Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Dark Alliance" and the Mainstream Media

I have plenty of ideas for documenting the history of mainstream media propaganda after Operation Mockingbird had supposedly ended, the thesis being a modern propaganda machine of both deliberate infiltration and market forces within the media, including the history of consolidation, loosening of propaganda laws and similar content, as well as stand-alone case studies. While researching the history of the Contras, Cocaine and the CIA, I realized that the reaction by the mainstream press to the revelations of Gary Webb's 'Dark Alliance' series is a great case study.

“Do we have a free press today? Sure we do. It's free to report all the sex scandals it wants, all the stock market news we can handle, every new health fad that comes down the pike, and every celebrity marriage or divorce that happens. But when it comes to the real down and dirty stuff -- stories like Tailwind, the October Surprise, the El Mozote massacre, corporate corruption, or CIA involvement in drug trafficking -- that's where we begin to see the limits of our freedoms. In today's media environment, sadly, such stories are not even open for discussion. Back in 1938, when fascism was sweeping Europe, legendary investigative reporter George Seldes observed (in his book, The Lords of the Press) that "it is possible to fool all the people all the time -- when government and press cooperate." Unfortunately, we have reached that point.” -Gary Webb

The 'Dark Alliance' series sent shock-waves through much of the nation. In areas such as urban California where crack and gang violence had taken serious tolls, the anger was very understandable If the CIA was indeed responsible for allowing massive amounts of cocaine to enter the United States for a secret and illegal war, then those responsible should be tried in court, and changes ought to be made to how agencies such as the CIA operate.

When 'Dark Alliance' was first published, the mainstream press took almost no notice.

“Had it been published even a year or two earlier, it likely would have vanished without a trace at that point. Customarily, if the rest of the nation's editors decide to ignore a particular story, it quickly withers and dies, like a light-starved plant. With the exception of newspapers in Seattle, some small cities in Northern California, and Albuquerque, Dark Alliance got the silent treatment big time. No one would touch it.”- Gary Webb

What was different about 1996, as opposed to a few years earlier, was the proliferation of the internet. Webb was able to have his story read by a wide international audience, and was able to host photos of the documents used as evidence, which traditional print media lacks the capacity to accomplish. In one day, Webb recalls, the website got 1.3 million hits (much larger than the distribution population). It had developed momentum all on its own, despite a mainstream blackout.

The first article to appear in the New York Times, three days after the first round of 'Dark Alliance' was published, was a small piece titled “Inquiries into report that Contra rebels sold Cocaine in the U.S.” and focused entirely on CIA director John M. Deutch's assurances. The article reads: “[He] insisted there was no evidence that the C.I.A. ever aided drug trafficking by the Contra rebels,” despite the existence of various reports and affidavits cited by Webb.

'Dark Alliance' was published in mid to late August and the only mentions of the story in institutions such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and LA Times would refer to Webb's evidence as 'allegations' and quote CIA officials denying any wrongdoing. In October, the story had gained enough momentum in the press, radio and through black members of congress that they had to address it, and they did so in what can only be described as a baseless smear campaign.

"Last month," Newsweek reported in November, "the Merc started getting trashed -- by its peers. In turn, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times poked holes in the story, exhaustively and mercilessly."

"Agency officials said they had no evidence of any such plot. Other news organizations were not able to confirm the plot. Still, the rumor mill continued to grind, seemingly unstoppable."- New York Times, November 16 1996

What exactly did these institutions do to discredit the Webb story? As indicated earlier, most of the discrediting had to do with taking CIA statements at face value. An excellent example is the the New York Times series lasting 3 days written by Tim Golden devoted to attacking the 'Dark Alliance' series. On October 20, in an article titled 'Pivotal Figures of Newspaper Series May Be Only Bit Players', Golden claims:

“Although he claimed to have supplied several thousand pounds of cocaine to one of the biggest crack dealers in Southern California, officials said the C.I.A. had no record of Mr. Blandon before he appeared as a central figure in the series in The Mercury News. There is no evidence that either man was a rebel official or had anything to do with the C.I.A. Nor is there proof that the relatively small amounts of cocaine they sometimes claimed to have brokered on behalf of the insurgents had a remotely significant role in the explosion of crack that began around the same time.”

These statements directly contradict a range of evidence provided by Webb. To start, there were affidavits for both Norwin Meneses and Oscar Blandon showing that the LAPD, FBI and DEA all knew that both men were leaders of large Cocaine distribution rings and were funneling profits back to the Contras.

Humorously, while the major newspapers were claiming Rick Ross was insignificant in 1996, in 1994 before the knowledge of the CIA and Contra connection, the Los Angeles Times wrote:

“If there was a criminal mastermind behind crack's decade-long reign, if there was one outlaw capitalist most responsible for flooding Los Angeles' streets with mass-marketed cocaine, his name was Freeway Rick."

The headline they used was “Deposed King of Crack : Now Free After 5 Years in Prison, This Master Marketer Was Key to the Drug's Spread in L.A.”

Asking no hard questions, and echoing the denials of the CIA was the modus operandi of the major newspapers. The media was much more comfortable discussing the scandals of OJ Simpson and Monica Lewinsky. When they did devote time to Webb, they would quote anonymous sources downplaying claims. For example, an October 21 1996 article in the Los Angeles Times quoted 'two men who knew Meneses' to justify the assertion that Meneses was not a major Contra supporter, while the Mercury relied on much stronger sources such as sworn court testimony. They would also devote paragraph after paragraph to minor details such as the inability to name specific CIA officials involved.

“What did they say was wrong?” I asked.
“They don’t say any of the facts are wrong,” Ceppos said. “They just don’t agree with our conclusions.”
“And their evidence is what?”
“A lot of unnamed sources, mainly. It’s really a strange piece. I’ll send you a fax of it, and we can talk in the morning.” - Exchange between Gary Webb and his editor

The media would begrudgingly admit basic facts and downplay key testimony. They would dismiss claims as conspiracy theories. A great example is a Newsweek editorial that dismissed current Secretary of State John Kerry, who had headed the Kerry Commission and found significant wrongdoing on the part of the CIA, as a 'randy conspiracy buff'.

The real kicker is what happened in 1998. For two years the major media dismissed the possibility of a serious connection between the Contras and the cocaine explosion. Then the CIA released the testimony of the Inspector General who had conducted an investigation.

What did the Inspector General reveal?

Identified more than 50 Contras and Contra-related entities implicated in the drug trade.

Detailed how Reagan/Bush administration had protected these drug operations

Published evidence that drug trafficking and money laundering tracked into Reagan’s National Security Council, implicating Oliver North.

The CIA knew from Day 1 that the Contras were involved in the drug trade.

The CIA placed an admitted drug money launderer in charge of the Southern Front Contras

The CIA withheld evidence of Contra crimes from the Justice Department, the Congress and even the CIA’s own analytic division.

Released a CIA cable from 1981 that discussed Contra members delivering drugs to Miami.

Essentially, validating the Mercury News story. The media did not print retractions of their previous articles, and they did not detail the findings of the Inspector Generals report. Although the report was a clear admission of guilt, they ignored the evidence entirely.

The Los Angeles Times never published a story discussing the report, and the New York Times and Washington Post continued to publish articles that derided the Webb story.

The Mercury News management caved into the pressure of the media establishment: Webb was transferred to a lesser department and told his investigative journalism days were over. His editors even printed an apology.

Is there evidence that this story is more than just market forces? A former CIA deputy director quoted by Carl Bernstein, former journalist who has done the most investigative research on Operation Mockingbird, said “It was widely known that Phil Graham [previous owner of the Washington Post] was someone you could get help from.” Not the strongest evidence, I will admit. But the case does show that the agenda is set from the management at the top, that the newspaper owners relationship with the political establishment has a drastic effect on coverage.

Phil's spouse, Katherine Graham, who owned the Post until she passed away in 2001, once said:

"We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows."

These are the type of people who own the mainstream media, and the reporting on the Dark Alliance story the kind of journalism they produce.