Today is an anniversary the Mercury News will probably not celebrate. But the LA Times, on its op-ed page today, looks back at the now infamous story the Merc published linking the CIA and Nicaragua’s Contras to the crack cocaine epidemic that swept through urban LA in the 1980s. What happened next was, according to investigative reporter Nick Schou, one of the most “unseemly and ultimately tragic scandals in the annals of American journalism.”
The nation’s largest newspapers such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times attacked the story, the Merc disowned it and then banished the author, Gary Webb (pictured), to one of its less desirable bureaus. Eventually Webb would leave the Merc and then die from two gunshot wounds to his head. It was ruled a suicide. Schou, in his op-ed today and in an upcoming book he’s done on the scandal, points out that much of what Webb wrote was correct, the Merc’s backtracking notwithstanding.
Schou says, “History will tell if Webb receives the credit he’s due for prodding the CIA to acknowledge its shameful collaboration with drug dealers. Meanwhile, the journalistic establishment is only beginning to recognize that the controversy over “Dark Alliance” had more to do with poor editing than bad reporting.”