The wave of crack addiction that crippled inner-city neighborhoods across the country in the '80s had its roots in the CIA's efforts to fund the secret Contra war against Nicaragua, according to an investigative report by the San Jose Mercury News' Gary Webb (8/18-20/96).
The story of the year? Not according to the New York Times, which has so far ignored the Mercury News' well-documented revelations. The major TV networks gave it no coverage. A few dailies prominently reprinted Webb's work (like the Seattle Times, 8/22/96), or ran an Associated Press account summarizing his findings (e.g., Chicago Tribune, 8/21/96).
But there is little sign that the expose has prompted much digging from other reporters--or much outrage on the nation's editorial pages. Webb's evidence is as persuasive as his conclusions are disturbing. Exhibit A is Oscar Danilo Blandon, a cocaine trafficker and federal informant who told a federal courtroom that " whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going to the Contra revolution." Blandon's claim is backed up by an L.A. Sheriff's Department affidavit, a federal parole report, an FBI memo and other official documents. Webb connects Blandon and Norwin Meneses, his boss in the operation, to top Contra leaders like Enrique Bermudez and Adolfo Calero.
"There is a saying that the ends justify the means," Blandon testified. "And that's what Mr. Bermudez told us in Honduras, OK?" Law enforcement agents told the Mercury News (8/18/96) that the CIA squelched investigations against the Meneses/Blandon operation in the name of "national security." Federal prosecutors who used the trafficker as an informant obtained a court order preventing defense attorneys from inquiring about Blandon's ties to the CIA.
But even more startling are the revelations about Blandon's distributor, "Freeway" Ricky Donnell Ross. Ross was no minor drug pusher, but the main supplier of crack for the Crips and Bloods gangs in L.A. "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 L.A. Times reported two years ago (12/20/94). Ross became the dominant supplier in L.A.--and much of the country--because of his ability to undersell other dealers. "What he had, and they didn't," Webb reported (8/19/96), "was Danilo Blandon, a friend with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of high-grade cocaine."
Would there have been an explosion of crack addiction in urban ghettos if the CIA's war against Nicaragua hadn't provided Ross with an "inexhaustible supply" of cocaine? Would it have assumed the same epidemic proportions? In the wake of the Mercury News series, these are open questions--questions that reporters at every major news outlet ought to be trying to answer. But most major news outlets seem prepared to let the new evidence get thrown away with yesterday's newspapers--the same approach they have taken to past revelations of the contras' involvement in cocaine trafficking.
The Contra/cocaine connection was exposed by the Associated Press' Robert Parry and Brian Barger as early as 1985 (12/20/85); further substantiation appeared in such disparate outlets as the San Francisco Examiner (3/16/86,6/23/86), In These Times (12/10/86) and CBS's West 57th (4/6/87,7/11/87). The New York Times, the most powerful paper in the U.S. and one that can be counted on to protect what it sees as the establishment, did worse than ignore these reports: It went out of its way to discredit them, with a series of articles that appeared in July 1987 (7/13/87, 7/16/87, 7/20/87).
The message of these articles was direct, and dishonest: "Investigators, including reporters from major news outlets, have tried without success to find proof of... allegations that military supplies may have been paid for with profits from drug smuggling," the Times' Keith Schneider reported on July 20, 1987. The "reporters from major news outlets" couldn't have been trying very hard: The Reagan State Department itself acknowledged a year earlier that at least one Contra leader had received money and warplanes from a Colombian drug trafficker.
But in a 1987 interview, the Times' Schneider revealed that he had more on his mind than journalism when he wrote two of the dismissive stories. "This story can shatter a republic," Schneider told In These Times (8/5/87). "I think it is so damaging, the implications are so extraordinary, that for us to run the story, it had better be based on the most solid evidence we can amass."
Gary Webb's Mercury News reporting has provided solid evidence that the contras were not just involved with the cocaine trade, they were major players in it. But the New York Times still seems to be more worried about shattering republics than reporting the truth. If you'd like to ask the New York Times why it hasn't followed up on the latest Contra/cocaine evidence, the address is 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036 (phone: 212-556-7356; fax:212-556-3690; online: http://www.nytimes.com).
Postscript: Since the publication of this Extra!Update report, the New York Times has briefly mentioned the Mercury News findings. The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have published long articles critical of the Mercury News series. The Mercury News has refuted some of the other papers' allegations on their website.