DARK ALLIANCE….On the tenth anniversary of “Dark Alliance,” Gary Webb’s landmark series in the San Jose Mercury News about the CIA’s support for drug lords who backed and funded the Nicaraguan contras, Nick Schou says it represented a low point for American journalism. But not for Webb:

All three major U.S. dailies, The Times included, debunked a claim that Webb actually never made ? that the CIA deliberately unleashed the crack epidemic on black America. The controversy over this non-assertion obscured Webb’s substantive points about the CIA knowingly doing business south of the border with Nicaraguans involved in the drug trade up north.

….Spurred on by Webb’s story, the CIA conducted an internal investigation that acknowledged in March 1998 that the agency had covered up Contra drug trafficking for more than a decade. Although the Washington Post and New York Times covered the report ? which confirmed key chunks of Webb’s allegations ? the L.A. Times ignored it for four months, and largely portrayed it as disproving the “Dark Alliance” series. “We dropped the ball on that story,” said Doyle McManus, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, who helped supervise its response to “Dark Alliance.”

Webb made some mistakes in his reporting, but his main conclusions turned out to be correct. The CIA didn’t actively support crack sales in American cities ? and Webb never said they did ? but they did tolerate those sales even though they were well aware of what was going on. It was all for the greater good, you see.

But for some reason this was too conspiracy theorish for the American press. They leaped on Webb’s modest inaccuracies instead of following up on the underlying scandal he had uncovered, a scandal that turned out to be accurate in its broad outlines. Sometimes, you see, even the most outlandish conspiracy theories turn out to be true.

UPDATE: Eric Umansky covered this story for Mother Jones back in 1998. His summaries are here and here.

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