Can a Free Press be a Free Press Without Risk: Russia, America, The Iran/Contra/Drugs in Black Neighborhoods Scandal
By Carol Smaldino
Me: It could change everything if we begin to hold the press accountable for telling us the truth, which includes writing about things that might be inconvenient for us or for them.
*Gary Webb, 2004:
"The reason I'd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn't been, as I'd assumed, that I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn't written anything important enough to suppress."
I had already been preoccupied by journalism in America. This is not only because major news outlets didn't report their findings regarding Iraq. It was rather that I saw many courageous and devoted reporters of investigative stories doing their jobs while their findings, even if shocking, didn't remain the target of more investigation or action. There were Bill Moyers, James Risen, Jane Mayer, Seymour Hirsch, and Glenn Greenwald as a few who followed up on controversial stories. There were Michael Moore and Al Gore who won Academy Awards, but the inconvenient truth in the films didn't seem to have a lasting effect, to make a real difference.
What has also been missing is the press picking up on articles and stories and books that are news in that they bring issues to the fore, either for the first time or differently than before. I wondered if the granting of awards was just a spectacle to convince us, and the world outside, that we are the best and the greatest because we allow people to say ostensibly controversial things out loud. We could then discuss the movies or the news over dinner and go right home to bed.
When Tim Wise suggested I read "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide" by Carol Anderson I did so. Her handle on slavery, segregation, racism and white hate are particularly astute, distressing and sobering. When I found her descriptions of the Reagan Administration (yes, that would be Ronald) and its CIA funding the illegal war in Nicaragua backing the Contras, I was astounded. It was accomplished by dumping tons of crack cocaine in South Los Angeles in what would be the beginning of a systematic poisoning and in ways a genocide--, both there and in other cities.
I wondered how Anderson got to say in print abominable truths in ways that toppled myths of grandiosity about national integrity--if we are to take this stuff seriously. In particular I wondered: Was Anderson considered a non-threat to top media sources, and God forbid the government, as relatively unknown and therefore perhaps less likely to attract the fury and outrage of those in power. Ouch.
In doing some light research on these topics I found Anderson was completely on target. It was then that I discovered the work of Gary Webb. Webb was a lone white reporter who followed a common sense (and non-racist) approach to the eruption of crack cocaine in Los Angeles. He figured that people didn't use drugs because they were black, but because the drugs were there, and he wondered how they got there. His findings implicated the CIA and its funding the clandestine and illegal war in Central America though these profits.
Webb had been a prestigious reporter with a Pulitzer under his belt) and despite this, or because of it (along with the fact that his reporting was put Online for everyone to read and was therefore available), the New York Times, the LA Times and the Washington Post put their money and their power, not behind helping to complement his research and findings but rather to demean and discredit him. The campaign they began was filled with hostility, competition, and greed--nothing that had anything to do with their responsibility to the people or the truth. It worked.
Reagan could have easily been impeached; in fact he should have been. He lied to Congress, went against their decision against a war in Nicaragua; he also went completely counter to his own well-dramatized war on drugs to become as hypocritical as any President could be.
During this inner dialogue, I happened to notice the International New York Times with the following headline, on August 28, 2016. It was by Neil MacFarquhar and read, " A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories". It had me at hello but not in a good way.
The article detailed a common practice of Russian media outlets, which involves basically spreading rumors that have no real truth to them, one being about the negative effects of a potential for Sweden to join NATO. At that time I was reading about egregious crimes and negligence right in our press at home. How could I indulge in self-congratulation, I thought. So I didn't.
I stayed with the upset that the Iran Contra affair, upset also that it had seemed so dense at the time, and that I no doubt was part of the population distracted by the collusion between government and press., something Gary Webb spoke about this sorrowfully and thoughtfully. (link , THE MIGHTY WURLITZER PLAYS ON by Gary Webb)
In terms of Russia, I am not a fan of how Putin and company have decided to rewrite Stalin so the children will have good self esteem when they think of him. In terms of America, we can't have a free press if the press stops journalists and journalism when the going gets rough, or becomes dangerous.
What can get us less scared of the truth, no matter what? And maybe even to be ready as well for hearings, actions and reparations now, for the Iran/Contra drug disasters that to this day affect our national consciousness and so many black people who have been punished, assaulted and incarcerated due to those policies.
By the way, for those of you who don't know this, Gary Webb died in 2004, with two bullets to the head. His death was declared a suicide.