It was announced last week that Jeremy Renner will play journalist Gary Webb in the upcoming film, “Kill the Messenger.”
Webb committed suicide in 2004, eight years after the San Jose Mercury News ran his series linking the CIA with the South Central Los Angeles crack cocaine explosion — a 20,000-word three-parter that was discredited by the Los Angeles Times (and other news outlets) and caused Webb to be exiled from journalism. (Webb’s series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)
Scott Herhold, who was Webb’s editor, writes in today’s Mercury News that “the thesis [of 'Kill the Messenger'] is that Webb was punished for having the story essentially right in describing the agency as the catalyst for the crack cocaine epidemic.” He tells readers to be skeptical of the movie.
The late journalist, he says, was “a man of passion, not of fairness” and “when facts didn’t fit his theory, he tended to shove them to the sidelines.”
“Dark Alliance” marked an institutional failure by a newspaper eager for its own prizes and stature. By then, most of us understood Webb needed very capable editing. Our best editor, sadly, was not part of that project. No one raised enough questions about the thesis. The original story didn’t even have a comment from the CIA.
Webb paid a bigger price for that failure than anyone else — and in that sense, you can sympathize with the version of the messenger hounded to his death.
* Thinking back on journalist Gary Webb and the CIA (mercurynews.com)
* LAT in 2006: “‘Dark Alliance’” contained major flaws of hyperbole that were both encouraged and ignored by his editors” (latimes.com)
* AJR in 2005: The sad saga of Gary Webb (ajr.org)