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Parry writes: "Looking back over my four decades in the national news media, it's hard to identify one moment when American journalism died. The process was a slow and ugly one, with incremental acts of cowardice accumulating until mainstream reporters were clearly part of the problem, not anything to do with a solution. But the date Dec. 9 has a special place in that sad progression."

Investigative reporter Gary Webb in 1997. (photo: Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee)
Investigative reporter Gary Webb in 1997. (photo: Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee)

A Day When Journalism Died

By Robert Parry, Consortium News

13 December 15


Dec. 9 has a grim meaning for the Republic, the date in 2004 when investigative reporter Gary Webb, driven to ruin by vindictive press colleagues for reviving the Contra-cocaine scandal, took his own life, a demarcation as the U.S. press went from protecting the people to shielding the corrupt, writes Robert Parry.

ooking back over my four decades in the national news media, it’s hard to identify one moment when American journalism died. The process was a slow and ugly one, with incremental acts of cowardice accumulating until mainstream reporters were clearly part of the problem, not anything to do with a solution. But the date Dec. 9 has a special place in that sad progression.

It was on Dec. 9, 2004, when the mean-spirited mainstream media’s treatment of investigative journalist Gary Webb led him – his career devastated, his family broken, his money gone and his life seemingly hopeless – to commit suicide. It was a moment that should have shamed all the big-shot journalists who had a hand in Webb’s destruction, but it mostly didn’t.

Webb’s offense was to have revived the shocking story of the Reagan administration’s tolerance of cocaine smuggling by the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s. Though the scandal was real – and had been partly exposed in real time – the major newspapers had locked arms in defense of President Ronald Reagan and the CIA. The sordid scandal apparently was deemed “not good for the country,” so it was buried.

My Associated Press colleague, Brian Barger, and I had written the first story exposing the Contras’ involvement in cocaine smuggling in 1985, but our story was attacked by Reagan’s skillful propaganda team, which got The New York Times and other major news outlets to buy into the denials.

Later that decade, a gutsy investigation by then-Sen. John Kerry filled in some of the gaps showing how the Reagan administration’s collaboration with drug-tainted airlines and other parts of the Contras’ cocaine smuggling apparatus had functioned. But Kerry’s probe was also mocked by the major media. Sniffing out that conventional wisdom, Newsweek deemed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.”

Kerry’s brush with this near-political-death-experience over the Contra-cocaine scandal taught him some hard lessons about survival in Washington, which help explain why he was such a disappointing candidate during Election 2004 and why he has shown such timidity in challenging Official Washington’s “group thinks” as Secretary of State.

For both U.S. journalists and politicians, there was no upside to doing the hard work of exposing this kind of crime of state. [See’s “What’s the Matter with John Kerry.”]

Same Stonewall

In 1996, Gary Webb encountered the same stonewall when he stumbled onto evidence showing that some of the Contra cocaine, after being smuggled into the United States, had flowed into the production of “crack” cocaine in Los Angeles and contributed to the “crack epidemic” of the 1980s.

When he published his findings in a series for the San Jose Mercury News, the major newspapers had a choice: either admit that they had slinked away from one of the biggest scandals of the 1980s or redouble their efforts to discredit the story and to destroy anyone who dared touch it. They went with option two.

In a tag-team pummeling of Gary Webb, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times all denounced Webb and decried his reporting. Soon, Webb’s editors at the Mercury News were feeling the heat and rather than back their reporter, they sought to salvage their own careers. They sold Webb out – and he was soon out of a job and unemployable in the mainstream media.

The bitter irony was that Webb’s reporting finally forced a relatively thorough and honest investigation by the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who concluded in 1998 that not only were the Contras involved in the drug trade from their start in 1980 and through the entire decade but that CIA officers were aware of the problem and helped cover it up, putting the goal of ousting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government ahead of blowing the whistle on these corrupt CIA clients.

Yet, even the CIA’s confession wasn’t enough to shame the major newspapers into admitting the truth and acknowledging their own culpability in the long-running cover-up. It remained easier to continue the demonization of Gary Webb.

At Consortiumnews, we were one of the few news outlets that examined the extraordinary admissions contained in the CIA’s two-volume report and in a corresponding Justice Department Inspector General’s report, which added more details about how criminal investigations of the Contras were thwarted. But, sadly, we lacked the reach and the clout of the major newspapers.

As the controversy bubbled in 1996, I also had joined with Webb in several speaking engagements on the West Coast. Though we sometimes spoke to large and enthusiastic crowds, the power of the Big Media overwhelmed everything, especially the truth. [For details, see’s “The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]

Webb’s Demise

In the years after the Contra-cocaine story was buried once again, I lost touch with Webb who had landed a job with a California state legislative committee. So, I didn’t realize that after that job ended, Webb’s life was spiraling downward. Even modest-sized newspapers refused to consider hiring the “disgraced” reporter.

Webb’s marriage fell apart; he struggled to pay child-support and other bills; he was faced with a forced move out of a house near Sacramento, California, and in with his mother. Deeply depressed, according to his family members, Webb chose to end his life.

On Dec. 9, 2004, the 49-year-old Webb typed out suicide notes to his ex-wife and his three children; laid out a certificate for his cremation; and taped a note on the door telling movers — who were coming the next morning — to instead call 911.

Webb then took out his father’s pistol and shot himself in the head. The first shot was not lethal, so he fired once more. (Yes, I know that conspiracy theorists have seized on the two shots to insist that Webb was murdered by the CIA, but there is no proof of that and by pushing that baseless account, people simply let the real culprits – the big newspapers – off the hook.)

After Webb’s body was found, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who knew that I was one of Webb’s few journalistic colleagues who had defended him and his work. I told the reporter that American history owed a great debt to Gary Webb because he had forced out important facts about Reagan-era crimes. But I added that the Los Angeles Times would be hard-pressed to write an honest obituary because the newspaper had essentially ignored Hitz’s final report, which had largely vindicated Webb.

To my disappointment but not my surprise, I was correct. The Los Angeles Times ran a mean-spirited obituary that made no mention of either my defense of Webb, nor the CIA’s admissions in 1998. The obituary was republished in other newspapers, including The Washington Post.

Even though Webb’s reputation posthumously received some rehabilitation with a sympathetic portrayal of his ordeal in Jeremy Renner’s 2014 movie, “Kill the Messenger,” some news executives who aided the Contra-cocaine cover-up in the 1980s and abetted the destruction of Webb in the 1990s still won’t admit their complicity in suppressing one of the most important stories of that era, people such as The Washington Post’s Jeff Leen and Leonard Downie. [See’s “WPost’s Slimy Attack on Gary Webb and “How the Washington Press Turned Bad.”]

A few journalists have continued to find nuggets of the Contra-cocaine scandal, including from accounts by former CIA contract pilot Robert “Tosh” Plumlee, who supplied details about his work ferrying guns and drugs for Reagan’s Contras, as reported by John McPhaul of The Tico Times, based in San Jose, Costa Rica. Even Fox News poked into the Contra-cocaine connection in an article about alleged CIA complicity in the 1985 torture-murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

But the resistance from the major U.S. news media and the ferocity from Reagan’s acolytes whenever their hero’s legacy is challenged have left this very real scandal in the netherworld of doubt and uncertainty, a key chapter of America’s Lost History in which Dec. 9, 2004, conveys a baleful message.

[As part of our end-of-year fund drive, Consortiumnews is offering a DVD of “Kill the Messenger” and a CD of Webb and Parry speaking about the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996. For details on this special offer, click here.]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here. your social media marketing partner


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+68 # bmiluski 2015-12-13 14:20
For me the media died with their reporting of Katrena. Rather reporting how many men, women, and children died due to Bush's inaction, they would only use the word "people". And they used the same photo of a semi-submerged, non-gender specific adult, rather then the photos of dead women, children and infants. Thus softening the affects of the bush/cheney administrations lack of humanity.
+37 # Interested Observer 2015-12-13 15:11
At least it wasn't "some folks died".
+77 # polfrosch 2015-12-13 14:40
The media have to be revived if we want democracy to return.

If the system does not economically sustain free media it becomes a question of national interest how to make this sector function for the society.

Where is the discussion about this topic?

There is no democracy without independent media, made by opinionated, enlightened individuals who want to publish - instead of the garbage heap of MBAs working in corporations-fo rmerly-known-as -media as opinion prostitutes.

rsn is a lighthouse. I am grateful to hear about other publications rsn readers recommend. I visit the websites of Democracy Now, Counterpunch, Consortium News. What else is worthwile?
+35 # boredlion 2015-12-13 15:05
Hi Polfrosch,

I agree with you. As to your question, you might try (edited by Robert Scheer, who formerly wrote for Ramparts magazine and the LA Times) and The Smirking

+27 # reiverpacific 2015-12-13 15:22
Quoting Polfrosch:
The media have to be rivived if we want democracy to return.

If the system does not economically sustain free media it becomes a question of national interest how to make this sector function for the society.

Where is the discussion about this topic?

There is no democracy without independent media, made by opinionated, enlightened individuals who want to publish - instead of the garbage heap of MBAs working in corporations-formerly-known-as-media as opinion prostitutes.

rsn is a lighthouse. I am grateful to hear about other other publications rsn readers recommend. I visit the websites of Democracy Now, Counterpunch, Consortium News. What else is worthwile?

"The media have to be revived if we want democracy to return.: (quote).
Sorry to keep hammering on this but I think that you mean to "give Democracy a chance", as you've never really had it, just an experiment in Republicanism in the original sense of the word, run by a few land and slave owning elites, whilst it's been an uphill battle for all others, including (ridiculously) the original inhabitants continent.
I thoroughly agree with you on your appraisal on the excellent but almost buried, noncommercial, populist-progre ssive outlets you mention; or the better of the foreign press.
Note how many articles from "The Guardian" RSN republishes just for one. Most inquisitive and fact-seeking readers wouldn't get these otherwise; and Cameron's UK thugs have threatened them!
+26 # madams12 2015-12-13 16:57
IF there is to be ANY "revival" of US MSM first it will have to BEGIN with the retraction/remo val of a law that was passed with STEALTH in 2012...the reenactment of Smith Mundt act of the 1940s this ORWELLIAN reactivation of that POS law passed by Congress is the proscription to enable all US MSM to propagandize the "news"..HR 5736 as discussed in a youtube of Naomi Wolf in NH 2014 who alerted viewers to this horrid piece of congressional handiwork...US NEWS IS PROPAGANDA!!..a s if we did not already notice.....!!
+5 # John Escher 2015-12-14 08:09
Common Dreams.
+41 # Patriot 2015-12-13 15:08
Everything must be paid for. We pay for our self-indulgence with poor health, for our desertion of optimism, objectivity, and integrity with cynicism, despair, and bigotry.

In this case, we let our government approve ownership of all our means of reporting--tele vision, radio, newspaper--by a handful of buyers. Now the likes of Rupert Murdock controls what we can ask, what we can learn, whether we can make our voices heard by government in questions, complaints, or demands.

Put down your cell phone for all but an hour a day. Turn off your computer, laptop, television, and read a book; talk to someone, face to face; attend a meeting of some local body of government--a treat that I promise you will raise your blood pressure by at least ten points if you know enough to realize what is going on.

Meanwhile, reach for your checkbook or credit card and put some money in the hat for the independent news organizations who still are TRYING to bring us objective reports, to ferret out answers, to obtain proof--organiza tions like Reader Supported News.

RSN's staff of writers and support personel pay rent/mortgages, buy groceries, and have transportation expenses, just as we all do. Sleeping indoors and eating regularly requires a salary--AND WE ARE THE ONES WHO PAY THOSE SALARIES!

Everything must be paid for. Chip in $5.00 or $10.00 per month to help regain our government and keep freedom alive.

There is no free lunch, kiddies: pay your dues!
+25 # jhankey 2015-12-13 15:19
He shot himself in the head twice.
The reviewers of the movie, Kill the Messenger, in the LA Times and the New Yorker rejected this story as implausible. He shot himself in the head twice. No autopsy. Robert Parry should be ashamed. Journalism died, but Gary Webb is turning in his grave today, that a "journalist" like Parry should write such [expletive deleted]. An expert in gunshot wounds told me that the explosion from a .38 police special will kill, if you fire a blank. The men who killed Webb didn't need to shoot him twice. They did it to send a message to journalists, a message that Parry seems to have received loud and clear.
+16 # Radscal 2015-12-13 17:48
There are some things that Parry will not write. I suspect knowing that Gary was suicided is a significant reason for that.

Just like he promotes the narrative that Obama is a "good man" being misled or countermanded by "leftover' NeoCons, his unwillingness to write that Gary was likely murdered could be the deal he's made to maintain his career.

At least he did state that Gary was shot in the head twice, and that his "suicide notes" were typewritten, as most stories neglect to even mention those damning facts.
+35 # Robbee 2015-12-13 15:45
telling truth to power is risky

ellenwood, snowden and manning are modern martyrs
+11 # danireland46 2015-12-13 15:55
I am a fan of Robert Perry, but I've got a problem with his statement: (Yes, I know that conspiracy theorists have seized on the two shots to insist that Webb was murdered by the CIA, but there is no proof of that and by pushing that baseless account, people simply let the real culprits – the big newspapers – off the hook.)
Of all people, Perry knows how dirty the power people are. Perry even uses the Spin Meister tactic, calling those who speak out against the puppet-masters 'conspiracy theorists', as if there aren't any conspiracies, or that a typed suicide note and two bullet holes in the head is common in suicides.
I believe Webb was snuffed, as I believe Michael Hastings, from The Rolling Stone was snuffed after bringing down Gen. McCrystal.
I also believe Pat Tillman was eliminated and tell the story in my book, "The Ultimate Arena".
+24 # Polisage 2015-12-13 16:13
It's about career. The press has been corrupted by "access" as a tool. Get embedded and you get the story "credibly." Only someone like Walter Cronkite could report the truth when he grasped it. I sat through briefings ("we are winning") that would have got me fired if I said what I really thought. It was not my job to make judgments, and the history comes too late. The scandals of Iraq profiteering and DOD's wilful incompetence (read Jeremy Scahill's exposes of how we contracted out war and the mugs took the suckers). The corruption goes through the system and if you think we have any meaningful choices in 2016, you are asleep. I have seen DOD pay for good advice based on solid analysis and then ignore it because it didn't fir the "confirmation bias" of our leaders. If not for sources like RSN and similar critics, we would be dependent on the press gatekeepers for our understanding of what passes for truth these days.
+11 # bardphile 2015-12-13 17:08
It wasn't only Cronkite. CBS had its glory years, starting with Murrow and his "boys" (of which my father was one); they brought down two presidents, one from each major party, not out of ideology, but because the reporters were doing their jobs, and the presidents were lying to the press and public. We had, and we lost, a principled adversary press that had corporate support. It wasn't perfect--human institutions never are--but it served the public reasonably well. We have many good reporters now, but corporate / ownership support, financial and editorial, is lacking. Fox is the big exception.
0 # 2015-12-13 22:07
who was your dad?

harvey wasserman
+6 # MsAnnaNOLA 2015-12-14 02:51
Yeah well now our presidents lie about everything and claim the right to execute Americans without trial. We are so far gone from there.
+21 # Blackjack 2015-12-13 17:30
FOX is the fox in the henhouse! So corrupt, so vainglorious, so hostile to truth telling, but there it is, front and center of every story that might ever be told.

The Repukes will never let us forget that the truth got Nixon so near impeachment that he had to resign. So Dems have run with their tails between their legs ever since, fearful that the tables would be turned (and that almost happened with Clinton, whose crimes were minimum compared to Nixon). That fear includes our current President who could have brought Bush/Cheney to task, but allowed it all to be smoothed away so that he could "look forward; not backward." Once truth like that is compromised, it is almost impossible ever to recover it, especially when presidents are at the helm of failing to expose it.
+26 # bullslam 2015-12-13 17:44
My brother was working on his Phd in this field during this particular era. Drugs Firearms and Tobacco, it was called. He told me of the corrupt CIA operation whereby the CIA allowed shipments of cocaine into this country, as long as they got a hefty cut. His intel came from reliable sources close to the White House. The CIA's plan was to make crack cocaine available, spread it throughout all black communities. They wanted to deliberately destroy black communities with drugs. History shows that his every word was true. There really are conspiracies out there. But if you talk about them you could be suicided. A favorite is the msm's "He jumped from a 14 story window. His family says he was in fine spirits. And his friends say he had no reason to commit suicide." The 2 shots to the head is a new one. Then, too, there's the old airplane engine failure, especially the day before one is due to be questioned by Congress.
+17 # Saberoff 2015-12-13 18:38
Or the lone senator, from a northern state, who voted against the Iraq War, and just days from being re-elected!

And on and on and on...
+20 # Radscal 2015-12-13 17:52
In a related news story, we learn that one of the guns used in the Paris, Friday the 13th Terrorist Attacks was sold by a Florida gun dealer who had provided weapons to the Contra terrorists.

Yet another link in the chain of evidence that ISIL is a CIA black operations unit, and the Paris attacks were a Gladio-style event.
+14 # Anarchist 23 2015-12-13 18:08
One might also remember Danny Cassalaro who was 'suicided' because he was investigating a power arrangement he called 'the Octopus'...from what we have learned (at least some of us) from the JFK & RFK assassinations and the Church committee hearings (way back in the 70's) we know the C.I.A. has reporters on the payrolls of major news outlets...lots of them...this is another facet of the big iceberg which will surely sink our country and the whole world as surely as the Titanic went down struck by that other iceberg.
+1 # RLF 2015-12-15 06:58
CIA makes movies too...0 Dark 30 comes to mind. What a bunch of propaganda that piece of crap is!
+17 # 2015-12-13 22:05
gary webb was a brave and essential journalist who told a very important story.

we honor his memory by continuing to fight.

no nukes/no more stolen elections....
-5 # lewagner 2015-12-14 02:26
That was a bad day. Gary Webb was called a "conspiracy theorist", in the past.
Another real bad one for journalism was December 14, 2012, when the media started reporting about the "Sandy Hook Massacre", as though it were a real mass killing.
Here's the story: A skinny kid with Asberger's carried 3 guns including 2 long guns, shot his way through bullet-proof glass, killed 26 people in 11 minutes, no trauma helicopter was ever called, no death certificates were filed, no hazardous material (gallons of blood and guts) cleanup was ever performed by any licensed company, and the elementary school this all supposedly happened in had been CLOSED since 2008.
Yet the MSM (including RSN) is STILL reporting and discussing this as fact.
It certainly IS a sad situation for so-called "journalism".
+2 # mmcmanus 2015-12-14 13:19
you are one sick prick.
-1 # fuzzbuzz 2015-12-15 19:40
Quoting mmcmanus:
you are one sick prick.

By that same "logic", you are one stupid mofo!
+3 # MsAnnaNOLA 2015-12-14 16:29
I have vowed throughout my life to do my own research before passing judgement. Why did Amazon ban this book if it is nonsense? I'm just saying. There is some interesting evidence. Don't have first hand knowledge of the evidence, but I also don't have any idea why anyone would make up this evidence. Link to the banned book pdf is below it is now available free of charge. (also just because someone has some abhorrent ideas does not mean they are incorrect about everything under the sun)

Article about how it became censored:
+2 # Radscal 2015-12-14 17:17
One odd tidbit: the sign that we've all seen hundreds of times:

Sandy Hook School
Visitors Welcome

I have never seen a school's sign read "Visitors Welcome." I've seen plenty of signs on and around schools saying things like "visitors must register," or "unauthorized people not permitted on property."

Lots have the name of the school mascot/team name. "Home of the Fevered Beavers," or whatever.

But in addition to my own recollections, I've searched school signs online, and cannot find a single one that says "Visitors Welcome" at all, let alone ONLY.

And we're told this was a Kindergarten to 4th grade school. All public schools welcome parents/guardia ns to come and check out a school they are considering for their children. Generally, they make appointments, and even set aside specific events for that.

But what is this sign supposed to convey, considering that the doors were locked throughout the school day?
0 # fuzzbuzz 2015-12-15 19:38
I also recall coming to the conclusion that Sandy Hook was fabricated. I forget why though (some video I saw on Youtube I think).

Same with Boston and ofcourse 9-11.

Not sure why Sandy Hook though. Can't figure out how the System benefits from that fabrication - similar, real massacres are already quite frequent.

Glad to see there are others! (Ignore the downvotes - even on RSN some people can't think outside the box)
+9 # MsAnnaNOLA 2015-12-14 03:05
Here is a thought for you. Think about how much poppy production in Afghanistan has increased since our latest war there. Think about how much money drug smuggling and dealing represents. Some articles have postulated that in2008 financial crisis that drug money banks were laundering illegally was what kept them solvent. Think about the vast sums of money and think about a lot of it in cash. Do you really think that the CIA or any entity would STOP the cash cow that is drug dealing and smuggling. Think about all the black ops and politicians you could buy with that money. So the ones you can't blackmail with NSA dirt you just buy with cash. All the horrid acts that Congrss won't fund you just go to your drug smuggling money stash. Oh and while you are at it you keep a little for yourself. Yeah thank you Gary Webb for exposing this and turning this conspiracy theory into Conspiracy Fact.

Oh and remember what drug prohibition does to the price of drugs. It keeps it high and profitable. 75 percent agree with marihuana legalization yet we don't have it. I postulate that keeping it illegal keeps both legal and illegal drug dealers in business. Medicinal plants you can grow yourself are some stiff competition for both.
0 # hoodwinkednomore 2015-12-17 12:04
And more recently, that brilliant young man, Schwartz, who hung himself...and Michael Hastings, who was most surely killed for bringing down that general...

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