An Anonymous Eulogy for Gary... and Truth
From a former journalist in the United States, to my mailbox, to your eyes
I never met Gary Webb, or, really, knew much about him. I remember hearing about how he was fired from the California Assembly staff, and the back-stabbing way in which it was done -- he was an investigator, he was out in the field investigating, and when he got back they told him he was fired because he wasn't in the office (the real reason of course being that the new Speaker of the Assembly wanted to clean house and put his own cronies in place, cronies who wouldn't dig up embarrassing dirtlike Gary did) -- but did not think much about it at the time. Gary had, after all, been effectively dead for all intents and purpose since 1997, when the entire newspaper industry turned its collective back to him and shat upon him. This was just another case of Gary getting comfortable, doing things the way he had always done them under the assumption that his bosses would support him because he was doing a good job, then getting shat upon for doing his job too well. CYA was never, apparently, Gary's thing. I figured he'd shrug, and move on to something else.
As we know now, he didn't... You state that Gary was the canary in the coal mine, announcing that journalism as an art practiced at the big city daily newspaper was dead.
You're wrong. Gary wasn't a canary. He was a whole FLOCK of canaries, all chirping at one time that far more was dead, and the impact of his crucifixion in 1997 was to bring it home to me that the dream that was America the Beautiful was dead, replaced by an ugly, spiteful thing that I no longer recognized.
I had known, surely in my heart I had known, for by that time I had gone through my own death of dreams, my own epiphanies of life where I had to look at the costs to myself of speaking truth in a nation of lies, and choosing to leave a profession I loved because of the costs of telling the truth in a land of illusion were too much to bear, but it was the treatment that Gary Webb received that most brought it home: that this was no longer the land of freedom and liberty that for a time, oh for so short a time! it had seemed that this could be, but, rather, a land of spite and hate, a land of jealousy and power, a land where the truthteller is not celebrated but, rather, hated.
I had discovered the secret that is not really a secret at all but is the very foundation of America: That truth is not what we want. What we want is lies, bright and shiny lies, lies to give meaning and purpose to our pathetic pointless lives of quiet desperation masticating and defecating and fornicating and accumulating shiny baubles, lies of patriotism and valor, lies that we are the Chosen People, God's People, Americans. The people I talked to in my chosen profession did not want truth. They wanted lies, they wanted lies of hatred and spite, they wanted someone else to blame for their pathetic lives of quiet desperation, anybody but themselves, and furthermore, they wanted easy lies, lies that required no work, no thought, just reflex. I had learned those lessons, but I had not accepted them. Until the crucifixion of
Gary Webb. Which showed that even the dream that wasthe lie of the courageous journalists bringing down corrupt men of power as exemplified by the book and movie All the President's Men had died.
You speak of authentic journalism -- journalism from the heart, journalism that speaks truth to power, journalism that tears apart the curtain of lies to speak the truths behind them. I tell you that authentic journalism does not -- cannot -- exist in the United States today other than as isolated voices shouting in the wilderness, for those who want truth, those who care for truth, those with passion and courage, are reviled and hated here in gringo-land, hated by those on the left as well as those on the right for daring question the lies that are the truths that guide their pathetic lives. I was lucky. I survived and went on to do other things. But I remember Gary Webb and his fate. It is the fate of all who dare speak truth in America today: marginalization and, in the end, irrelevancy. For if one speaks truth in America today one is, by definition, insane.
I wonder, sometimes, what happened to the dream that was America. It was always a lie, of course, a lie from the first days of this nation's founding, when men were enslaved in chains for the profit of the wealthy planters, and where those who opposed a foolhardy revolt against the rightful government of the land were tarred and feathered, their properties seized and they themselves deported to Canada. The United States was founded on the principles of violence and hate and theft and slavery, and is still based on those principles though the chains of slavery have changed from chains of iron to chains of penury. But once there was a dream, a dream that was called America, a dream of liberty and freedom and justice for all... but that dream no longer is. The only dreams left in the hearts of Americans are small pale worms of dreams, dreams of paying off credit cards, dreams of winning the lottery, dreams that their children will have a life beyond chanting "Will there be fries with that order, sir?", dreams easily harnessed to violence and hate. I wonder, exactly, when it is that Americans forgot how to dream?
The elderly aunts and uncles that I grew up with, aunts and uncles who survived the Great Depression through subsistence farming (a life that ended in the 1950's with the mechanization of cotton farming and the coming of electricity to rural America), are no longer around physically, but I talked to them, talked to them often, as an inadvertent seeker of truth even in my younger years, and I know that there was no golden age in the past that was somehow better. The life they described to me was harsh and cruel. I walk the stones at the family graveyard and I see that for every child that survived, there were a half-dozen tiny little graves with names like "Baby 1" and "Baby 2" on them. I walk down to the old black church, to the graveyard behind it, and there are the graves of black men lynched for being "uppity", and of other black men and women who lived in fear for every day of their lives. I talk to an elderly aunt about when she and her husband lived in a three-room "shotgun" house on the hill on the other side of my grandfather's back pasture, and she says, "that was a hard life," talking about gathering buckets of water from the spring to wash the clothes for her six children and herself, the daily chore of hauling buckets of water up a 50 foot hill from the spring below in order to cook and wash, the constant cold in the winter and heat in the summer... Asked whether she'd like to go back there, she shakes her head emphatically. "Uh-uh", she says.
The truth, the unpleasant truth, is that there never was a golden age. But there was an age when Americans dared to dream a bright and shiny lie that was America, when they dared to dream big, dreams of liberty and justice, dreams of going to the moon... where did all the dreamers go, I wonder? Where, and when, was the death of dreams? And what, if anything, can be done about it?
Continue speaking truth, Al. You may be listened to only by a few seekers of truth possessed of the passion to let them set aside the lies that give meaning to their lives, a passion for truth that lets them look at the unpleasant foundations of the whole edifice of lies that is our daily life here in gringo-land, but there are some of us out here who do seek truth. And as with all speakers of truth, you will be mourned by only we few when you're gone. You will not receive even the hateful, spiteful obituary that the presstitutes provided for Gary Webb. But you know that already.
What would Gary Webb want? I don't know. The passion for truth ate his heart out, until finally there was nothing left but, as with Winston Smith at the end of the novel 1984, drinking cheap gin at the Chestnut Tree Cafe until the day he grew to love Big Brother, a man who had been destroyed in the end by love and betrayal. Gary checked out before that last paragraph played out. But I wonder if, sometimes, he envied the sheep-like oblivion of his fellow Americans who go through their lives in blissful unawareness that they are living a lie? And would he really suggest that authentic journalism, speaking truth from the heart, is what we should do? Or would he instead say, "Look, truth is a racket that has no future, find yourself something else." But if someone has a passion for truth, what else can he do?
But then, that was always Gary's problem -- asking hard questions that had no easy or comforting answers. May he rest in peace, for the rest of us who are seekers of truth shall not. That is our lot in life. Even for those of us who have moved on to something else the passion never leaves, no matter how much we are ignored by our fellows who do not want truth -- only lies that give their pointless lives meaning and purpose.
I do not sign this missive with my name for a reason -- too many missives like this, and one is automatically "insane" in America, a flake, not to be trusted, not to be hired, not someone to do business with. While it is easy enough to find out who I am and undoubtedly you could do so within seconds, if too easy it would interfere with working in my current profession. And so it goes in the United States of Delusion, where we lie to ourselves every day that we are free -- while every day we labor in fear that our masters shall yank upon the invisible chains of slavery that bind us.
Publisher's note to the writer: That's beautiful writing. Come down from the bleachers, put your cleats back on, and come back into the game.