GARY WEBB'S MEMORIAL SERVICE. The questions it raised, The questions it answered
by Virginia McCullough
A Memorial service for investigative reporter Gary Webb was held last Saturday, December 18, 2004 at 2:00 P.M. at the Doubletree Hotel located at 2001 Point West Way in Sacramento, California. Over two hundred people of all ages, colors and creeds quietly gathered in the Garden and Terrace Room and spilled over into the hallway. Family, friends, journalists, politicians and motorcycle riders sat close to each other or stood shoulder to shoulder listening intently to Gary's brother Kurt as he described Gary's devotion to the truth and to his profession.
Throughout the entire hour long service one was struck by the stillness in the room. One could hear a pin drop as the mourners strained to hear every word spoken by every speaker. There was a presence in the room that enveloped those in attendance. The feeling of respect was palpable to each person there. Whether or not the mourners had met Gary Webb or only knew him through his written words it was evident that they all respected the man they had lost.
Two large tables contained Webb's clip books, pictures and awards. They reflected the respect that Webb held for all who were in attendance because pictures of the famous and not so famous shared the same billboard, letters of tribute were intermingled with cartoons poking fun at Webb and the awards, large and small were placed flat on the tables next to each other. If one did not look carefully one could have missed the plaque three times as large as the others that stated Gary Webb was a Pulitzer Prize winner.
The respect the family had for those who came to mourn was real. There were three large floral tributes near the tables. But as the line of sorrowing people grew in the hallway outside several came carrying flowers in their arms. Following the service the pictures, awards and others mementos were moved downstairs to a large reception room. The family found a home for each of those special bouquets in places of honor beneath pictures of Gary Webb.
The spirit of respect will certainly be absent from the funerals for the vengeful and vicious editors that betrayed this truth-sayer and the public he served. The editors who ostracized Gary Webb during his lifetime and those who gloated in their derision of him after his death fade away next to the flame he left behind. The newspaper executives and the politicians who pull their puppet strings excluded Gary Webb from their midst by common consent. By so doing they have forever aligned themselves with McCarthyism and history will condemn them for their treachery.
The American Dream insures that if you are talented, truthful, dedicated and determined you will succeed in America. Gary Webb was all of those things and he valued his family, his friends and his fans. He loved writing -- newspaper ink flowed through his veins and truth was the air he breathed. For seventeen years Webb wrote for several different newspapers. They gave him the freedom to explore his interests and they printed his well written, expertly documented articles. Both the author and his employers enjoyed the many awards his stories generated. By Gary's own words he was living in a state of bliss and he was a true believer in the American Dream. For seventeen years Gary Webb was "never fired or threatened with dismissal" and he received "no death threats that worried him."
Then he wrote the first interactive online expose in the history of American Journalism for his employer The San Jose Mercury News. Webb had already brought home a Pulitzer Prize for the Mercury and his editors wholeheartedly approved his new project that he titled Dark Alliance. Gary Webb described his series in the following manner:
Over the course of three days, Dark Alliance advanced five main arguments: First, that the CIA-created Contras HAD been selling cocaine to finance their activities. Second, that the Contras had sold cocaine in the ghettos of Los Angeles and that their main customer was L.A.'s biggest crack dealer. Third, that elements of the U.S. Government knew about his drug ring's activities at the time and did little if anything to stop it. Fourth, that because of the time period and the areas in which it operated, this drug ring played a critical role in fueling and supplying the first mass crack cocaine market in the United States. And fifth, that the profits earned from this crack market allowed the Los Angeles-based Crips and Bloods to expand into other cities and spread crack use to other black urban areas, turning a bad local problem into a bad national problem. This led to panicky federal drug laws that were locking up thousands of small-time, black crack dealers for years but never denting the crack trade.
Shortly after the series appeared all hell broke loose. Gary Webb commented:
And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I'd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn't been, as I'd assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn't written anything important enough to suppress.
The 1996 Dark Alliance series was important enough to suppress. The repercussions brought Webb crashing down from his state of bliss. Those dark things called "editors" quickly responded to their controllers, the CIA, and turned on Gary Webb with an intensity that would rob him of his family, his reputation, his financial security, his right to make a living, his self esteem and his life blood and the air he breathed.
Following the announcement of Gary Webb's suicide on December 10, 2004 the Internet came alive with speculation that Gary had been killed by a third party pulling the trigger. Reporter Sam Stanton of the Sacramento Bee wrote two articles about Webb's death. It was Stanton's first article that revealed that the 38-caliber gun which had belonged to Gary's father had fired two shots into Webb's head. The articles that followed in all other major newspapers worldwide, either intentionally or unintentionally, referred to a single gunshot wound. These discrepancies only fueled the fire that there had been a conspiracy involved in the death of Gary Webb. Other reporters' strange deaths were cited as evidence that such murder conspiracies were supported by recent history.
It is important to note, however, that the family of Gary Webb absolutely believes that Gary was the only one who pulled the trigger of his father's gun twice. The detailed planning Webb exercised in the months leading up to his death supports their conclusion. One mourner recalled how one of Gary's passions had been hockey and how the other players would always underestimate his talent. He recalled that Gary, while of smaller stature then most of his team mates, would also surprise them with his speed. Gary's only problem he said, was that while he skated fast, he never learned how to brake. Perhaps once Webb began the process of leaving life behind, he simply could not stop.
Webb put his former wife Susan Bell on his bank account and told her that he had prepaid for his own cremation. Susan had been married to Gary for twenty-one years. She shared some of Gary's thoughts prior to his suicide with the sorrowful people attending his memorial so that they could also accept that this vital, intelligent man took his own life. 49-year-old Webb had written letters to each of his three children, Ian (age 21), Eric (age 16), and Christine (age 14). Susan, speaking in a choked, sometime halting voice read a small portion of each letter and thereby painted a more complete picture of the decision Webb had made to leave them. These were not a hastily scrawled two sentence suicide note like that suspicious missive left behind by reporter Joseph "Danny" Casolaro.
In Webb's home, all his mementos were neatly packed and boxed in preparation for his upcoming move. No reporter's notes or unfinished manuscripts were missing as had been the case in Casolaro's murder. Webb's family had to put his possessions in storage the day after his death because the escrow on his home had closed. All indications are that Gary Webb died by his own hand.
Does that mean that there was no conspiracy by three-letter agencies, industry-manipulators and powerful people to silence Gary Webb? Of course not! It simply means that they drove him to his final act over a long ten year period, slowly torturing him for having the courage to tell the truth about the slugs that hide from freedom and betray the American Dream. The editors, the agents and the executives did not pull the trigger but they robbed Gary Webb of everything necessary for life.
Now that Gary Webb is dead, will their evil conspiracy end? Of course not! Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) issued an emotional two page tribute to Gary Webb on December 13, 2004. She said Gary Webb, "through his diligence, has brought to the attention of the American public the failed policies of the CIA and the drug war." She concluded, "I am convinced that his work was factual and well documented. Unfortunately, as stated before, the attack on Gary Webb by major media outlets such as the LA Times, Washington Post and the New York Times were devastating and destructive."
Six days later, the day after Webb's memorial service, the Sacramento Bee carried an article originally printed in the LA Times attacking Congresswoman Maxine Waters and implying Waters and her family were guilty of misconduct. The article written by Chuck Neubauer and Ted Rohrlich alleged Waters' associates benefited from her illustrious "28-year career as an elected official who built her powerbase among African Americans in South Los Angeles into a national platform." When asked whether she felt there was any connection between her two page press release praising Gary Webb that she issued on December 13th and the LA Times hit piece published on December 19th, Congresswoman Waters stated that her office would be planning a memorial tribute for Gary Webb after the holidays. As for the LA Times, she said, "They can go straight to hell and it will not be the first time I have told them that." Gary, a fellow warrior, would have appreciated that response.
In remembrance of Gary Webb, a poem by Emily Dickinson....
Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
Virginia McCullough © 12/20/04http://www.newsmakingnews.com/vm,garywebb,12,20,04.htm