Nick Schou writes about Jesse Katz’s “apology” for ruining Gary Webb’s life:
The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times each obscured basic truths of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series. But no newspaper tried harder than the L.A. Times, where editors were said to have been appalled that a distant San Jose daily had published a blockbuster about America’s most powerful spy agency and its possible role in allowing drug dealers to flood South L.A. with crack.
Much of the Times’ attack was clever misdirection, but it ruined Webb’s reputation: In particular, the L.A. Times attacked a claim that Webb never made: that the CIA had intentionally addicted African-Americans to crack.
Webb, who eventually could find only part-time work at a small weekly paper, committed suicide.
No journalist played a more central role in the effort to obscure the facts Webb reported than former L.A. Times reporter Katz. […]
“As an L.A. Times reporter, we saw this series in the San Jose Mercury News and kind of wonder[ed] how legit it was and kind of put it under a microscope,” Katz explained. “And we did it in a way that most of us who were involved in it, I think, would look back on that and say it was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the L.A. Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.” […]
As Katz admitted to Mantle, “We really didn’t do anything to advance his work or illuminate much to the story, and it was a really kind of tawdry exercise. … And it ruined that reporter’s career.”
The Crack Up, Webb’s 1998 follow-up for Orange County Weekly.