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From AJR,   August/September 2005  issue

Webb Sightings   


By Unknown
     

Susan Paterno's recent article on Gary Webb, for which I was interviewed and accurately quoted, was the best of its genre to date ("The Sad Saga of Gary Webb," June/July). But the piece, either in the writing or editing, omitted one important element: The Mercury News' formal retraction was the product of a lengthy internal re-investigation of the "Dark Alliance" series, conducted primarily by reporter Pete Carey and reviewed by me. Paterno vividly captured the gripping media war and internal Mercury News strife that the series touched off, but the story left the inaccurate impression that the paper's ultimate response was based on that drama, rather than on painstaking journalism.

Jonathan Krim
Technology policy writer
Washington Post
Washington, D.C.

I thought your piece on Gary Webb was the best I've read. I'm Gary's former colleague with the Polish name (albeit hardly unruly if you're from Cleveland or Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, etc.). All of us who knew Gary admired his tenacity and empathy, as he best expressed in the note to his son. I think Gary knew his flaws, but I also think most of his sins were of overreaction to over-caution of editors and other reporters.

I do fault Gary for one inaccuracy in his book (and excoriated him appropriately when it came out), where he called me middle-aged when in fact at the time I was in my 30s and he was in his late 20s. I miss him anyway. Thanks for the diligence in writing about Gary's life.

Tom Andrzejewski
Former columnist at Cleveland's
Plain Dealer
President
The Oppidan Group Inc.
Cleveland, Ohio

I had to write to tell you what a wonderful piece you wrote on Gary Webb. You really did your homework and wrote the true story of the many sides of Gary Webb.

The only CIA man I ever met had just retired. He said one thing I never forgot. He said that he had to do some things he's not very proud of.

In case you haven't heard it here's Sen. John Kerry's condolences:

"Gary Webb had the courage to investigate connections between elements of the U.S. Government and Central American drug traffickers in the 1980s when it was political quicksand. Because of his work the CIA launched an Inspector General's investigation and found dozens of troubling connections to drug runners. That wouldn't have happened if Gary Webb hadn't been willing to stand up and risk all. I hope he finds peace that eluded him in this life."

It was good to read a Gary Webb piece not filled with spin.

D.J. Bell
(Webb's ex-wife's mother)
Heritage Lake, Indiana

Susan Paterno's piece on Gary Webb elicited more rage from me than sympathy.

Webb is quoted as saying: "This is what I did, this was me. I was a reporter. This was a calling; it was not something you do eight to five."

Bull.

When the dailies didn't want to hire him, when the talk shows stopped calling, Hollywood lost his number and the book deals didn't materialize, he chose to work for the California Legislature as an investigator.

Gary Webb didn't want to be a reporter. He wanted to be a star. He wanted to be the guy everyone was talking about. He wanted to be as important as the stories he covered.

When that door closed, he couldn't face the humiliation of working for a weekly newspaper. It probably never occurred to him the community newspapers which make up the majority of the print media in this country need talented, dedicated people. Never mind that the weeklies are where most people learn the purpose of reporting and the skills it takes to be a reporter.

The implication in all this is that community papers are inferior to dailies and that the only people who work at them are uneducated, unskilled or exiled into disgrace from the dailies.

The truth is that you'll rarely hear of a Gary Webb or a Jayson Blair at a community newspaper. When your readers all know you on a first-name basis and feel comfortable grilling you over lunch or at the grocery store, you learn not to make the kind of mistakes that get people exiled. Like most art forms, the smaller audience holds you to a higher standard.

Gary Webb didn't kill himself because he could no longer write. He killed himself because he couldn't lower himself to do the kind of work I and other community journalists do day in and day out with no Pulitzers and no national attention.

I find it hard to sympathize with a man who killed himself because he couldn't face the horror of living my life.

Darryl Riser
Managing editor
North Region, Louisiana State
Newspapers
Rayville, Louisiana

Before I even got to the second page of the Gary Webb story, I was stunned.

"The story included no CIA response; Webb said his editors never asked for one."

Maybe I'm too insulated in my little South Georgia community and the small community newspaper I work for. But Webb was reporting allegations of illegal conduct by the CIA and never gave that agency the chance to comment and he blamed it on the editors?

Well.

On the second page I read "editors failed to hold the story to what he could substantiate, letting him make leaps in reasoning that would earn failing marks in freshman logic."

Maybe I missed something. But I thought Webb was a reporter doing news stories. If you make "leaps in reasoning" in a newspaper it better be in an opinion column, not a news story.

Or maybe I missed something many years back in J-school. Maybe my editors over the years failed to pass along that I should speculate and comment and editorialize in news instead of reporting facts, getting quotes, researching and attributing information.

I can't operate that way. I have to report the facts. It's called attribution, and quoting "anonymous" sources is not attribution. "Anonymous" sources is a way, as we see all too often, for reporters to make up stuff.

Ben Baker
Editor
The Wiregrass Farmer
Ashburn, Georgia