I got my first glimpse of real conspiracy when I lived in a small provincial capital in Northern Thailand and American military jets flew low over my town, headed north, to bomb Laos and North Vietnam. Were those planes over my town doing the bombing? I can't be sure, but they were flying very low and we were secretly bombing during those years. From Encyclopedia.com
"Flying out of bases in Thailand, U.S. Air Force fighter‐bombers—primarily F‐105 Thunderchiefs and later F‐4 Phantoms—joined U.S. Navy Phantoms and A‐4 Skyhawks from a powerful carrier task force located at a point called Yankee Station, seventy‐five miles off the North Vietnamese coast in the Gulf of Tonkin. In 1965, U.S. aircraft flew 25,000 sorties against North Vietnam, and that number grew to 79,000 in 1966 and 108,000 in 1967. In 1967 annual bombing tonnage reached almost a quarter million. Targets expanded to include the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and factories, farms, and railroads in North Vietnam. "I wasn't looking for the story, but it was happening in plain sight and sound above me. And since it was the middle of the Vietnam war (or the American war as the Vietnamese call it) there were lots of reporters in Vietnam and in Thailand who had to know as well. But no officially it wasn't happening and no major media were writing about it.
So when I heard reports in the 1990s that the CIA had a scheme to fund the Contras in Nicaragua with drug money and that had led to the flood of crack into Southcentral LA, I didn't dismiss it, even as the story was attacked and discredited, but I was busy doing other things and it was just one more story. But it seemed to outrageous for a reporter to just make up the whole thing.
Tonight, watching the film Kill The Messenger I was drawn back into that story and reminded how important tenacious, fearless reporters are. Gary Webb. When you write good stuff, people reach out to you with more information. He made his luck.
I haven't had time to do all the background checks, but I'd strongly encourage folks to go see the movie while it's in theaters. I know, you can download movies these days, but there is something about watching it in a theater with other people. For people in Anchorage, it's playing at the Wednesday and Thursday.
Kill The Messenger
Century 16 Anchorage and XD
301 East 36th Ave., Anchorage, AK
11:40am 2:25 5:10 7:55 10:40pm
Wednesday Oct. 15, Thursday Oct. 16I'm not sure if it will play after that. And after going to the movies in LA last week, let me tell you, the movies are a bargain in Anchorage.
It tells stories that Americans need to know. It's a feature based on a true story. It's not a documentary. It's well done, you won't go to sleep. Reporter Gary Webb at the San Jose Mercury News gets one huge story and does the legwork to tease out the information and ignores the warnings to drop the story. It gets out to the world, and then the rest of the media get the same sort of full-court press from the CIA they got about planes bombing Laos and Cambodia. National security. Don't write about this. Webb's making it all up. NPR, which seems to have done more background checking than I, writes about the attacks on Webb by the LA Times and the Washington Post:
"(One of the L.A. Times reporters who led the paper's attempts to discredit Webb's reporting later called his own efforts "overkill," and the Washington Post then-ombudsman Geneva Overholser accused that paper of "misdirected zeal" in its attack on Webb.)"The movie focuses on the reporter getting the story. How his small town newspaper wasn't quite prepared for such a story and later retracted much of it under an onslaught of criticism that the movie suggests was orchestrated by the CIA. But it also, of course, gives the basics of the story of the CIA involvement with Central American drug traffickers to clandestinely get arms to the Contras in Nicaragua when Congress refused to fund help for the Contras.
And it raises the issues of conspiracy and how do we know whether one is happening or not. I've concluded long ago that there can be a small groups of people who plot to get their way. But there are also people who, through similar backgrounds, schooling, and values come to the same conclusions and take actions that are the equivalent of a conspiracy without having to actually meet and agree. And as the movie shows, there are webs of mutual interests that can be cajoled or threatened that will back the official line.
As a blogger, I watched carefully how he asked questions and got people to talk. I'm a different sort and don't think I can do it like he did. (And we only know how the film makers portrayed what he did, not necessarily what he actually did.) Jeremy Renner's Webb pulled me right in. And while there were other actors, he dominates the movie. I can't recall any scene that he wasn't in.