Call me idealistic, but I was shocked to read about the Times’ butchery on reporter Gary Webb’s obituary. I mean, first, I read about how the mean-spirited, spiteful obituary from LA Weekly’s Marc Cooper, who apparently had been railing about this on his own blog for a few days since it was reported Webb had committed suicide. Now, I know there is no set formula for writing an obit, other than including the full name, age, and cause of death near the top, but c’mon – devoting grafs 6, 7, and 8 to how his series of stories linking the CIA with the explosion of crack cocaine in South Central L.A. were apparently disproved by the sheriff’s department and other newspapers? Here’s a snippet:
Major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post, wrote reports discrediting elements of Webb’s reporting. The Los Angeles Times report looked into Webb’s charges “that a CIA-related drug ring sent ‘millions’ of dollars to the Contras; that it launched an epidemic of cocaine use in South-Central Los Angeles and America’s other inner cities; and that the agency either approved the scheme or deliberately turned a blind eye.”
I’m with Marc Cooper here – kick him just a couple more times, why don’t you? Here’s my favorite part of what he said:
It’s an astounding and nasty little piece of postmortem butchery on Webb (which never mentions that after his series appeared, Webb was voted the 1996 Journalist of the Year by the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists). Absolutely missing from Webb’s obit is that it was his series that directly forced both the CIA and the Justice Department to conduct internal investigations into the scope of any links between the Agency and drug dealers.
Worse, the results of those investigations proved that the core of what Webb alleged was, indeed, true and accurate. When CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz presented the findings of his internal investigation to Congress in 1998 (two years after Webb’s piece and the ensuing Times vindication of the CIA), he revealed for the first time an eye-popping agreement that the CIA had cemented with the Justice Department: Between 1982 and 1995, the CIA was exempted from informing the DOJ if its non-employee agents, paid or unpaid, were dealing drugs. In short, it was the policy of the U.S. government to turn a blind eye to such connections.
I can’t figure out if the reporters who wrote the obit – two of them, no less – were gleefully dancing on this guy’s grave or if they were just lazy and digging through the archives was the extent of their research.
You know, I always wondered what would happen if you had to write an obit about someone no one liked. I mean, if you think about it, (and excuse me for being macabre here) nearly every person murdered or accidentally killed is described along the lines of any one of these phrases: wonderful, a real family man/woman, God-fearing, a great person, the backbone of the family/church/organization. The one time that this wasn’t the case was when I had to write an obit about a guy who graduated from Daily High School in Glendale, went on to live in L.A. and died in Iraq. I could only get school sources and never got the family on the phone to get one of those types of quotes. So what could I do? I had to note that Daily High is a continuation high school. The next day I got a phone call that it was shameful that I had to note that the guy had gone to Daily High and that I had to note that it was a continuation school. *shrug* I couldn’t get anyone else on the phone and I didn’t know where the family lived. So sue me. People get so sensitive about the oddest things.