Reporter, Mercury News Run with Crack-CIA Saga: Book, Movie Deals Draw Media Criticism as Unethical

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 15, 1996 | Go to article overview

Reporter, Mercury News Run with Crack-CIA Saga: Book, Movie Deals Draw Media Criticism as Unethical


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Less than three months after the San Jose Mercury News set off a media war with a blockbuster series on alleged CIA misdeeds, the reporter apparently has been negotiating book and movie deals.

Although the newspaper denies that reporter Gary Webb, 41, is brokering film and book rights, a Walt Disney subsidiary says it has cut a deal and hired an independent production company to do the project.

The problem is the story may be untrue.

Neither this nor the paper's denials have fazed officials at Touchstone Pictures.

"I think the deal is done for all intents and purposes," a Touchstone official said. "The deal is not being done with the San Jose Mercury News; it's being done with this guy."

The independent producer handling the movie, David Hoberman of Mandeville Films, refused comment, saying, "I don't feel like contributing to the media wars that have gone on."

The Mercury News has been attacked by several news outlets for hinting that more than a decade ago, the CIA introduced crack cocaine to south-central Los Angeles and funneled profits to the Nicaraguan Contras.

Mercury News City Editor Dawn Garcia announced the series would reveal "how a covert effort to arm a Latin American guerrilla army flooded black neighborhoods with cheap cocaine," and the series' Web site premiered with a man inhaling crack superimposed over a CIA seal. It has since been altered, although the tell-all series title, "Dark Alliance," remains.

The Justice Department, the CIA and Congress are conducting investigations on the matter. The CIA has said it was never interviewed by the San Jose paper.

The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post also conducted investigations in response to the Mercury News story, which received considerable play over the nation's airwaves, talk shows and on the Internet.

Their response: The Mercury News is dead wrong.

The Mercury News' information "does not support" its conclusions, The Post stated in its 5,000-word piece, published Oct. 4. Rather, the Mercury News' "decade-old allegations" that some Contras had engaged in drug trafficking contained seriously flawed conclusions, The Post said.

Mercury News Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos protested The Post's critique in an Oct. 18 letter answering its objections point by point. The Post refused to run the letter on its editorial page.

Not only had the Mercury News staff backed away from some earlier statements, wrote Stephen Rosenfeld, The Post's deputy editorial page editor, but The Post took umbrage on how Mr. Ceppos "did not fully enough meet the tough questions" posed by The Post.

The Post's ombudsman, Geneva Overholser, scolded her employer for "misdirected zeal" on Nov. 10 but added that the Mercury News' story was "seriously flawed," as it was reported by "a seemingly hotheaded fellow willing to have people leap to conclusions his reporting couldn't back up."

"The better question is: Is the story accurate?" says Media Research Center Executive Director Brent Bozell.

"There's no problem with a reporter breaking the story, if it is true, and profiting from it. I see a far greater problem if the story is unverified or worse, false. Because now he's poisoning the cultural well.

"The standards for honesty in both journalism and the movies have been lowered so much that it's evolved to a situation where no one believes what he reads and no one cares anymore. It is a sad indictment."

The Mercury News then posted Mr. Ceppos' Nov. 3 editorial on its Web site, stating the Mercury News had not backed down from its earlier positions despite the Los Angeles Times' reporting that it had. The Post then repeated the Times report and, Mr. …

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