He was right. The Times, with a lot more money and access, is far too frequently wrong (sometimes on purpose). They can’t forgive him for it.
So, it is perhaps nice that the Times stated quite frankly that the long-denied scandal “really happened” – even though this admission is tucked into a movie review placed on page AR-14 of the New York edition. And the Times’ reviewer still can’t quite face up to the fact that his newspaper was part of a gang assault on an honest journalist who actually got the story right.
Thus, the review is peppered with old claims that Webb hyped his material when, in fact, he understated the seriousness of the scandal, as did Barger and I in the 1980s. The extent of Contra cocaine trafficking and the CIA’s awareness – and protection – of the criminal behavior were much greater than any of us knew.
The Times’ review sums up the Webb story (and the movie plot) this way: “‘Kill the Messenger,’ a movie starring Jeremy Renner due Oct. 10, examines how much of the story [Webb] told was true and what happened after he wrote it. ‘Kill the Messenger’ decidedly remains in Mr. Webb’s corner, perhaps because most of the rest of the world was against him while he was alive.
“Rival newspapers blew holes in his story, government officials derided him as a nut case and his own newspaper, after initially basking in the scoop, threw him under a bus. Mr. Webb was open to attack in part because of the lurid presentation of the story and his willingness to draw causality based on very thin sourcing and evidence. He wrote past what he knew, but the movie suggests that he told a truth others were unwilling to. Sometimes, when David takes on Goliath, David is the one who ends up getting defeated. …
“Big news organization like The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post tore the arms and legs off his work. Despite suggestions that their zeal was driven by professional jealousy, some of the journalists who re-reported the story said they had little choice, given the deep flaws.
“Tim Golden in The New York Times and others wrote that Mr. Webb overestimated his subjects’ ties to the contras as well as the amount of drugs sold and money that actually went to finance the war in Nicaragua.”
The reviewer gives Golden another chance to take a shot at Webb and defend what the Big Papers did. “Webb made some big allegations that he didn’t back up, and then the story just exploded, especially in California,” Golden said in an email. “You can find some fault with the follow-up stories, but mostly what they did was to show what Webb got wrong.”
But Golden continues to be wrong himself. While it may be true that no journalistic story is perfect and that no reporter knows everything about his subject, Webb was if anything too constrained in his chief conclusions, particularly the CIA’s role in shielding the Contra drug traffickers. The reality was much worse, with CIA officials intervening in criminal cases, such as the so-called Frogman Case in San Francisco, that threatened to expose the Contra-related trafficking.
The CIA Inspector General’s report also admitted that the CIA withheld evidence of Contra drug trafficking from federal investigators, Congress and even the CIA’s own analytical division. The I.G. report was clear, too, on the CIA’s motivation.