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Film critics toe corporate line to re-kill messenger Gary Webb, after Hollywood

Gary Webb
AT BEST “KILL THE MESSENGER” portrays suspiciously deceased journalist Gary Webb as a heroic sleuth who refused to compromise his principles. At best, the film re-reports the enormous crime which Webb exposed in his series DARK ALLIANCE, that the CIA’s support of the Nicaraguan CONTRAs in the 1980s involved facilitating the smuggling of drugs into the US, in such large quantities as to precipitate the crack cocaine epidemic, delivered to our major inner cities by the CIA. UNFORTUNATELY the film muddies the crack connection, as Webb’s detractors did back then. Two deliberate plot omissions suggest this is probably not a coincidence.

Conveniently the screenplay ends before the years when Gary Webb was able to elaborate on those links. By then he’d lost his audience. Unfortunately the film that might have given his life’s work a main stage reprise chose not to go that far. Does it matter anymore? These days the CIA and its covert cohorts are understood to have authored a litany of unimaginable evils. So it’s not too early to demonize the CIA. Evidently someone thinks the American public is not ready to be shown the racist stratagems of corportate class war.

Exposing the genesis of the crack attack on African American ghettos is clearly a missed opportunity for a film in 2014. Given Ferguson. Given the rising awareness of our government’s coordinated and premeditated containment and criminalization of dark-skinned populations. Let’s remember that while the US was fighting Nicaraguan rebels, it was also at war with the Black Liberation Army. Funding and arming drug warlords was the same strategy Brazil used to administrate the favelas, via proxy gangs. One might say that LA’s Bloods and Crips played domestic Contras set loose to destabilize community building efforts by militant Black Power.

UNPARDONABLE however are the film’s departures from the truth, which paint a curious fiction as if to indemnify the national press from its complicity with the intelligence community. Two lies will stand out to anyone who was there. (Did the filmmakers think their audience would be only millennials?)

First, the San Jose Mercury News was hardly a “local news outlet” unfamiliar with handling national stories and unknown to the average reader. The Mercury News was an award winning paper which competed with metropolitan mastheads. I can’t imagine its employees aren’t indignant by the film’s yokel characterization. The Los Angeles Times’ vindictive campaign to defame Gary Webb was hardly driven by professional embarassment over a missed scoop.

Second, the Contra-CIA drug smuggling link was suspected well before Gary Webb brought it to the mainstream. I remember during the Iran-Contra Hearings a decade earlier, the alternative media often lamented that the official investigation had been narrowed to exclude mention of the cocaine connection.

These amendments might be excused for simplifying the plot except that they minimize the breadth of the corporate identity of Webb’s censors. How very 90s of this narrative to pretend that Capitalist media outlets compete for news scoops like highschoolers at a science olympics. Newspapers and networks have always only ever peddled the themes their owners dictate. Media consolidation has only meant the manufacturing of public consent has become more uniform, perfectly illustrated by the collusion of the tag-team that hit Gary Webb.

AND AFTER HOLLYWOOD FAILED GARY WEBB, the film critics were waiting with daggers.

David Denby begins his New Yorker review by associating KTM with other crusading journalist thrillers, “some depicting real events, some not”, then pointing to director Michael Cuesta’s “paranoid” TV work, finally contriving that the film botches “many contraditory assertions.” Um, sorry, neither. But I do worry that giving all thumbs down will succeed in scaring away viewers. Denby finishes by making it all about actor Jeremy Renner, un-ironically aping the campaign waged on Gary Webb, overtly described in the film, shifting the focus from the story to all about the messenger.

The Washington Post dispatched one-time Webb adversary Jeff Leen to reprise the hatchet job begun when Gary Webb broke the story. Labeling Webb as “no journalism hero”, Leen’s rebuttal hangs on the technicality that no CIA “employees” were implicated, ignoring what everyone knows post-Blackwater, post-Wikileaks, that the US has long outsourced its crimes, from torture to food service. Dimwit.

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