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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Gone 

Via What Alice Found, our Koufax Nominee for "Most Frisson-Intensive Blog of 2004," another reminiscence of the late Gary Webb -- this one from Texas reporter Bill Conroy, who sought Webb's counsel in 2003 after writing a story about a sacked FBI agent:
I recall that while reading over the paper the Friday the story came out, I got a call from a source. She told me the U.S. Attorney's office in Sacramento had filed a motion with the court seeking to declare the public court records I had based the story on as classified for national security reasons. The court pleadings even went a step further: They asked that the government be allowed to seize and scour clean any computers that the FBI suspected might have stored copies of the documents exposing Lau's covert China spying mission.

That meant my computer as well.

What was mind boggling about the whole affair is that when we went to press on Wednesday, the court documents -- pleadings in Lau's employment discrimination case against the FBI -- had been on file with the federal court for some three weeks. They were clearly public documents. However, two days later, after the newspaper was printed and to the readers, the government was trying to put the documents back into the vault under the shroud of national security . . . .

So after learning my computer was being targeted by the FBI, I gave Gary a call. At the time, he was working as an investigator for the California state Legislature. I remember asking him, "What the hell do I do now? I gave him a rundown on the story. He suggested I get the documents being targeted by the government out into the sunlight. He gave me a contact at the California First Amendment Coalition. I reached out to them and that same day, Friday, I wrote a story about the whole affair for the coalition, and they posted the story with the court documents on their Internet site. I also sent a copy of the documents along to Al Giordano. He too put the documents up on the Net.

The next week, the story went global after the Associated Press picked it up. I believe the media exposure, coupled with the brave souls who stood up to the FBI's bluff and posted the court documents on the Internet, created enough of a blowback that the federal judge in the case decided to back away from the FBI's strong-arm request to seize computers . . . .

And as I read the obits in the commercial media about his death, all of which mention his famous series for the San Jose Mercury News exposing the CIA/Contra crack connection -- and all of which go to great lengths to discuss how the "big dogs of the commercial press discredited the series -- I keep in mind the words of social theorist Erich Fromm:
. . . [T]he truth-sayers are so deeply hated even when they do not constitute a real threat to the established order. The reason lies, I believe, in that by speaking the truth they mobilize the (psychological) resistance of those who repress it. To the latter, the truth is dangerous not only because it can threaten their power but because it shakes their whole conscious system of orientation, deprives them of their rationalizations, and might even force them to act differently. Only those who have experienced the process of becoming aware of important impulses that were repressed know the earthquake-like sense of bewilderment and confusion that occurs as a result. Not all people are willing to risk this adventure, lest of all those people who profit, at least for the moment, from being blind.
In the week since his death CounterPunch has run Webb articles galore, including a long excerpt from the Cockburn-St. Clair Whiteout examining the racial component of the attack on Webb's credibility --
A few days later, a Post editorial followed through on this notion of black irrationality and the lack of substance in Webb's thesis. The writer observed that "The Mercury [had] borrowed heavily from a certain view of CIA rogue conduct that was widespread ten years ago." The "biggest shock," the editorial went on, "wasn't the story but the credibility the story seems to have generated when it reached some parts of the black community." This amazing sentence was an accurate rendition of what really bothered the Washington Post, which was not charges that the CIA had been complicit in drug running, but that black people might be suspicious of the government's intentions toward them. The Post's editorial said solemnly that "[i]f the CIA did associate with drug pushers its aim was not to infect Americans but to advance the CIA' s foreign project and purposes."

In the weeks that followed, Post columnists piled on the heat. Mary McGrory, the doyenne of liberal punditry, said that the Post had successfully "discredited" the Mercury News. Richard Cohen, always edgy on the topic of black America, denounced Rep. Maxine Waters for demanding an investigation after the Washington Post had concluded that Webb's charges were "baseless." "When it comes to sheer gullibility--or is it mere political opportunism?--Waters is in a class of her own."

One story in that October 4 onslaught in the Post differed markedly from its companion pieces. That was the profile of Meneses by Douglas Farah, which actually advanced Webb's story. Farah, the Post's man in Central America, filed a dispatch from Managua giving a detailed account of Meneses's career as a drug trafficker, going back to 1974. Farah described how Meneses had "worked for the Contras for five years, fundraising, training and sending people down to Honduras." He confirmed Meneses's encounter with Enrique Bermúdez and added a detail ­ the gift of a crossbow by Meneses to the colonel. Then Farah produced a stunner, lurking in the twelfth paragraph of his story. Citing "knowledgeable sources," he reported that the DEA had hired Meneses in 1988 to try to set up Sandinista political and military leaders in drug stings. Farah named the DEA agent involved as Federico Villareal. The DEA did not dispute this version of events. In other words, Farah had Meneses performing a political mission for the US government, side by side with the story by his colleagues Pincus and Suro claiming Meneses had no such connections.
-- in addition to Alex Cockburn's "Why They Hated Gary Webb"; "Silencing the Messenger," an article Webb himself wrote for CounterPunch, reposted from 2001; and Richard Thieme's "The Meaning of Sacrifice," in which we find the following:
In other words, his decade-long assassination was in slo-mo, inch by slow inch. The courage and commitment that fueled his passion for justice and truth was battered over time by the refusal of establishment newspapers to acknowledge their mistakes or ever let him work again. Jayson Blair, Christopher Newton, Jack Kelley, and Janet Cooke could get work, but Gary Webb? Never.

And now, the New York Times, one of the papers that savaged Webb unfairly, reports that the Army National Guard has fallen 30 percent below its recruiting goals in the last two months and will offer new incentives, including enlistment bonuses of up to $15,000.

Now, I wouldn't compare blood money like that to the sums we are told were paid to families of suicide bombers by "evil doers." Who would suggest such a thing?

But I would note that the only cause we sincerely believe in is one for which we are willing to sacrifice ourselves or members of our families. Otherwise our noble words are nothing but lies.
Also of interest: Marc Cooper's dismantling of Webb's obituary in the L.A. Times (courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.D.); and, via our distinguished colleagues at Cursor, "D.W.B.," the definitive expose of racial profiling that Webb wrote for Esquire in 1999.

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