Filming is set to begin this summer on “Kill the Messenger,” the story of former Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who committed suicide after being smeared for exposing the CIA’s role in helping Nicaragua’s Contra rebels import cocaine into California in the 1980s.
Jeremy Renner, star of “The Hurt Locker,” has been cast to play Webb in the film being produced by Focus Features International, a unit of Universal, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
OC (Orange County) Weekly managing editor Nick Schou, author the book “Kill the Messenger,” writes:
- The movie will portray Webb as a courageous reporter whose career and life were cut short when the nation’s three most powerful newspapers piled on to attack Webb and his three-part Mercury News series on the CIA’s crack-cocaine connection.
- The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times each obscured basic truths of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series.
Reporter Gary Webb in 1997.
- But no newspaper tried harder than the L.A. Times, where editors were said to have been appalled that a distant San Jose daily had published a blockbuster about America’s most powerful spy agency and its possible role in allowing drug dealers to flood South L.A. with crack.
- Much of the Times’ attack was clever misdirection, but it ruined Webb’s reputation: In particular, the L.A. Times attacked a claim that Webb never made: that the CIA had intentionally addicted African-Americans to crack.
- Webb, who eventually could find only part-time work at a small weekly paper, committed suicide.
With filming of the movie moving ahead, former LA Times reporter Jesse Katz apologized in this May 22 Los Angeles magazine article for being one of Webb’s media detractors:
- At the L.A. Times we enlisted 17 reporters — I was one — to put Webb’s series under a microscope.
- Rather than advance what he got right, we aimed our firepower at his shortcuts, lambasting him for each omission and overstatement. It was a tawdry and defensive exercise, all these august institutions piling on a lone muckraker.
- In 1998, the CIA’s inspector general confirmed that Webb had been on the right trail, that the spy agency often “did not act to verify” allegations of Contra drug trafficking and, even when it did, such revelations “did not deter” the CIA from using traffickers as assets. By then our scrutiny had ruined Webb’s career. In 2004, he shot himself in the head.
Schou said that the NY Times and Washington Post buried the inspector general’s report and the LA Times didn’t acknowledge its release for months.
Because Webb shot himself twice in the head, with the first bullet going through his cheek, many have claimed that the CIA killed him. As Schou put it, “Katz, if not the rest of the Times crew, knows, it wasn’t the CIA that helped load the gun that killed Gary Webb.”
(Photo credits: Renner is a handout photo; Webb by Randy Pench, Sacramento Bee)