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Mon Nov 24, 2014, 04:07 PM

The Reporter Who Paid a High Price for ‘Contra Crack’ [View all]

November 20, 2014

The Reporter Who Paid a High Price for ‘Contra Crack’

A new film, Kill the Messenger, shows how the CIA, the Washington Post and the LA Times conspired to discredit a journalist, and destroyed a life.

BY Jim Naureckas

In Kill the Messenger, Gary Webb, the investigative journalist who exposed the contra-crack connection, is portrayed by Jeremy Renner—most familiar to a mass audience as Hawkeye in The Avengers, but known to film buffs for appearing in gritty, based-on-real-life films like The Hurt Locker and American Hustle. Kill the Messenger, which Renner also co-produced, is in that docudrama genre. More specifically, it recalls films like the 2010 Valerie Plame biopic Fair Game, where the story is not only true, but one that corporate news media would rather you not know. Kill the Messenger is a story about the story that the San Jose Mercury News reporter gave up his career to get out.

The movie opens with historical footage of the war on drugs: presidents from Nixon to Reagan declaring it, Nancy Reagan urging us to just say no, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America comparing our drugged brains to breakfast, news outlets reporting the crack epidemic. A later montage shows footage of the other “war” of the time: speeches about the Cold War, along with shots of the contra war in Central America, in which rebels organized by the CIA attempted to overthrow the socialist government of Nicaragua. (In These Times was one of the few outlets to cover the story while the war was still ongoing; for most in corporate media, the cognitive dissonance was too much to handle.)

As most people who go to see the film will know, Webb’s scoop of a lifetime was drawing a connection between these two major 1980s news stories, so successfully that it’s almost hard now not to think of them together, “contra crack” tripping off the tongue like “French bread” or “English muffins.”

The montages succeed in recalling how weird—and shocking—it originally was that Ronald Reagan’s favorite foreign policy endeavor would be intimately connected with a product so universally demonized.


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Judi Lynn Nov 2014 OP
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