Gary Webb, 49, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter from the San Jose Mercury News made America hold its breath in 1996 when he showed us proof of direct CIA involvement in drug trafficking. For a few months many of us had hope.
He reportedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head two days ago. His body was discovered at 8:20 AM Saturday as movers reportedly found a note on the door of his residence asking them not to enter but to call for paramedics.
Webb's August 1996 series Dark Alliance for the San Jose Mercury News pulled deep covers away from US covert operations and American denial about connections between the CIA and drugs. Gary left a bigger historical footprint than anyone who has ever touched the subject including among others, Peter Dale Scott, Alfred McCoy, Jonathan Kwitny and me.
His footprint was made possible in large part for two reasons. First, his reporting was meticulous and produced hard records that could not be effectively denied. Second, prominent African-American leaders like Jesse Jackson and representatives Maxine Waters and Juanita Millender-McDonald of Los Angeles and Compton respectively took up the torch lit by Gary and ran with it just before the 1996 presidential election which saw Bill Clinton win his second term just eight weeks after the stories broke. I was there at that time and it is not an understatement to say that much of this country was "up in arms".
Waters at one point vowed to make the CIA-drug connections, fully documented by Webb, her "life's work" if necessary.
In death the major press is beating him almost as ruthlessly as they did in real life. No part of the major press has acknowledged that Webb's work was subsequently vindicated by congressional investigations and two CIA Inspector General's reports released in 1997 and 1998. FTW did report on Webb's vindication and his legacy has - at least at the level of authentic journalism - not been lost.