Snow Job: Ganging Up on the Mercury News

Last summer the San Jose Mercury News published a series linking the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contras to the spread of crack cocaine in urban America. In October the country's most powerful big-city dailies -- the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times -- published lengthy attacks on the series. Their triple-barreled assault is still reverberating in the national media's echo chamber.Now, the media watch group FAIR has released a report titled "Snow Job: The Establishment's Papers Do Damage Control for the CIA." A team of researchers scrutinized the high-profile critiques by the Post, L.A. Times and New York Times. Among our findings:*Mercury News reporter Gary Webb was frequently assailed for failing to prove what he'd never claimed in the first place. 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.* Some critics took issue with the Mercury News for referring to the contras as "the CIA's army." But the phrase is solid journalism, highlighting a relationship that's fundamentally relevant to the story. The contra 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 three newspapers frequently presented the statements of CIA officials as touchstones for veracity.* This fall, 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 connected to the contras. Yet two years ago, on Dec. 20, 1994, a long news article in the L.A. 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."* As with the L.A. Times reversal regarding Ross, all three papers repeatedly engaged in an Orwellian process. The FAIR report begins by quoting George Orwell's description of doublethink: "...to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed..."* New York Times reporting was so eager to distance the CIA's army from the CIA that it ventured into absurdity. The Times noted that pro-contra cocaine traffickers Norvin Meneses and Danilo Blandon "traveled once to Honduras to see the FDN's military commander, Enrique Bermudez." But the Times quickly added: "Although Mr. Bermudez, like other contra leaders, was often paid by the CIA, he was not a CIA agent."* Depicting African-Americans as delusional quickly became a stylish media fixation. Themes of black paranoia accompanied the attacks on the Mercury News series. Ironically, 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 three newspapers were driven by a need to defend their shoddy record on the contra-cocaine story -- after ignoring or disparaging key information on the subject in the 1980s.Ironically, new evidence indicates that the Mercury News series actually understated the extent of CIA involvement in the cocaine trade. Citing the conclusions of investigative journalists at Britain's ITV television, the London-based daily The Independent reported on Dec. 12: "The CIA actively encouraged drug-trafficking in order to fund right-wing contra rebels in Nicaragua during the 1980s, and a CIA agent in Nicaragua was employed to ensure the money went to the contras and not into the pockets of drug barons."The full text of FAIR's "Snow Job" report is available in cyberspace -- at www.fair.org/fair -- without charge.

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