom was on the CIA payroll. That’s Enrique Bermúdez. That was testified to in a federal court, and it’s a fact that he was on the CIA payroll. Now, what the CIA knew about these activities, we don’t know. But there’s an important thing to remember: that when they set up the Contras, like a day later, Reagan signed an executive order putting the CIA in charge — for the first time in history — of collecting information on drug trafficking. It was their job to know about this kind of stuff.

Q: So really, it wasn’t an allegation you made, but people have suddenly, for some reason, drawn this inference. In some of the firestorm over your series, people say, “Well, he said the CIA did it, and there’s no proof.” But you didn’t say there was proof. Is that correct?

WEBB: There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that the CIA knew about this drug operation. There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence — that’s the evidence that we put out. We never said it was ordered by the CIA. We never said this was a CIA-run operation. We never said that CIA officers were involved in running this operation. Because we don’t know.

Q: Do you feel that you were careful enough with the series that anybody who would draw this inference were simply wrong — were reading something that wasn’t there?

WEBB: I think they were reading things they might have wanted to be there, and things that I think a reasonable public has come to believe that the CIA is capable of doing. I don’t think that was out of the realm of possibilities. But the series never said that.

Q: You noted the strong circumstantial evidence. You allowed people to draw their own inferences.

WEBB: Right. Not only did we note the strong circumstantial evidence, we put it on the Internet so anybody that wanted to look at it could read it. Because it was documented.

Q: You appeared, I believe, at a rally in Los Angeles with Maxine Waters.

WEBB: I appeared at a town meeting, because they had asked me to come down and speak to the leaders of the community down there because they were having a hard time believing the story themselves and they wanted to hear it from me. They wanted to ask me questions about it and I said, “Fine, I’ll be happy to talk.”

Q: So you were there as a reporter talking about what you found, not as an advocate in any way.

WEBB: Right. Right.

Q: Were you concerned that people would feel that you might have crossed that line?

WEBB: You know, I really didn’t consider it because I was just talking about what had already been in the newspaper, what I had written. I had requests from public officials down in South Central to come talk to them about this story that they were very concerned about. And I thought it was my responsibility to go down there and talk to them about it, and let them ask me questions.

Q: Let’s discuss, if we can, the response — particularly by the mainstream press and others — to your series. You came under an enormous hailstorm of criticism from all counts. I mean, really like piling on. Would you characterize it as that way?

WEBB: Oh, it was a lot, it was a lot. It was coming from everywhere.

Q: It was said that you had quoted government documents out of context or deliberately omitted sections that did not support your quote-unquote “thesis.”

WEBB: False. False.

Q: Can you explain that?

WEBB: Yeah. I don’t know what they’re talking about because they’ve never produced any documents that were allegedly quoted out of context. What we posted on the Internet was stuff that we had found. We published hundreds of documents.

Q: What would be the motivation for someone making that statement in the mainstream press?

WEBB: Oh, because they didn’t want to tell people there’s nothing to the story.

Q: Why?

WEBB: Because they blew it.

Q: They were jealous, they were upset? Their credibility was in danger?

WEBB: They had blown the story 10 years ago — that’s the problem. This is an institutional problem for these papers because they had written this stuff off as nutty conspiracy stuff back in the ’80s. Now there’s all this evidence that shows that it wasn’t nutty conspiracy stuff — that it was actually happening. They blew the story. That’s the problem.

Q: You even came in for at least what might be construed as some criticism from another Mercury News reporter, who said that there were discrepancies in Blandón’s testimony and other records. Is that so?

WEBB: There aren’t.

Q: OK.

WEBB: I disagree.

Q: OK. But that was written in the Mercury News.

WEBB: It was written by [reporter] Pete Carey, but I don’t think it was written in that term. I mean, tell me exactly what this thing was and I can tell you what he was talking about.

Q: OK. No, I understand. I understand. David Corn of The Nation — and that’s not highly established, you know, that’s not necessarily the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times.

WEBB: No, but it’s a respectable publication.

Q: OK, but not necessarily, you know, the “establishment” newspapers, right? He criticized you too, and says your claims were not well-substantiated.

WEBB: Because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, OK? Pure and simple.

Q: Fair enough.

WEBB: David Corn knows about the CIA. He doesn’t know anything about crack.

Q: Why did the L.A. Times publish a massive three-part rebuttal to your series?

WEBB: Because they were the ones that were hurting the worst. This was in their backyard. This was a huge story in L.A. that they had absolutely nothing to do with, and they came under an intense amount of criticism from the alternative press in Los Angeles, from the Black community — who has always said that the L.A. Times does not cover South Central Los Angeles, doesn’t cover Black Los Angeles. Here was more proof.

Q: Was it a territoriality thing?

WEBB: No, they were scared. I mean, they were scared. Because this story made them look awful.

Q: According to reports in the Columbia Journalism Review, although it was not quoted by name, someone from the Los Angeles Times said they basically had developed an “attack Gary Webb” team.

WEBB: Well, that’s very flattering. [laughs]

Q: In many ways, yes, that’s a medal for reporting respect.

WEBB: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Do Oliver North’s notebooks, some of which are public, substantiate the basic premise of your series?

WEBB: Some of the stuff in North’s notebooks substantiate the fact that he was aware that there was drug involvement among Contra supporters. The names of these companies that were run by known drug traffickers appear several times in North’s notebooks. There’s evidence that he was aware that — well, not only North’s notebooks, but some of the stuff that came out during Iran-Contra were these memos that he had gotten from his man in Central America, Rob Owen, who was telling him: “This guy’s involved in drug trafficking, [and] this guy’s involved in drug trafficking, [and] this guy’s involved in drug trafficking….” They’re all major Contra supporters. So North knew about it.

Q: The CIA has historically been proven to have a large involvement in drug trading.

WEBB: Yes.

Q: To what extent are you aware of, for instance, the “Golden Triangle” operations with the Hmong tribesmen during the war in Vietnam? Can you discuss that a little bit?

WEBB: Well, there was an entire book written about the CIA involvement with heroin trafficking called The Politics of Heroin by a professor named Alfred McCoy. It tracked the CIA’s involvement in transporting opium for the Burmese and for the warlords in Laos, specifically during the secret war in Laos back in the ’70s, and using Air America, a CIA proprietary airplane, to do that.

Q: And these are substantiated claims.

WEBB: Oh yeah, there’s no question about it.

Q: So in your case, you’re not saying the CIA was directly involved. In those cases, it was proven that the CIA was directly involved.

WEBB: Yeah. I think a reasonable person cannot look at this stuff and say “it’s not true,” because it’s documented.

Q: It seems to be a pattern, again: a client state helping to support a war effort.

WEBB: Yeah. And similar allegations emerged about what happened in Afghanistan. I mean, the same allegations are coming out now that part of our covert operations in Afghanistan involved allowing them to ship heroin.

Q: Your executive editor, Jerry Ceppos, he wrote a letter to the Washington Post, who also had an enormous hailstorm of criticism for you: “We have discovered through an extensive investigation that Gary Webb’s story was not da-da-da-da-da….” And Mr. Ceppos wrote a letter — not once, not twice, but three times — recasting it a number of times to try and satisfy the editors of the Washington Post so that it would be printed.

WEBB: Right.

Q: Was it ever printed?

WEBB: They never printed it.

Q: Was there ever an explanation for that?

WEBB: Yeah. Their explanation was that “Well, since our stuff came up, the New York Times says we were right” [laughs]. Which is interesting; I guess they must have all talked to the same unnamed sources. But that was the official reason why the Washington Post didn’t want to let another newspaper respond to its stories.

Q: Isn’t that rather extraordinary in terms of—

WEBB: I’ve never heard of it happening before. I mean, honestly I haven’t.

Q: That’s rather extraordinary. The piece, also, in the Columbia Journalism Review: While the gentleman tried to also protect you to a certain extent, he did also claim that your story was, quote-unquote, “overwritten and problematically sourced.” Your response to that?

WEBB: Yeah. I don’t know what he means by “overwritten”; maybe he doesn’t like my writing style. “Problematically sourced” — there were no unnamed sources in it! It was all sourced in the documents. I just don’t understand that criticism at all.

Q: In the United States, newspapers quite frequently — including in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times — government officials and others are frequently quoted without using their names.

WEBB: You can barely find a name in the stories that come out of Washington anymore. I mean, if you read them, they’re all “senior administration officials” or “government sources.” In my case — and the New York Times wrote this — they were quoting people who claimed to have read documents that they couldn’t produce. This is the level of sourcing in the New York Times — which, if I had used that kind of sourcing [laughs], I would have deserved to have been ridden out of town on a rail. I mean, come on. This is an important story; you don’t use unnamed sources.

Q: Did the mainstream press in general abandon their responsibility to the public?

WEBB: I think the mainstream press has abandoned its responsibility to the public numerous times. I think this is just another example of that.

Q: Are you in any danger?

WEBB: Not that I know of.

Q: Did it concern you?

WEBB: No.

Q: Why? I mean, obviously these are heavy players.

WEBB: But you know, I’m a newspaper reporter working on a story and that has never, in this country, been a hazardous occupation. I mean, it is in Central America, it is in Mexico. But journalists don’t get killed in the United States very often for writing a story.

Q: I remember a gentleman who wrote about Synanon, who got a rattlesnake in his mailbox [in 1978].

WEBB: Right. But it didn’t kill him.

Q: Have you become a hero to Black America?

WEBB: I don’t know. I don’t know.

Q: Do you get e-mail, do you get responses? Do people say, “Thanks, you stood up for our side”?

WEBB: Yeah. I got a lot of letters — a whole lot of letters — about that. Actually, the only people that haven’t liked this story were the Washington Post, the New York Times and the L.A. Times. I mean, the American public was delighted to see this stuff.

Q: Now, you’re a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, a Knight-Ridder newspaper, correct?

WEBB: Right.

Q: A very well-known paper, but not one of the larger newspapers.

WEBB: It’s not one of the Big Feets, no.

Q: [chuckles] The Big Feet. And you work in a bureau in Sacramento, far away from even your home office. I guess what I’m trying to understand is, how did you come by this and why were you the only person who jumped on this story?

WEBB: Well, because I’ve been an investigative reporter for 18 years and I know what I’m looking for — and I know how to find it. Secondly, I had an incredible stroke of luck in getting these documents from this woman. Literally, this story would never have been written had she not called me.

Q: You mentioned in a joking sense [in yesterday’s speech at City College of San Francisco], but I think with some truth behind it, that “the planets must have been aligned correctly.”

WEBB: You know, that’s the feeling I got when I was working on this thing because the stuff I was looking for, I was finding! I mean, that happens very rarely. Usually you run into a lot of dead ends and dry holes. And the hole just got wetter and wetter as I kept going on this thing, because there was really so much information.

Q: [So the mainstream national media had here a] story in a paper that wasn’t one of the Big Feets, and they embargoed it and criticized you. It’s very unlikely that many people would know about this story. Is that correct?

WEBB: Yeah. Right.

Q: Well then, what’s the difference now?

WEBB: The difference now is that we have this amazing medium called the Internet, and we put our story on the World Wide Web. See, our newspaper is in the Silicon Valley, and we sort of pride ourselves on using computers and being really up on the latest. I’m not saying we always are [laughs], but at least we pride ourselves on that. And we had started an online edition of the Mercury News called “Mercury Center,” which we were very eager to sort of show off. When we sat down and looked at this story, this was, I thought, something that I had wanted to do as an investigative reporter for all my career — was to be able to show people what I got! Part of the pride in your work is knowing when you got something nailed down, and it was always very frustrating to be looking at government documents and having to write two sentences about them. And people would have to take your word for it. Well, this [“Dark Alliance” series] was a perfect story to do it: People didn’t have to take our word for it. They could look it up themselves.

Q: And a perfect story in a sense that many people would go, again, “Aw, come on, Gary….”

WEBB: Right.

Q: So literally, if they go to your website — and we’ll give that site — what will they see?

WEBB: Well, they’ll not only see stuff, they’ll hear stuff. Because we’ve got undercover DEA tapes that we digitized and put on the web. We’ve got Danilo Blandón’s testimony in federal court that was tape-recorded; we digitized it and put bits and pieces of it on the web — the important stuff that we quoted him as saying. They’ll see DEA records. They will see records that we got declassified from the National Archives that had the FBI reports. We got records from the Iran-Contra investigation that have never been published before; we had gotten ahold of them through the Freedom of Information Act and put them on the web. So you’ll be able to see the building blocks of the story. You’ll be able to hear these guys testifying in their own words. And that, to me, was the reason that people weren’t so easily dissuaded that there’s nothing to it — because if they’ve read it and they’ve looked at the documents, they know there’s something to it.

Q: Can you talk to us briefly about the implications for journalism of just that sort of event, of this type of thing happening?

WEBB: Well, I had thought that doing something like this would really raise the standards for reporters, especially investigative reporters, where you really have to rely sometimes on unknown sources: to be able to show people what you have and prove what you’re writing — and let people make up their own minds. One of the beauties of this story was the way we presented it: People didn’t have to believe us. And the other thing it did is when I was on radio talk shows and I was on television telling people about this story, I could say, “Look, go to your computer, call it up and read it yourself, and make up your own mind.” And people did that. A lot of people did that.

Q: Ten thousand, 20,000?

WEBB: Hundreds of thousands. We had one day where we had 1.3 million hits on the web.

Q: Pardon me, 1.3 million?

WEBB: Yeah. It started out at like 600,000 [to] 800,000 a day, and it just sort of climbed up from there. So clearly, a lot of people were reading this and using the Internet that had never really used it for reading news before.

Q: What is the website URL?

WEBB: It’s www.sjmercury.com/drugs.

Q: You had mentioned to me that you had gotten e-mail to a pretty large extent from Japan, where this will be broadcast.

WEBB: Right.

Q: And apparently there was some interest from Japan.

WEBB: Yeah. I never figured out how that interest came up, other than the fact that there was a lot of web traffic, a lot of Internet traffic, about it. But I was getting it from Japan, I got it from Bosnia. I got a lot of e-mail from Colombia and Venezuela. You know, this is a pretty big story down in Latin America. Actually, parts of it were reprinted in La Prensa, the Nicaraguan press.

Q: In terms of the communication you got from Japan, were they just inquiries? Were they positive responses? Negative responses?

WEBB: They were positive, and several of them offered suggestions on other things I might want to look at, which I am always happy to get.

Q: Things that you might want to look at in Japan?

WEBB: No, it was things I might want to look at about this story from people who were living in Japan, who knew about it. I couldn’t exactly figure out — you know, it’s hard to tell who these people are. And I got a lot of e-mail from Japanese students who had heard about it or read about it.

Q: Is this story now complete?

WEBB: No.

Q: What’s next?

WEBB: We’re doing another two parts because there’s a lot more information about it.

Q: Can you share in any sense, just a general sense, of what those will be?

WEBB: It’s mostly about who else in the United States government knew what these [drug-dealing] guys were doing and how they managed to release the case of the raid and all that, how they managed to avoid prosecution.

Q: One last question: Have your feelings been hurt? Have you ever felt under siege?

WEBB: No, because I’m sort of used to it. I mean, you do investigative reporting long enough and you make enough people mad, you don’t even notice it anymore. If this kind of stuff happened 20 years ago, I probably would’ve been horrified. But I’m used to it by now. [laughs]

Q: Gary Webb, thank you very much for your time and thank you for talking to us.

WEBB: Sure.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

EPILOGUE:

Those were Gary Webb’s last words in the interview. Afterward we joined Webb for lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, then walked over to the California state capitol library to get footage of Webb while he searched through microfiche files relating to his investigation. As the TV production crew from Japan parted with Webb that winter afternoon at the California state capitol in Sacramento, I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that somehow the worst was yet to come for the gutsy newspaper reporter and his fateful investigation.

The next day we were headed back down to San Francisco, where, at our request, Webb had taken the unprecedented step as a journalist of arranging for us to exclusively interview his prime source in the “Dark Alliance” investigation, Coral Talavera Baca. It was to be her first public interview ever, as Webb had been taking great pains to protect her privacy and relative anonymity from the U.S. media. We met Talavera Baca at the law office where she worked, high up in a skyscraper in the Embarcadero district of downtown San Francisco. Although her interview ended up with little in the way of substantive, new information — consisting more or less of personal anecdotes and general background regarding “Dark Alliance” — some of what she related then is especially noteworthy in light of later events.

Talavera Baca said that Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News was actually one of four reporters of major U.S. newspapers she had initially contacted with her explosive information about the cocaine-dealing Nicaraguans: The other three were reporters for the New York Times, the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle. Those other three reporters, she said, “weren’t too smart”; Webb was the only one among them who seemed to really understand the legal processes involving drug-related cases. She now felt she had made the right choice in trusting only Webb with her painstakingly compiled legal documents that would go on to become the foundation of “Dark Alliance.” “He documented everything beautifully,” she said. But even Webb was slow in grasping the depth of his own “Dark Alliance” investigation, according to Talavera Baca: “His story very clearly implicates the United States government. And I don’t think Gary went far enough. Gary just takes it to the CIA. I think he needed to take it….and go right up to the steps of the White House. And he [Gary] didn’t like me saying that to him. However, I got a phone call recently from him and he says, ‘Wow, you were right! It led all the way to Oliver North’.”

But Webb’s eye-opening revelations would be short-lived. My sinking feeling in Sacramento the day before about the future of Webb and his investigation turned out, unfortunately, to be justified: A mere three months later in May 1997, Webb’s newspaper disowned the “Dark Alliance” series, forcing Webb out of the U.S. daily newspaper business forever and relegating his groundbreaking investigation to the back pages of history. As Webb himself would write: “And then, just like that, it was over.” On another winter’s day seven years later, Gary Webb was gone.

While this is a tribute to an honorable reporter and his important story, in the end it must be something more: If “Dark Alliance” is to mean anything today, then Webb’s lifework must be the fire that helps ignite younger generations in these times to carry on the tradition of independent journalism by documenting and investigating the hell out of corrupt governments and other powerful institutions in society — wherever they may be. It is needed now more than ever before. Getting the truth out is what Gary Webb and other journalists like him around the world have literally lived and died for. Let that true spirit of journalism be carried on.


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Brian Ohkubo Covert is an independent journalist based in Hyogo, Japan.