/* Written  4:51 PM  Oct  3, 1996 by mediabeat in igc:media.issues */
/* ---------- "Media coverage of CIA/contras/cocai" ---------- */
From: Norman Solomon <mediabeat@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Media coverage of CIA/contras/cocaine


By Norman Solomon

     A nationwide media war has broken out this fall, several
weeks after a California newspaper reported a chilling story: CIA
operatives helped cocaine traffickers introduce large quantities
of low-cost crack into poor neighborhoods of urban America during
the 1980s. Much of the profits went to the U.S.-supported Contra
army fighting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

     The well-documented revelations in the San Jose Mercury News
presented a challenge to national media. Major news outlets had
failed to uncover the story. More importantly, influential
publications -- such as Time magazine, The New York Times and The
Washington Post -- had actually gone out of their way to pooh-
pooh or suppress earlier information about drug smuggling by the
CIA-backed Contras.

     Accounts of the Mercury News findings appeared in quite a
few daily papers. But the most powerful national media ignored
the story...and continued to look the other way for a full month.

     Meanwhile, cyberspace provided broad access to the Mercury
News series and supporting documents via the World Wide Web
(www.sjmercury.com/drugs/). Some talk-radio programs sizzled with
outrage. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus kept demanding
federal investigations. Protests mounted. 

     After four weeks of strong signs that the CIA-Contra-crack
issue wasn't going to fade away, the nation's "newspaper of
record" finally got around to covering the story. Sort of. The
New York Times broke its silence on Sept. 21 with a shoddy news
article that featured denials by CIA Director John Deutch and
unnamed "former senior CIA officials."

     Soon, America's biggest news weekly also ended its silence.
The Sept. 30 Time printed a one-page piece laced with gratuitous
asides about "conspiracy theorists" and "bizarre fantasies" --
which had nothing to do with the somber Mercury News disclosures.

     Central to the Time salvo was a 120-word quotation from one
of the magazine's Washington correspondents, Elaine Shannon, who
declared: "Even sources who are routinely skeptical of the
official line on the Contras agree that the idea that the agency
was behind drug smuggling by the Contras is fantasy."

     Simultaneously, the slickly conservative Weekly Standard --
bankrolled by mogul Rupert Murdoch -- jumped into the fray with
three pages assailing the Mercury News series as "a disgrace."
The magazine rejoiced that "few major media outlets have
validated the series by reporting on its charges in any detail."

     The Weekly Standard approvingly quoted "a senior foreign
editor at one prestigious East Coast daily -- one of the
newspapers that have done their best to ignore the Mercury News
series." The editor was unwilling to have a name attached to his
or her arrogant words: "It doesn't move me. I don't see anything
to follow up."

     Attacks on the Mercury News articles commonly fault the
newspaper for failing to prove charges it never made. Written by
staff reporter Gary Webb after a 13-month investigation, the
series does not claim that the CIA directly smuggled
cocaine and sold crack. What the series does assert --
and substantiate -- is that CIA-employed Contra financiers
arranged drug deals bringing tons of crack to the streets of Los

     Fortunately, as autumn began, some of the national media
started to take the evidence seriously. Newsweek ran a brief but
decent summary of the controversy. "NBC Nightly News" aired a
report explaining that "newly uncovered documents show that money
from drugs sold in the inner cities did help finance the war in
Nicaragua. Top U.S. officials knew it at the time and did nothing
to stop it." On Sept. 29, ABC News added a straightforward

     Missing from the current furor, however, is media self-
criticism. Cocaine revenues were still streaming into Contra
coffers when Associated Press exposed key aspects of the story in
December 1985. Three years later, a report by John Kerry's Senate
subcommittee blew the whistle on U.S. government complicity with
Contra cocaine trafficking. Yet, for more than a decade, most
mainstream media dodged the visible links between the CIA's
Contra army and illicit drugs.

     This month, the coast-to-coast media crossfire over the
Mercury News series is likely to intensify. If evidence and
journalism can prevail over assumptions and ideology, the CIA's
defenders will continue to lose ground.


The above article is this week's "Media Beat" syndicated column
by Norman Solomon. "Media Beat" appears in about 20 daily
newspapers around the country and on CompuServe.

If you like what you read, please contact the editorial page
editors at newspapers in your area and urge them to carry the
column! (It's distributed to daily papers by Creators Syndicate.)
Suggestions from readers have been very effective in getting
newspapers to publish "Media Beat" on a regular basis.

For more information, send e-mail to mediabeat-info@igc.org. 

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