By JAN HERMAN
If proof were needed that the Los Angeles Times is still covering its ass when it comes to Gary Webb, the investigative reporter who was found dead on Dec. 10 (an apparent suicide), the paper provided it Sunday with an obituary that is nothing less than character assassination. It’s a bloody hatchet job on Webb and, equally important, a factual distortion of his revelatory series about Contra-related drug trafficking in Los Angeles during the ’80s.
Why the Times has continued its willful campaign against Webb and his series is open to speculation. Is it because it is still ashamed that an outsider from a smaller California newspaper uncovered a national scandal with local L.A. track marks, which the Times itself should have been brave and smart enough to uncover on its own turf? Is it because it is still ashamed that, having been scooped at the time, it then went to extraordinary lengths to debunk the series, ostensibly to learn the truth but actually to re-assert its status as California’s most informative daily?
If those are the institutional motives — and not just the plain stupidity of individual editors and writers — it has dangerous implications for the fourth estate, calling to mind the worst case Orwellian scenario of 1984, in which Big Brother’s legion of scribes are employed in the Ministry of Truth, where they spend their lives “rewriting the past.” And why are they bothering to rewrite the past? Because, as the Inner Party knows so well, rewriting the past (along with unending war) is the chief means of controlling the future.
The infamous slogans of the Inner Party, etched in elegant lettering on the white facade of the Ministry of Truth,
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
are no more far-fetched today than they were during the onset of the Cold War, when Orwell wrote his cautionary novel. Though he took the Communist Party as the model for the Inner Party and was extrapolating from the Soviet Union for the totalitarian society of Oceania, Orwell might, if he were around today, find the current U.S. situation too close for comfort.
The war on terror (which we’ve been told has no forseeable end) is eerily reminiscent of Oceania’s endless war against Eurasia or Eastasia (the enemy keeps changing). The Patriot Act (which threatens civil liberties while designed to protect us), the invasion of Iraq (which we are now told is intended to liberate its people, bringing democracy at the point of a gun), the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other detention camps (which was rationalized as legal in White House and Pentagon memoranda) the closed circle of neocon advisers to the Ignoramus in Chief who never made a mistake (which he believes was confirmed by the recent election), all have parallels in Oceania.
I believe, or would like to think, that Gary Webb’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times is a matter of short-sighted individuals and not institutional motives. Either way, it’s inexcusable. As my friend Bill Osborne writes:
Notice there is no mention whatsoever in the obit that the investigation of the CIA’s General Inspector corroborated the main themes of Webb’s reports: The CIA knew that people closely tied to the Contras were selling drugs in the United States to fund their war in Nicaragua, and that the CIA hindered police investigations into the operation. This is not some sort of conspiracy theory, but the findings of our own government’s investigation.
The obit also does not mention that this Contra-related drug operation established the first large crack market in the U.S., and that it was centered in South-Central Los Angeles. Nor do they mention Webb’s very plausible hypothesis that this contributed to an extremely destructive chain reaction that strongly damaged black communities throughout the country during the 1980s and early ’90s.
Osborne also speculates:
If the truth of the government’s corroboratory investigation of Contra drug-running had been squarely reported at the time, it would probably have eventually led to major reforms in our government that would have very likely put the neocons out of power. This suggests that the mainstream media might have, at least in part, been politically motivated to overlook the story. Apparently, it still is.
In any case, these events illustrate failures in the press that need to be thoroughly researched and analyzed. The recent press failures regarding the build up to the invasion of Iraq are another example pointing to a continuing problem.
There are probably many levels to the situation that involve the psychology, sociology and ethics of journalism as shaped (and even coerced) by a very complex governmental, economic and social context. Taken together, these factors seem to create a systemic problem in American journalism. The explanations might not be simple, but they could probably be established. This would help lead to remedies.
Sadly, the truth about the Contras will probably not be widely reported until the vested interests of those in power, both on the left and right, and in the government and the media, no longer remain.
“In the meantime,” he asks, “what are we to do?”