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WHITE-OUT by Alexander Cockburn


The CIA, Drugs and the Press

by Alexander Cockburn & Jeffrey St. Clair

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1998
ISBN: 1-85984-139-2
Publisher: Verso

An investigative report on the CIA’s involvement in drug dealing and other nefarious deeds and the failure of the press to expose them. Nation columnist Cockburn and St. Clair (co-writer with Cockburn and Ken Silverstein of the newsletter Counterpunch) begin their tale with an account of Gary Webb’s series in the San Jose Mercury News on the CIA’s connection with drug cartels in Latin America. The series set off a firestorm in the African-American community, as it appeared the US government was involved in bringing the plague of crack cocaine to poor black communities. The mainstream press—the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.—pilloried Webb, attacking the accuracy of his reporting and accusing him of fanning —black paranoia.— In the final chapter of the book, however, the authors offer an analysis of a subsequent CIA report that by and large substantiated Webb’s charges. The theme of the book is clear: the CIA acts badly, the mainstream press not only ignores but protects the CIA, yet it turns out the CIA is usually guilty of doing whatever it has been accused of. Cockburn and St. Clair present a litany of CIA misdeeds, from the recruitment of Nazi scientists after WWII to the arming of opium traffickers in Afghanistan. All of this is extremely well documented; much of it is well known, or should be. Yet what they do not do, despite the promise of the title, is spend much time on the press. Questions remain unanswered, under-theorized: Why does so much of the press seem subservient to the CIA? What are the mechanisms underlying this relationship? Does the CIA buy off the press, are reporters on the CIA payroll, or is there simply a cultural and class affinity between the press and the CIA that makes bribing unnecessary? A chilling history—that many will take issue with—of what the CIA has been up to the past 50 years, but disappointing in its analysis.