Gary Webb

Something I missed over the weekend: Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who wrote a series of articles linking the CIA, Nicaragua’s anti-government contra rebels, cocaine traffickers, and the crack epidemic in Los Angeles, was found dead in suburban Sacramento on Friday, December 10. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head, and the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices up there are quoted as saying Webb appears to have committed suicide. (Un-shockingly, some in the parallel conspiracy-driven universe have revealed his death was a “suicide,” in quotation marks, meaning that he was rubbed out as someone who knew too much about the “Bush Crime Family.”)

Right here I’ll say I would need to go back and read what he wrote, how other media responded, and the substance of government investigations to offer an informed opinion about Webb’s stories. What’s clear was that as an investigative reporter, Webb was the real thing, sharing a Pulitzer Prize at one point and getting lots of other recognition for his work before the contra cocaine story.

In saying he had evidence that the CIA was in bed with people who had helped trigger a disaster of epic proportions in the second-biggest U.S. city and beyond, he was suggesting something that most people would reject as fantastic, too evil to be true, to byzantine to really hold together. That was my own reaction. And like most messengers bearing such tidings, he paid a price: others in the journalistic establishment worked to discredit his work, his own paper wound up repudiating the stories, he was transferred to a bureau office 100 miles from where he lived. Sixteen months after the series ran, he quit the Merc. And continued to pursue the story, eventually expanding his investigation into a book, from outside a big-city paper.

Conclusion: I don’t have any. The guy was 49. He believed passionately, and apparently sincerely and without cynicism, in the integrity of his journalism. He had three kids and had been pushed outside the professional realm he loved (his former wife is quoted as saying, “All he ever wanted to do was write”). And he apparently shot himself. It’s a tragedy, that’s all.