Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Robert Parry's Statement for Gary Webb's Memorial Service

To Gary Webb’s Family

Because of travel problems, I won’t be able to reach Sacramento for Gary’s memorial service. I didn’t arrive at National Airport within the absurd time now required to get through all the security. For that, I am very sorry.

But I do want to say what I’m sure you already know – that Gary Webb was an American hero.

Without his courageous work, an important chapter of American history would have been left largely unwritten. As a journalist, Gary could not stand for that. But it was Gary’s misfortune that this chapter was very troubling. It was an ugly tale of how the U.S. government protected Nicaraguan contra drug traffickers who were shipping cocaine to the United States. It was a story of how the U.S. government put an ideological obsession ahead of its duty to protect American kids from dangerous drugs.

Gary’s articles were special, too, because they removed the story from the clinical terms of geopolitical policy debate that Washington prefers. Gary showed the real-life consequences on the streets of America. Gary’s articles also implicitly criticized the privileged national press corps for failing to blow the whistle when the crimes were underway a decade earlier, when plenty of evidence already existed.

So, for telling some truths that threatened many powerful people, Gary became the messenger who had to be destroyed to destroy the message.

How that happened over the past eight years will forever stain American journalism. The leading American newspapers – the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times – played a disgraceful role. They even failed to apologize or correct the record when the CIA’s own inspector general admitted that the U.S. government indeed had protected dozens of contra-related cocaine traffickers. That CIA report was an unprecedented admission that would not have happened but for Gary’s brave reporting.

Though this past week’s tragedy is most painful for you, you should know that Gary’s death is a tragedy for all of us, as Americans, as journalists, as citizens. Indeed, in death, Gary Webb reminds us of another important truth: that information is not a birthright; it is like anything precious to mankind, it must be fought for and sacrificed for. We wish the price were not so high, but sadly it often is.

With my deepest regards and sympathy,
Robert Parry


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