A Day When Journalism Died

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.

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

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.

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