Killing the Messenger: CIA, Contras and Crack

Originally published at BORDC by Christina Murray on 10/17/14

“Some stories are just too true to tell.”

This quote from the trailer of “Kill the Messenger,” a film about the life of reporter Gary Webb, who wrote on the CIA’s role in drug trafficking in 1996, sums up exactly why reporters like Webb are important, and why understanding the role of powerhouses such as the CIA and other government organizations is crucial in how we see ourselves within our own country.
Image of CIA logo
The movie is a close, dramatic retelling of the life of Gary Webb, who, when he broke the story of the Nicaraguan drug cartel that transported drugs to Los Angeles, received intense support and intense critique.  Eventually San Jose Mercury, the newspaper that Webb wrote for, backed away from the story fearing severe backlash.  This effectively ended Webb’s career. The most heartbreaking moment in Webb’s story is the story of his death, which the film does address. In 2004, Webb was found dead, he has apparently committed suicide.

The film’s main objective is to address the role of the CIA during the Reagan administration in supporting, or at least ignoring, the Nicaraguan cocaine trade.

Photo of Nicaraguan Contra fighters
Contra Commandos from FDN and ARDE Frente Sur, Nueva Guinea area in 1987

“The [New York] Times’ resistance to accepting the reality of this major national security scandal under President Ronald Reagan even predated its tag-team destruction of Webb in the mid-1990s, when he was alternately pummeled by the Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.”  This quote by Robert Parry, who also broke this same scandal in 1985 addresses the fear of realizing what the CIA is capable of.  The CIA was, according to Webb, aware of the shipments of drugs that were coming into the U.S. through Contras (rebel groups) in Nicaragua. Webb charged the Reagan administration with shielding inner city drug dealing to raise money for the Contra’s in Nicaragua.

It is easy to see why this story was so terrifying in public hands, especially since it was backed by court documents and experiences of Webb.  Jeff Cohen states that “Newsweek labeled him [Webb] a ‘randy conspiracy buff.”  The desire of this film is to debunk that assumption, and to validate Webb’s work. Based on quotes from the trailer, Webb always believed his job was to tell the public the truth and let them do with that what they will; however, because he wanted to tell the truth he was labeled a conspiracy theorists.  As Webb is portrayed saying in the movie: there is no theory in being a conspiracy theorists, conspiracies are always happening and they are real.  This is what the film is trying to demonstrate, that Webb’s life and his writing mattered because coverups by the CIA and other government organizations happen all the time.