Birthplace: Corona, CA
Location of death: Carmichael, CA
Cause of death: Suicide
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Exposed CIA Nicaragua/drugs angle
Part of the San Jose Mercury team that won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for reporting over the Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1996, Webb broke the story connecting drug traffickers with the Nicaraguan Contras, who were supported by the CIA ("Cocaine pipeline financed rebels", 22 August 1996.) The Mercury later backed away from the story as other news organizations found faults in Webb's reporting -- though oddly no important faults discrediting the thesis of the reporting. There is definitely more than a grain of truth behind the story -- it is largely correct, and the Mercury was badgered into ruining Webb's career. Webb was transferred to a suburban bureau and eventually left the paper. When asked on 16 January 1999 about the circumstances of this, Webb replied:
Well, the support collapsed probably after the LA Times... The Washington [Post] came out first, the New York Times came out second, and the LA Times came out third, and they started getting nervous. There's a phenomenon in the media we all know, it's called "piling on," and they started seeing themselves getting piled on. They sent me back down to Central America two more times to do more reporting and I came back with stories that were even more outrageous than what they printed in the newspaper the first time. And they were faced with a situation of, now we're accusing Oliver North of being involved in drug trafficking. Now we're accusing the Justice Department of being part and parcel to this. Geez, if we get beat up over accusing a couple of CIA agents of being involved in this, what the hell is going to happen now? And they actually said, I had memos saying, you know, if we run these stories, there is going to be a firestorm of criticism.
So, I think they took the easy way out. The easy way out was not to go ahead and do the story. It was to back off the story. But they had a problem, because the story was true. And it isn't every day that you're confronted with how to take a dive on a true story.
They spent several months -- honestly, literally, because I was getting these drafts back and forth -- trying to figure out how to say, we don't support this story, even though it's true. And if you go back and you read the editor's column, you'll see that the great difficulty that he had trying to take a dive on this thing. And he ended up talking about "gray areas" that should have been explored a little more and "subtleties" that we should have not brushed over so lightly, without disclosing the fact that the series had originally been four parts and they cut it to three parts, because "nobody reads four part series' anymore." So, that was one reason.
An 8 October 1998 CIA report by Inspector General Hitz substantiated much of Webb's allegations, and in fact went further, documenting money laundering that fed into the National Security Council's funds to support the Contras.
In 2004 Webb's body was discovered after movers found a note taped to his door, reading "Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance." According to the Sacramento County Coroner, death was due to gunshot wounds to the head. Multiple wounds to the head -- explain that one.
Wife: Susan Bell (div. 2000)
High School: Indiana
University: Northern Kentucky University
The San Jose Mercury News Reporter (1988-97)
The Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter
The Kentucky Post
Pulitzer Prize 1990
Shot: Self-Inflicted 10-Dec-2004 (apparently, Carmichael, CA)
Risk Factors: Depression
Author of books:
Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion (1999, nonfiction)
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