CIA-Crack Story Implodes: Where are the Network Retractions?
by L. Brent Bozell III
May 22, 1997
Something very strange happened at
the San Jose Mercury News. Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos wrote a column
telling readers that the paper's explosive, overwrought series "Dark
Alliance" - which alleged the CIA helped hook American blacks on crack -
wasn't exactly accurate. "We fell short of my standards for the Mercury
News...I believe that we fell short at every step of our process...in the
writing, editing, and production of our work."
Corrections don't usually come in
prominent corners of the newspaper. Ceppos showed rare courage, especially
after the "Dark Alliance" series brought the Mercury News a large
dose of prominence and a raging interest in its Web site.
The New York Times and The Washington
Post, each having filed numerous pieces on this story, correctly put the
renunciation on their front pages. But where were the networks? Last fall, the
four networks had aired 26 stories on the allegations. The very least the
networks could do now is devote one full story each to the retractions. But
they haven't. And so the lies stand in television land.
These lies enraged the black inner
city community, and the networks fanned the flames by giving the story
credibility. ABC's Alexander Johnson said of the CIA-crack theory: "That
idea does not surprise some people in communities from Los Angeles to New York
City, which have felt the devastation of crack firsthand....For the last
month, Joe Madison has devoted every edition of his daily Washington, DC talk
show to this story. Also in Washington, more than 1,200 people attended a
recent town hall meeting to discuss the allegations, and on Friday law
students protested on Capitol Hill. Yesterday in Los Angeles, another
community meeting drew over 1,000 people....And on the Internet, the newest
pipeline into the African-American community, the response has been
overwhelming. There are more than 100,000 inquiries a day into the San Jose
Mercury News Web site."
CBS began with Pentagon reporter
David Martin suggesting Democrats worked hard to prove CIA drug links in the
1980s, and came up short. But nights later, Dan Rather took out the matches:
"In tonight's Eye on America, accusations, underscore the word
'accusations,' that are nothing short of explosive. They are that the CIA
knowingly and intentionally did what amount to pump crack cocaine into Los
Angeles to help fund rebels in Nicaragua. Whether or not these claims prove
true, the anger they've produced is very real."
Reporter Bill Whitaker claimed:
"There is no evidence directly linking the CIA to the drug sales and the
CIA says its own internal investigation has found no connection. Yet here at
Ground Zero of the crack explosion the story simply won't go away, and new
circumstantial evidence raises new questions."
NBC's Andrea Mitchell announced:
"It is a rage building and building. Anger burning through black America.
Rage about an old and ugly war. And fears about its consequences today. Spread
by talk radio the conspiracy theory goes like this: The CIA pumped drugs into
America's inner cities. Using the proceeds to finance the Reagan
administration's secret war against Nicaragua's communist regime."
Mitchell claimed "top U.S. officials" knew drug money was funding
the contras, "but did nothing to stop it." She ended: "Will any
investigation satisfy the people who've been devastated by crack
cocaine?" All four networks aired long reports on CIA Director John
Deutch's town meeting in Los Angeles, where angry blacks screamed at him.
ABC's "Nightline" devoted its entire broadcast to the town meeting
that night. Documenting rage, not truth, became the standard for
In Time, columnist Jack E. White did
question the Mercury News stories last year, but ended up sounding like
Timothy McVeigh: "Deutch reiterated last week that he has asked the
agency's Inspector General to review the Mercury's charges. The Justice
Department has also launched a probe. But if Deutch thinks anyone in black
America is going to take the word of those two organizations, he's mistaken.
Black Americans have been the targets of so much hostility that many of them
would not put it past their own government to finance the war against
communism by addicting thousands of people."
Now, White is on the defensive,
claiming black reporters were sent out to underscore black paranoia:
"Obviously, the popularity of conspiracy theories in black America is a
valid subject for journalistic inquiry; obviously, blacks have no monopoly on
wacky ideas (Remember those militia groups fantasizing about black
But the black-helicopters story
became media shorthand for militia wackiness. Reporters did not place
themselves halfway between reality and fantasy, maintaining "We have no
proof, but this story just won't go away." Now that the Mercury News has
renounced this story, the networks have a moral responsibility for the damage
they caused, and a journalistic responsibility to expose those who fabricated
and continue to promote these lies.
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