Date: Wed, 01 Jan 1997 18:54:31 -0600
In misc.activism.progressive, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
New report blasts media coverage of Contra-crack story
FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) news release, 18 December 1996
A national media watch group today released a report highly critical of major media reaction to the San Jose Mercury News series linking the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contras to the spread of crack cocaine in urban America.
The report, to be published next month by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), focuses on three newspapers -- the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times -- which have printed lengthy articles attacking the Mercury News series.
Noting that the assessments by those three newspapers are "still reverberating in the national media's echo chamber," FAIR's report faults the papers for heavy reliance on official sources inside the CIA and other agencies with vested interests in undercutting the Mercury News accounts. FAIR's report (to be published in the Jan./Feb. 1997 EXTRA!) also highlights a history of national media suppression and marginalization of the contra-cocaine story in the 1980s.
* FAIR's researchers found that Mercury News reporter Gary Webb was frequently assailed for failing to prove what he had never claimed in the first place. The report points out that Webb's series did not assert the CIA was guilty of dealing crack in U.S. inner cities. Some of the attacks harped on "what Webb had already acknowledged in his articles -- that while he proves contra links to major cocaine importation, he can't identify specific CIA officials who knew of or condoned the trafficking."
* "Journalistic critics of the Mercury News offered little to rebut the paper's specific pieces of evidence" -- including testimony and law enforcement documents and comments -- indicating that a pair of Nicaraguan cocaine traffickers "may have been protected by federal agents."
* Although the Washington Post in particular took issue with the Mercury News for referring to the Nicaraguan contras as "the CIA's army," the FAIR report describes use of the phrase as "solid journalism" that highlights a relationship "fundamentally relevant to the story. The army was formed at the instigation of the CIA, its leaders were selected by and received salaries from the agency, and CIA officers controlled day-to-day battlefield strategies." The report criticizes what it calls a "newsroom culture of denial" that dodged such historical realities.
* The Los Angeles Times joined the other two dailies in downplaying the importance of crack dealer Ricky Ross, who was supplied by a pair of Nicaraguan cocaine smugglers linked to the Contras. Yet two years ago (12/20/94), the Los Angeles Times described Ross as the "king of crack" whose "coast-to-coast conglomerate" was responsible for "a staggering turnover that put the drug within reach of anyone with a few dollars." FAIR's report notes that the L.A. Times reversal on Ross "reads like a show-trial recantation."
* Depictions of African-Americans as prone to paranoia "quickly became a stylish media fixation," the report charged. "This theme of black paranoia accompanied all three of the major papers' attacks on the Mercury News series." Ironically, FAIR concluded, top editors at the Washington Post, New York Times and L.A. Times ended up ignoring evidence that did not fit their preconceived outlook -- "the true mark of the delusional mindset."
* The FAIR report concludes that the high-profile attacks on the Mercury News by the New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times "were clearly driven by a need to defend their shoddy record on the contra-cocaine story -- involving a decade-long suppression of evidence." In recent months, those papers have promoted "the notion that contra participation in drug trafficking is old news -- a particularly ironic claim coming from newspapers that went out of their way to ignore or disparage key information during the 1980s." (The obstruction of a 1987 report on contra-cocaine links by Time magazine is also noted.)
Journalists can obtain copies of the full report -- "Snow Job: The Establishment's Papers Do Damage Control for the CIA," written by FAIR associate Norman Solomon -- by calling 212-633-6700, extension 307.
Further information: Steve Rendall, FAIR