How Authentic Journalism Is Retooling Away from the Internet Middlemen

By Al Giordano
 
 
 
Two key things have fueled the authentic journalism renaissance that has grown up with Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism: the commitment of the writers, video-makers and other talents who have done the work and trained each other through the school, and the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism through which so many readers and friends have supported that work.
 
This month, the Fund gave its website an exciting new upgrade, thanks to the volunteer work of graduates of the school. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:
 
 
We’re also in a life and death battle to make the 2015 School of Authentic Journalism possible, through a Kickstarter campaign that lasts ten more days. So far, 117 supporters have pledged $10,513 toward the $25,000 goal. We have ten more days to reach that threshold. The way Kickstarter campaigns work is that unless enough pledges add up to cross the goal line, the pledgers’ credit and bank cards won’t be billed and the Fund won’t receive any of that money. This would be a great moment to add to the momentum and help get us over the top, via this link:
 
 
I mentioned a few days ago that the fate of “Narco News as you know it” also hangs in the balance of this campaign.
 
However it goes - "Plan A" is to meet the goal and hold the school, but we have a "Plan B" as well - the authentic journalism renaissance will keep marching on. The Fund’s ability to continue supporting the work of independent investigative journalism and the production of top shelf viral videos like the recent NNTV premier of “Danger: Journalists Crossing,” will continue to count on all our support.
 
We understand that in a global economy where not everybody benefits that it’s not easy for many readers who want to support this work to do so with a donation. And our friends at the Fund have been thinking hard about how to retool in a way that makes it easier even for readers and friends without expendable cash to participate.
 
We recently found one way we can all – including the journalists who are supported by the Fund – help to build the resources for this work through a new social media platform that shares 90 percent of its ad revenues with its users. It’s called Tsu (pronounced “sue”). It was launched last October, now has 3.7 million users, and in recent days has really started going viral in a massive way.
 
The Fund for Authentic Journalism set up a new page there – in a moment I’ll give you the link – and is already receiving both a share of the revenues as well as direct donations from its users. It’s very exciting how quickly and easily this has proved to work. 
 
I should note that nobody involved with the Fund or any of its supported projects owns any part of this new social media. It’s that it shares 90 percent of its revenue with those that participate that may revolutionize how nonprofit projects like the Fund, Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism assemble the resources so they can survive and thrive for years to come. Nobody puts any money into the social media to be able to participate. But those who participate – because they are generating value simply by spending time there – share in the proceeds.
 
I’ve had a chance to test-drive the Tsu platform in the past few days and we've set up an outpost for the Fund for Authentic Journalism there. With a very small number of followers, the fund has already received more than $22 dollars to its bank account, and just in the first three days. As a user, just doing the kinds of comments and sharing of links I would normally do in Facebook, I’ve received more than $8 dollars in these three days. That’s not a lot of money, but if multiplied by hundreds or thousands of us it could add up to fund a significant part of the work of authentic journalism – as well as benefiting every supporter individually, depending on how active he or she want to be on the platform.
 
The Fund for Authentic Journalism is not the first nonprofit to find the Tsu way of sharing proceeds helpful to our work. There, we join nonprofits like the Aids Outreach Center, the African Wildlife Foundation, Bike to Beach (for support of autism research), Habitat GTA, Water.org, Amazon Watch, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Cape Cod Fisherman's Association, and others who have found in this new model a better way than "middleman media" had offered us.
 
I should say that the Tsu social media site is already not like other failed start-ups that attempted to become alternatives to Facebook (where the owners keep 100 percent of the profits generated by all the time and creativity its users pour into it). Tsu is already not a “ghost town” like other start-ups have been. I’ll give you a couple of examples shortly but first I’ll give you the link with which you can take your own test-drive:
 
 
Simply click that link (if you type it remember that it’s a “.co” and not a “.com”) and you’ll be brought to a sign-up page. You decide your username and password – along with your email address – and click “enter.” Within the next hour or so – sometimes it happens in seconds – you’ll receive a confirmation email from Tsu. Click the link in that email and, voila, you’re in, and can start posting your profile and background photos as well as begin doing the kinds of things one does on any other social media.
 
Once I did that, I was surprised to find how many people of talent had discovered this place before we did.
 
Last night I was looking at my feed there and saw a post by Elliot Randall – hey, is that the musician from Steely Dan who I loved as a kid? Ah, yes, it is! Some months ago, he said, he had been hanging around his flat in London when two members of the original Blues Brothers band stopped by, in town while on tour. They turned on a video camera and jammed a version of the jazz classic “God Bless the Child.” So he posted it on Tsu. It sounded fantastic. Here it is:
 
 
 
 
And so, like I sometimes do on any other social media, I made a comment underneath it to express my happiness at having been able to listen to and see this great music being made. Four minutes later – poof! – the great Elliot Randall replies to my comment…
 
 
Just another night on Tsu hanging around and chatting with a music legend…. It's a social media filled already with moments like that.
 
Another thing that happened there: I saw that another member of this site is an athlete I follow on Twitter, the NY football Giants running back Andre Williams, and he had launched a contest there for graphics about him from which he’ll pick a winner and award some fan paraphernalia. As the third generation of Giordanos to love the NY Giants I couldn’t resist. But I don’t know much about Photoshop or design programs like that and some friends helped me out. I posted the image to Tsu and suddenly an NFL player from my favorite team is publishing it on his page.
 
 
Given, that’s the silly, sometimes stupid – and fun – stuff of the sort that many of us do on social media sites while we connect with our friends at long distances there. But for the first time in my years of doing it, I was getting paid for my time and effort, and a very fair 90 percent of the value it was generating.
 
And I thought: this is the future of social media. It’s going to be irresistible once people hear about it, especially for the kind of people we all go on social media to read and enjoy what they say and do there.
 
This is a groundbreaking solution to the problem in which writers (including journalists), filmmakers, artists, musicians, artisans and cottage businesses of all kinds have in recent decades had a harder time making a living because big gigantic companies have stepped in the middle between us and consumers and established new and unfair rules that allow them to take the money that the creators used to make. And I’ll bet that if you’re someboy who would like to support the School of Authentic Journalism Kickstarter drive but can’t afford right now to contribute, you’re probably one of those people.
 
Facebook’s Bait & Switch that Hurt Nonprofits
 
The biggest social media, of course, is Facebook. Maybe you never got on it. If you’re one of those folks, I salute you. Here's the story of what happened to those of us who did get on it.
 
Five or six years ago friends urged me to open a Facebook account. The promise of it was that we could meet and hang with our friends all over the planet, follow what all of them were doing and saying, and they could similarly stay in touch with us. 
 
And for a while, Facebook became a great organizing tool for projects like Narco News and a way to find talents all over the world who would be great additions to the School of Authentic Journalism.
 
Narco News started a Facebook page and built it into a platform to reach 27,000 of our readers. And in 2012 I realized that if I spent a small amount of advertising dollars on Facebook we could reach even more of the people we wanted to reach. So we invested not just time, but also resources into expanding the audience for all the good work done on Narco News.
 
And then Facebook pulled the rug out from under us, as individuals, and from the nonprofits that had been doing good work there. It changed its “algorithms” so that users could no longer read every one of their friends' updates there, reducing that access eventually to just five percent of our friends.
 
What Facebook did to nonprofits was particularly heinous. Suddenly, on the Narco News page there, our news stories and videos were not reaching the audience we had spent time and money to build. Our articles and videos, instead, reached just five percent of those folks on average. My opinion is that this was an effort to extort us to purchase more ads on Facebook in order to reach the same community that our work had built there: as if our readers were held hostage and a ransom was being demanded. So when, for example, applications were available to apply to the School of Authentic Journalism, we’d then have to spend a little money to make sure as many of our readers as possible knew about it and could apply. And yet as time marched on, those ads were less effective, I suppose because they were buried in a sea of so many ads on Facebook that many readers probably developed an aversion to clicking or reading any of them. Whatever it was that happened, whatever the reasons for it, it stopped working for us.
 
And all that organizing work to build an online community went up in smoke. It’s not the only reason why the School of Authentic Journalism and Narco News are threatened today. But it’s one of the big ones.
 
And so no matter whether the Kickstarter campaign succeeds in the next ten days to make a 2015 school possible or not – and we still think we can, and are working around the clock, to do it – we’ve learned an important lesson: for the work of authentic journalism to continue to succeed we have to retool away from these “middlemen sites” that vacuum up all the value of our work and turn it into profit for them, and toward new platforms that share with the artist and journalist and the nonprofit organizations that support them.
 
After all, wasn't that the mission of authentic journalism to begin with? To eliminate the middleman?
 
We need to now apply what we've done to old media, and do it to those "new media" that have become so big they merely behave just like the old media projects like ours have challenged.
 
As more and more people learn that it’s simply not true that 100 percent of the value of the time and labor they expend on the Internet must be snatched up by middlemen, the existence of a new way is going to be the meteor that hits Planet Facebook, and others like it, and sends them the way of the dinosaur.
 
The New and Better Frontier on the Internet
 
And so we invite you to join us in this new frontier in which your time and creativity is going to be valued and will help you out, as well as helping out those who recruited you into it. (And on the new media - Tsu - it's different from Facebook in a very important way: you own the rights to everything you post there.)
 
We have a pretty good track record over the past 15 years of getting ahead of the next wave in media. All the great things we've pioneered - from online journalism and its First Amendment protections to viral video to small-dollar fundraising and more - are now possible for a great many.
 
If you sign up via this link, the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism will become the beneficiary of 30 percent of the value of the time and energy you choose to spend there. Nothing will obligate you to do anything. But you may find, as I have, that’s it’s a thoroughly worthwhile place to spend time.
 
The way this new form of social media that shares the proceeds with users works is that to get in on it, you have to be invited by someone who is already there, and the recruiter will then benefit from that 30 percent part of the value you generate. Likewise, when you recruit friends to accept your invitation, you’ll receive that 30 percent part of what they generate. So why not accept the invitation from the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism that you support already? (And in full disclosure, to a lesser extent of 10 percent, you’ll also be directly supporting my work there, because I’m the user that invited the Fund in; you already know that whatever resources I assemble go mainly to support other journalists and their training, too.)
 
Interested? Use this link as your pass code to sign up and see for yourself if what I’m telling you is too good to be true, or just plain true:
 
 
That new page will also share the future work of journalists, video-makers and others that the Fund supports, so you’ll have one-stop shopping to read and view the work that your time on social media will be supporting.
 
Once we reach a critical mass there, we may well pull out of Facebook altogether.
 
If it’s not your cup of tea, no problem: nothing lost, nothing gained. There are still other ways to support this work and make sure you can keep reading it.
 
But after already having recruited more than 10 percent of my “Facebook friends” to join me in this new social media, and seeing how pleased and active they are, I bet you’ll find it worthwhile and fun, too. And that’s especially true if you are a writer, journalist, artist, musician, creator or small businessperson of any kind, because for once in our lives we’re receiving a fair value on the time and energy we put into a social media experience.
 
If you have any questions, or I can help you navigate onto this newest part of our fifteen-year project, you know my email address: narconews@gmail.com .
 
Victor Hugo once wrote, “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
 
I’m betting that moment is now.
 
From somewhere in a country called América,
 
 
Al
 

Narco News as You Know it Could End in 15 Days

By Al Giordano
 
 
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”
 
                                                                    - Joni Mitchell
 
Dear Friend,
 
I’ve always been honest with you. 
 
That’s why in all the years that we’ve been reporting at Narco News I’ve never used the common fundraising tactic of "crying wolf," of saying we’ll have to close shop if we don’t reach our money goal. We’ve learned to get by on a fraction of what others would consider too little to do this work, because it’s the work – and not the money – that we love.
 
But if I’m going to keep being honest with you I have to tell you that I am worried about the future of Narco News and the school, especially if you, the readers, don’t get us to our $25,000 goal by May 19 to make a 2015 School of Authentic Journalism possible.
 
The school is the crown jewel of this project. It’s what draws and brings new talent to the work of authentic journalism, and provides for the intensive training of the next generations of those who will carry on this work.
 
It’s not enough for grizzled veterans of investigative journalism like Bill Conroy and I to keep reporting until we no longer can. That’s how too many good journalists and too much good journalism faded out of society in the first place. You’ve probably noticed that experienced journalists too often become more isolated and alienated as years go by until they’ve painted themselves into a dark and cynical corner, and readers stop responding to their work.
 
No, the renaissance of authentic journalism has grown thanks to the School of Authentic Journalism, because it is regularly refreshed with new blood, fresh ideas, and “the wisdom of youth” that knows that our work has to constantly evolve. It’s that kind of enthusiasm and wisdom that made the new Narco News TV video – “Danger: Journalists Crossing” – possible.
 
Have you seen the new NNTV video yet? It’s a wonderful example of how we confront injustices differently than most – with humor and a sense of fun, while also involving the people who too many journalists treat as "product" in the telling of their own important stories. Check it out:
 

 
In just five days, it’s received more views than most documentaries will ever see – 35,000+ on Facebook alone. And the creativity and talent of the scores of young people who participated in making the video – Central Americans and authentic journalists who played acting roles, and all the skilled volunteers who wielded the cameras and designed the sets and the score and artwork and edited it so superbly – are a direct result of the School of Authentic Journalism. The idea for this video, in fact, came out of a brainstorming session at the 2014 school.
 
It was also the younger people at the school that told us we should directly post the video to Facebook and not just on YouTube and NNTV, because, they said, “Facebook is where we’re watching videos now.” And based on the quick and viral response, that was clearly good advice.
 
Which brings me to the point of this letter.
 
Two weeks ago we launched a fundraising campaign on the online platform Kickstarter to fund the 2015 school. If we raise $25,000 by May 19, there will be a school this year. If we raise twice that, we’ll be able to invite English speakers to the school, too, and translate all its sessions. Half of that time has elapsed, and while more than 50 readers have pledged more than $6,000, we’re not at half of the goal yet.
 
The way that Kickstarter works is that people make pledges, using your credit or ATM cards, but the money only gets billed to you if and when the project meets its goal. If we can get closer to the goal before May 19, there is another group of potential donors who watch the campaigns on Kickstarter and are famous for putting worthy fund drives over the top: they’re people who like to make a difference with their money to make good things happen. Just yesterday, Kickstarter declared our campaign a “Staff Pick,” which will help some in the final stretch toward the goal, but in the end we’ll rise or fall based on whether the people who know our work best decide to pitch in or not.
 
If we don’t reach the $25,000 goal, the Fund for Authentic Journalism won’t receive a cent.
 
And while it’s likely that the best of those who have pledged will probably just go ahead and donate that amount anyway, because the journalism of Narco News is also important to them, it won’t be enough to hold the school this year.
 
And if there is no School of Authentic Journalism this year, I’m worried for the future of this project, and not just because we want and need the fresh energy and talent of the next generation of authentic journalists, although that in itself is a big thing.
 
The consequences would include that there will have to be changes in what we can do with Narco News itself.
 
I’m not talking about deleting the 15 years and thousands of stories and videos we’ve reported. That’s a priceless archive that I’m committed to keep online without charging readers or selling ads, even if it means I have to go out and find another job to be able to pay the bills.
 
Nor am I saying that Narco News would have to stop all its reporting. It would have to, however, scale down - for a while at least - while I consult with those most involved about what we can possibly do to carry on a renaissance without resources.
 
The consequences of that for the coming days of Narco News would not be light and transient.
 
Over the years, now and then, some larger donors have come forward to make the school and our work possible. But large donors are fickle, and they’re not used to dealing with projects of fierce independence that will not change our way of doing things just because a benefactor would like us to do so. 
 
But if that is the price of integrity, no matter how high, it’s a price I’ve always been willing to pay.
 
It’s now in your hands, and that of the rest of the readers and supporters, to decide whether that price is so high that Narco News as we know it and love it could cease to exist. And you are going to vote on that decision in the next 15 days with your donation – no matter how large or small, it’s always been many modest ones that kept us going – at this link:
 
 
As a young man I was very inspired by a phrase I heard in Richard Attenborough’s movie, Gandhi, in which Ben Kingsley played the role of the organizer of India’s independence from colonial rule, when he said: “If your cause is just, the resources will come.”
 
(I’ve never found a quote in which the real life Gandhi ever said that, but it had a profound influence on me nonetheless.)
 
That’s been the philosophy of Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism for 15 years now.
 
But whereas for many years this project was a pioneer of online fundraising to be able to do a kind of journalism that did not have to answer to advertisers or a few large donors, today everybody is trying to do the same. These days you get bombarded daily with urgent appeals from a great many projects. It can get so overwhelming, "fundraising fatigue" inflicts many, that good people start tuning out and stop responding to any such appeals. But if you’ve opened this letter and have gotten this far into reading it, you obviously care about whether Narco News and its school can continue or not.
 
The problem is this: Even though I know that these days like never before you are besieged by an overdose of emails and social media messages asking for your donation for all kinds of causes, and that makes it harder to reach you when at a time like this we really need your help, if we get to May 19 and we haven’t reached our goal, I’m going to have to consider the corollary of that quote: If the resources don’t come, could it be that our cause is no longer just?
 
While I’ll know in my heart that’s not the case, it’s still going to feel like that. And, more practically, with no 2015 School of Authentic Journalism on the horizon, and however modest bills to pay, not even I am going to be able to put as much time into Narco News because I’m going to have find other work. 
 
I haven’t had to do that much over the last 15 years. I was 40 when I launched Narco News, and now I’m 55. You can see the span of those 15 years in the photographs above. I still don’t own a house or a car or a credit card. I still live “close to the land,” South of the Border, keeping my expenses low. I still don’t have health insurance, which probably is not recommended for a guy my age. But I don’t mind any of that. Being able to do this work is a privilege. The School of Authentic Journalism has made all that worth it: to be able to bring new generations into a work that previously was done only by a very few has been immensely meaningful, and a way I’ve been able to give back after so many mentors who have passed from this world similarly invested in me as a young man.
 
But to be able to keep investing in these “kids,” I need you to invest in them, too. The last 15 years have amply shown that the returns on your investment are guaranteed to be manifold.
 
Make a pledge, please, to the Kickstarter campaign for the School of Authentic Journalism today. Click here:
 
 
There are still 15 days to rescue the school and everything, including the newspaper, that goes with it.
 
If we don’t reach the goal, nobody will be happier than the powerful interests we’ve made uncomfortable for 15 years, and even some who logically ought to be supporting us will also cheer because it’s more bothersome to them that they were never able to control us. That’s life. It’s unfortunately how small minded people can be.
 
But you’re not one of those.
 
You and people like you are the people who can save the day.
 
Is this cause still just? Vote with your pledge via this link:
 
 
Polls close on May 19.
 
From somewhere in a country called América,
 
Al 
 

Yes, He Can: Martin O’Malley’s Path to the Presidency

(Five Excerpts from Issue #2 of the newsletter, Al Giordano’s América, which goes out to subscribers tonight.)

By Al Giordano 

In the coming weeks more than a dozen candidates will officially launch their campaigns for president of the United States.

And just like eight years ago, the big media purveyors of “conventional wisdom” have their heads way up where the sun don’t shine.

If you haven’t already gotten yourself a gift subscription to my newsletter that goes exclusively to supporters of The Fund for Authentic Journalism, today is a good day to do that (scroll down to the end of this post for the link), because you’ll then instantly receive all 5,700+ words of my analysis outlining what is about to come in the 2016 presidential campaign.

I share with subscribers a little bit on what is about to happen in the Republican primaries but think the bigger surprise is brewing among Democrats: that the “frontrunner” Hillary Clinton should not be considered as such, because there is a Democrat with a clear shot to surpass her in the presidential nomination caucuses and primaries. He is the former governor of Maryland, and his name is Martin O’Malley.

Here is excerpt #1 from the newsletter:

What Walker is doing to Bush – boxing him in as the establishment candidate of the past for an electorate looking to the future – O’Malley is very well positioned to do to Clinton. Of course, Martin O’Malley would be up against the formidable Clinton treasury and political machine. But it is precisely the candidates who come out of nowhere who, time and again, surprise in the American presidential nomination contests.

O’Malley’s weakness – that he is virtually unknown nationwide – is more likely to become a strength in the same way it was for Barack Obama eight years ago.

“Who the hell is Martin O’Malley and why is he in my headline?” is a question I answer by telling his story: from a young field organizer to Baltimore city councilor, to mayor, to governor, and his unique emphasis on field organization including in parts of Maryland often ignored by Democrats. It’s also revealing that O’Malley is so far the only Democrat to have extensively visited the first caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Here is excerpt #2:

Last year, O’Malley quietly installed a team of his own field organizers in Iowa – where the first presidential caucuses will be held in January 2016 – to help local Democrats win their races. He’s built relationships and loyalties in the process. He has not launched his candidacy, but the Des Moines Register notes that he has already held 30 events over nine days in the Hawkeye State. By comparison, Clinton has held just five events over two days in the state, and until last year she had not returned to Iowa since the 2008 caucuses.

In the other first primary state, New Hampshire, the Manchester Union-Leader reports that O’Malley is “the only potential Democratic candidate to make what had the feel of a campaign stop so far this season, visiting Concord earlier this month.”

Just showing up is of immense importance to Iowa and New Hampshire voters, who so often have winnowed the field and established the dynamics of presidential nomination battles…

The essay looks closely at how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already begun the kinds of missteps that characterized her 2008 presidential campaign.

A big part of the gap that divides new generation Democrats from their elders is that they are data-driven. We’re more likely to read Nate Silver’s projections than to take the cable TV and newspaper columnist pundits seriously. That generation gap is reflected in how O’Malley and Clinton approach campaigning, too.

Here’s is excerpt #3 from the newsletter:

The 2008 Obama campaign’s precise development of demographic data on potential voters took Clinton – and later John McCain – by storm. They did not know what was happening to them or why voters they had written off were suddenly flooding the polls. Still, data without people power is nothing: a successful campaign needs an army of volunteers trained to deploy that data – and the tailored pitches to the diverse demographic groups that the data reveals, known as micro-targeting – to be able to benefit from it. There have been a lot of signals sent from the Clinton organization that people should think they learned their lesson from the 2008 defeat, and Clinton has hired any former Obama operative willing to bite (obviously not those who signed an open letter to Elizabeth Warren urging her to challenge Clinton last November). But Clinton’s volunteer base remains largely over 50 years old, with most of them over 60, and while its not impossible for old folks to learn new tricks, we’ve yet to see any investment at all in training volunteers in the new campaign methods the way that Camp Obama was already starting to do at this time eight years ago.

The big game-changer - here, in the fourth excerpt - that has already happened to the 2016 presidential campaign has come from someone who insists she won’t be a candidate:

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren – who so many hope to draft into the presidential campaign – has already won, in a big way, without becoming a candidate. Her anti-corporate populism both rides and drives the emerging political zeitgeist in America, where everyday people see the stock market doubling in value over the past six years but, still struggling, haven’t shared in its success…

Warren has been exemplary in giving voice to a populism that rejects dividing white against black against Latino and so on. In that sense she embodies new generation Democrats more so than Webb or Sanders. Clinton, to her credit, supported Kennedy’s immigration reform bill and enjoys strong support among Latino voters in particular. But Clinton will continue to stumble badly on anti-corporate power, where her own record is woefully out of step.

Enter Martin O’Malley: Like Clinton and Warren, he’s a mainstream Democrat and liberal when it comes to social issues from abortion rights to same-sex marriage. Like Warren, Sanders and Webb, he plants his flag on the economic platform that all Americans should share in the largesse bestowed upon Wall Street: Increase the minimum wage and target income inequality, break up the “too big to fail” banks, and restore real competition to financial institutions. As Warren and other progressive populists like Robert Reich have argued, bringing back the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act could accomplish much of this in one fell swoop.

The enthusiasm of an organized “Draft Warren” movement has moved the earth under the 2016 campaign seismically, to the point that progressive economist Robert Reich, who 22 months ago voiced his support for Clinton saying “we need her” has recently stated publicly that if no one else challenges her candidacy with a populist economic platform, he just might.

Here is the fifth and final excerpt for non-subscribers:

O’Malley’s call to restore Glass-Steagall and define the 2016 campaign along such populist economic concerns places Secretary Clinton on the sharpest possible horns of a dilemma. After all, it was President Bill Clinton who repealed Franklin Roosevelt’s Glass-Steagall Act in 1995, opening the door to what became the 2007 financial crisis. For Clinton to say “me too” to Warren, Reich, Sanders, Webb, and O’Malley on that point, she’d have to do something she didn’t in 2008: put considerable distance between her and the first Clinton administration on that and on other defining economic issues.

O’Malley has deployed what we community organizers call a “Dilemma Action.” He has placed his major rival in a position in which she has no good options. If Secretary Clinton fails to break with Bill Clinton’s economic policies of the 1990s, she loses. If she does attempt to position herself as apart from that legacy, she also loses, in large part because her own entire political career has been as a corporate Democrat. Politicians can certainly evolve, but for people to believe it there has to be a compelling narrative – a personal story – that makes the shift credible.

The clock is ticking on Clinton’s ability to find that needle in the haystack, that “sweet spot” that would allow her emerge from the baggage of the last century into the zeitgeist of 2016…

Of course, I’ve saved the best parts for our supporters: You who generously support The Fund for Authentic Journalism, who keep the journalists at Narco News reporting, and who have so far made it possible for us to train more than 500 up-and-coming independent journalists, video makers and communicators so far at the School of Authentic Journalism. (Stay tuned very soon for news about the 2015 school.)

If you haven’t yet joined their ranks, today is an exciting day to do so, with a (tax-deductible) contribution of $70 or more, or by making a monthly pledge of $5 a month or more. That’s all you need to do receive the new issue of the newsletter immediately, and every issue for the next year. You can do so via this link:

http://www.authenticjournalism.org

It’s going to be fun election to cover, more fun than we’ve been told yet by the mass media, which too often acts as if the story is already decided. And that’s a big part of the fun: proving them wrong again and again. 

Unlike them, we don’t sell ads to the same companies on the stock exchange that want to decide elections for us. That’s why we need your support. And that’s what makes us always free and independent from what they want us to say. This kind of journalism is only possible because you decide it to be so. A free press is the most essential building block of any society that wants to govern itself as a democracy. Vote with your wallet today: It will cost you a lot more money later on if you leave journalism in the hands of the advertisers. That’s their plan, after all. But we’ve wrecked their plans before. Ready, dear friends, to do it again?

*     *     *

Al Giordano is a veteran political reporter who only covers politics when he sees an opportunity to make it count. In 2008, Vanity Fair called him “the prophet of the Obama paradigm shift.” He is the founder of Narco News, which turns 15 next month, and of the School of Authentic Journalism.

My "América": There Are Many Ways to Receive a Gift Subscription

By Al Giordano

Kind reader: You may have already heard - through social networks or elsewhere - that the authentic journalism renaissance has a new publication, exclusively for supporters of The Fund for Authentic Journalism.

Issue #1 of "Al Giordano's América" went out today to donors who gave, in 2015, either $70 dollars or a monthly pledge of $5 or more to the nonprofit Fund, which supports the work of the journalists at Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism.

In this first issue I wrote thirteen pages about the life of - and my 28-year friendship with - the great Moises Morales, who passed away last week at the age of 89, along with other features (seen in the table of contents above) that amount to 25 pages and more than 8,300 words that have not been published on Narco News or any other public space.

The quickest way to subscribe is through the website of The Fund:

http://www.authenticjournalism.org

Donations there are made through PayPal. If you want the newsletter sent to a different address than that which appears on your PayPal account, simply email me the corrected address at narconews@gmail.com.

Now, if you don't currently have the money to make the donation that gets you a gift subscription, I want to let you that there are other ways to have this newsletter sent to your email box. Here they are:

If you are a journalist or blogger: I'll send you a free sample copy of Issue #1 if you agree to review the newsletter in your media. Simply email me at narconews@gmail.com with the name of your publication, roughly how many readers it enjoys (we won't discriminate against small publications; we're just curious about how many people you might reach), whether you are the owner of it (or if whomever is in charge has assigned or agreed to your reviewing the newsletter), and the email address to which we can send it.

If you know someone who has already subscribed: Today through February 14 - Valentine's Day - we have told our subscribers that each can send us the email address of someone to whom they'd like to send a one-year gift subscription. Tell that subscriber that you'd like to receive that gift! If you don't know a subscriber: Simply by convincing someone to donate $70 dollars or make a $5 monthly pledge you can convince them to make you the recipient of his or her second gift subscription. It's that easy.

Win a gift subscription on Facebook via the "Ask Al Anything" contest: The newsletter has a Facebook page and two people there won gift subscriptions already by asking me a question that I chose to answer. Prior to each issue, we'll hold the same contest again. Join that page and you'll receive alerts of other special gift subscription offers, too: http://www.facebook.com/AlGiordanosAmerica

Do a transcription for the No Nukes Oral History Project: Each of the volunteers who has completed at least one transcription from the audio file to text has won a one-year gift subscription. These transcriptions are the basis for an upcoming book about the anti-nuclear power movement in the United States (1973-1982) that succeeded in stopping a new generation of nukes. Email me at narconews@gmail.com or project director Laura Garcia at lauris.garcia@gmail.com to join in that effort. Once you complete a transcription, you get a one-year gift subscription.

I'll continue publishing stories here on the Field and at Narco News, but not everything I write is a good fit for these spaces. The newsletter is a place to write for the more intimate audience of people who have invested time or resources into this project.

A key inspiration for this newest publication was the newsletter of muckraking journalist I.F. Stone, who from 1953 to 1971 published a subscribers-only bulletin that grew to have important impact on the journalism and social movements of his time. 

Stone wrote: “I am, I suppose, an anachronism. In this age of corporate men, I am an independent capitalist, the owner of my own enterprise, subject to neither mortgage or broker, factor or patron. In an age when young men, setting out on a career of journalism, must find their niche in some huge newspaper or magazine combine, I am a wholly independent newspaperman, standing alone, without organizational or party backing, beholden to no one but my good readers. I am even one up on Benjamin Franklin – I do not accept advertising.”

It's a paragraph that decades later describes very well the work of authentic journalism today.

Narco News turns 15 this year. We don't want to burn out or fade away like has happened to so many other worthy publications in this era. To keep the project going strong, we've created yet another way - with the new newsletter - to reward those of you who have kept it alive and will continue to do so into the future.

I hope you enjoy my "América," a place where everybody has an opinion, where there is room for yours, too, and I would not wish it to be any other way.

 

Distribute this Exciting Flyer and Become a Narco News Messenger

By Al Giordano
 
 
In the next 48 hours the tables are going to turn, once again, against the corrupted industry of journalism and in favor of the grassroots movement of authentic journalism.
 
Our late friend and colleague Gary Webb (1955-2004) and his investigative reporting will hit the silver screen in the premier of “Kill the Messenger,” coming to cinemas throughout the US and Canada on Friday and in some places Thursday night. In the coming weeks and months it will go international. Gary was a cofounder and professor of the School of Authentic Journalism and an editor of Narco News before his death. Actor and producer Jeremy Renner portrays Gary’s work in 1996 when his Dark Alliance series exposed US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) complicity with cocaine trafficking from Central America to the streets of the United States. The movie recalls how the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post maliciously and unfairly attacked Gary for doing what journalists are supposed to do: tell the truth.
 
At Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism we have been looking for a way to involve our readers and colleagues more in this important work. Hundreds of journalists and communicators have attended our school, thousands have applied to it, and we remain a low budget project supported only by volunteer contributions to the Fund for Authentic Journalism.
 
Before Gary Webb died, he asked Narco News to publish his Dark Alliance series that the San Jose Mercury News had censored from the Internet. And since some months after his passing, for the past nine years, that work has been preserved on our site. Suddenly and thanks to this major motion picture coming out, there is more interest than ever in reading Gary’s groundbreaking and obviously historic work. Without the economic resources to purchase enough advertising to make sure moviegoers and people everywhere will finally read the Dark Alliance series, we turn to you – what the corporations call “human resources,” and we call friends – to make this happen.
 
See the flyer above? Below you’ll find links to download it in .pdf form and print it out. There is a black and white version and a color version. We’re asking that when you go to see “Kill the Messenger” you print out enough copies and distribute these to people as they are entering or exiting the cinema. If you can, organize some friends to do it with you and form a local “Narco News Messengers” group with them. 
 
We have developed a few guidelines below to make sure this is done in a way that is respectful of Gary’s legacy and helpful, never harmful, to the cause of authentic journalism.
 
Three Guidelines for Narco News Messengers Groups
 
1. Narco News Messengers groups are formed in local communities, by journalists and non-journalists together, to build a grassroots movement that replaces corporate media with new and better ways for news to be reported. A group can consist of two people, six, ten, twenty or more, any size will do. More than one group can exist in any town or city. Part of the mission is to have fun doing good work with people you like and trust. And because each group agrees to these three guidelines, no group ever has to worry about what another group is doing or not doing. The first mission of Narco News Messengers groups will be to promote Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance series at this moment when the movie “Kill the Messenger” is bringing unprecedented interest to it. And from time to time we’ll let the Messengers groups know of other important projects we can all organize around at the grassroots level.
 
2. Narco News Messengers groups are a project of Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism and do not affiliate with or endorse any other project, candidate, political party or media organization. We invite each group, once two or more people form it, to email us at narconews@gmail.com with a contact email for the local group and news of your activities so we can promote your efforts to readers in your area. Once you indicate your agreement with these three guidelines, we’ll be glad to promote and add your chapter to the list of Narco News Messengers groups so that others can find you.
 
3. Each local Narco News Messengers group agrees that its actions will always be joyful, nonviolent, non-threatening, respectful of and pleasant toward every person it encounters, including law enforcement officers, corporate journalists and public officials even when they are adversarial to our goals, will not vandalize property and will not be aggressive toward or otherwise hostile to anyone who might disagree with any of our shared goals. We fervently believe that public opinion is important, that it can be enticed but can never be bullied. Any individual or group that does not follow those guidelines will, by definition, no longer be called a Narco News Messengers group. After all, if a group (or individual) harms the efforts of all, it should not be using the name, and we won’t be shy about disassociating from it. Nor will we be shy about widely promoting and seeking to work more closely with those who do this work well. Within adherence to these three guidelines, each local Narco News Messengers group is autonomous to determine how to best promote the work of authentic journalism in accordance with its organizing needs and the character of its local population.
 
To download the black and white version of the flyer, click here.
 
To download the color version (good for posting on community bulletin boards), click here.
 
In New York City, some of us have formed a “Meet Up” group to see the premier of “Kill the Messenger” together, and a Facebook group toward the same end. About 30 of us will meet before the movie’s premier tomorrow night and go view it together. If you agree with the three guidelines above, feel free to use Meet Up, Facebook and other social networks to organize similar efforts in your own town or city. And of course even more effective than online attempts to reach others is to simply go visit or make a phone call to the people you already know to get such a local project moving.
 
Finally, we know you are busy with your own work, projects, families and missions, and if you don’t have enough time to form or join a local Messengers group, please consider donating to the work of The Fund for Authentic Journalism, which supports our work. We’d like to purchase more online ads for people searching for Dark Alliance and Gary Webb’s work on the Internet, but are so far limited to a $5-a-day budget! You could make an immediate difference by clicking this link and donating.
 
This is an exciting moment for the work of authentic journalism and we’d like to share it with you and bring you in to be part of it. Above are some suggestions for how to do that. You may also have ideas of your own and feel free to contact me by email at narconews@gmail.com to share them, and, of course use the same email address to keep us posted on your local organizing efforts around the excellent opportunity the release of this movie provides to inform and involve the greater public in the work of authentic journalism. Let us know, most of all, how we can be helpful to your local organizing efforts.
 

Hollywood’s Gary Webb Movie and the Message that Big Media Couldn’t Kill

By Al Giordano

 

Gary Webb reached out to me in 2001 at a time when lesser lights were ready and willing to see me thrown under a bus.

I had been sued for libel by a billionaire narco-banker in the New York Supreme Court, threatened by a New York Times bureau chief that he’d ruin me over the same story, and told by Manhattan attorneys that I had to come up with a $50,000 down payment to defend Narco News and me when I didn’t have the $100 I would need for my next rent payment in Mexico. This online newspaper was less than a year old. Its top donor had gotten spooked by the lawsuit and, like some other colleagues, slipped into the shadows. My world was suddenly dark and the walls seemed to close in all around me.

Gary’s email arrived quite by surprise. I knew about his Dark Alliance series, five years prior, documenting the CIA’s trafficking of cocaine to fund paramilitary squads in Central America. I also knew he had been pummeled by corporate media and had lost his job over it. “They’re trying to turn you into me,” he said, “but you can win because you don’t have a boss who can sell you out.” Gary mentioned that he was negotiating a movie deal for the Dark Alliance book – and a major motion picture titled Kill the Messenger is coming out, finally, next month, ten years after Gary’s death – and offered to donate to our defense once he inked the contract. He then penned a letter to our readers that brought an immediate $10,000 into that defense fund.

Gary gave me, on that day, something far more important than money.

Gary gave me hope. And hope kills fear.

The short version of this tale is that with Gary’s help we beat the narco-censors in court, humiliated the New York Times in its own front yard, and much to the chagrin of corporate media the case established press freedom for the Internet under US law. Gary and I and others then teamed up to found the School of Authentic Journalism, now in its eleventh year.

Kill the Messenger will hit the cinemas one month from today and tell the true story of Gary Webb’s saga that others tried so hard to make disappear. There is Oscar buzz over Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of Webb (Renner, 43, has twice been nominated by the Academy: best supporting actor for Our Town in 2010, and best actor for The Hurt Locker in 2008; and through the Avengers, Mission Impossible and Bourne franchises, Renner is one of the world’s biggest box office draws.) Kill the Messenger is based on the book by the same name by Nicholas Schou and on Webb’s own book, Dark Alliance. Michael Cuesta (Homeland, Dexter) is the director. Investigative journalist Peter Landesman is the screenwriter.

This is no boring documentary. It’s an action-packed full-scale Hollywood epic with a star-studded supporting cast: Michael Sheen, Paz Vega, Andy Garcia, Michael Kenneth Williams, Ray Liotta, Oliver Platt and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, among others, join Renner in the ensemble.

As the October 10 premier draws near, Narco News will tell more of these stories, and publish never-seen videos of Gary in his own words, but let’s talk about the movie and the story it retells because it’s a BFD (a big fucking deal) that is about to bring Gary the vindication he did not live to see, and that will deliver overdue justice to the big media bullies – yes, the movie mentions some of the worst offenders by name – who betrayed Gary, the First Amendment, and the tenets of basic human decency along with him.

*     *     *

When in the summer of 1996 the San Jose Mercury News published Gary’s investigative series on CIA cocaine trafficking, I had previous knowledge that it was all true but honestly thought that it was old news. Ten years prior, first-term US Senator John Kerry had held hearings and issued a 1,100-page report that had reached the same conclusion. The nation’s major news outlets gave the Kerry Committee Report scant attention, but the record had been established. It was an airtight case. The Central Intelligence Agency had broken US law by brokering planeloads of cocaine into the United States, and millions of dollars in those drug profits were used to fund the Contra army seeking the violent overthrow of the Nicaraguan government. The CIA did so to get around the US Congress, which had voted to ban US funds going to that terrorist organization. The Reagan administration, even as it ramped up the “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign at home, entered the cocaine business through private contractors coordinated by the CIA.

Webb came across the other end of that officially-sanctioned cocaine trail while reporting on a drug case in California, and followed the trail in reverse: from the crack-plagued neighborhoods of Los Angeles to the federal courtroom where lower level traffickers were prosecuted, to a Nicaraguan prison to interview the Contra army’s banker, to the real drug kingpins behind it all: decision makers in Washington DC. Webb documented what had happened to that cocaine when it entered California. Cocaine had previously been the hundred-dollars-a-gram drug of choice of yuppie bankers and lawyers. But when dealers figured out how to convert it to crack, teenagers, poor and working folks could afford it at five or ten bucks a pop. Then the problems compounded when they kept needing more of an addictive and prohibited substance.

The major narco-traffickers at the top of that food chain were given protection and immunity by US government agencies as reward for their participation in the scheme. Meanwhile prosecutors offered up small timers as scapegoats for the crack invasion in the inner cities of America. Pulling that thread, Webb’s reporting deepened the Kerry Committee conclusions with more evidence of CIA involvement. Yet the real marvel of his masterpiece of investigative journalism was that it exposed the street level end of the pipeline that harmed so many lives. It was authentic journalism: tough, gritty, scrupulously documented and sourced at a time when the news industry was running away from that practice.

Webb’s Dark Alliance series was also the first-of-a-kind in that the Mercury News posted it on the Internet, along with the supporting documents, interviews and the reporter's notes. Talk radio and alternative newsweeklies spread the word about the website, and suddenly the gatekeepers of the national media could not control the story in the same way they had the previous decade when ignoring the Kerry Committee Report. Everything that is great and powerful about Internet journalism today began with that series. For the first time, New Media had beaten Old Media.

And Old Media flew into a rage.

The gatekeepers of the national news media first tried to ignore and wish the story away. But the impact at the grassroots level grew and grew over the next three months to the point where if pretending the CIA-drugs nexus never happened wasn’t working, Plan B was to practice overkill to try and discredit it. What I didn’t realize at the time was the swift and effective reaction that would come from the African-American community on the West Coast, whose neighborhoods bore the brunt of the crack invasion. Or that such a powerful din would be created that would embarrass the national media for having not reported the story for the previous decade. Or that the three national “papers of record” – the New York Times, the Washington Post and especially the Los Angeles Times, having lost face in its own territory by Gary’s superior reporting in the smaller Mercury News – would instead of correcting their failures spend obscene manpower and resources looking for dirt on Gary Webb and seeking to discredit him and his story. A lone journalist’s investigative reports were sailing towards the Pulitzer Prize, so he had to be stopped by the big boys by any means necessary.

The big three American newspapers were, then as now, run by white folks, and imbued their response to the Dark Alliance series with an ugly racism that suggested that the story was only a big deal because black folks were somehow more susceptible to “conspiracy theories.” Yes, this was less than twenty years ago, but one need only look at this particularly nasty bit in the New York Times of October 21, 1996 to see just how extreme things got.

“Though Evidence Is Thin, Tale of C.I.A. and Drugs Has a Life of Its Own,” blazed the headline that day, in a long hatchet job signed by Timesman Tim Golden.

“While the (Dark Alliance) assertions might owe their widest dissemination to the World Wide Web,” wrote Golden, “they owe much of their power to the longstanding network of newspapers, radio stations and word of mouth that informs and connects blacks in the United States.”

“At Styles, a New York City hair salon catering to an African-American and Hispanic clientele,” gasped Golden on behalf of the NYT, “a printout of the series sits in the magazine rack, alongside copies of Ebony and Essence magazines.”

Imagine that! Black folks reading the news alongside Ebony and Essence! The smears against Webb – beyond the bigoted implication that doing reporting that African-Americans found important made him some kind of race traitor – included an attack on Gary’s (completely legitimate, and, indeed, clever) newsgathering tactic of feeding questions to a defense attorney who then asked them to a protected government witness during trial. In response, the witness – which federal prosecutors had prevented from giving interviews to the press – spilled the beans under oath about government participation in cocaine trafficking. Golden and the Times used that courtroom story – which is portrayed quite brilliantly in a script for Kill the Messenger – to imply that Webb was too close to a defense attorney that represented a defendant along the CIA cocaine trail. The smear is utter rubbish. That kind of creativity by a reporter deserves awards and promotions, not baseless innuendo hurled against him. There was nothing untoward about it at all. The big media attackers knew it, but they found little else to throw at Webb in their desperation to discredit him.

Alexander Cockburn would later write: “Few spectacles in journalism in the mid-1990s were more disgusting than the slagging of Gary Webb in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Squadrons of hacks, some of them with career-long ties to the CIA, sprayed thousands of words of vitriol over Webb and his paper.”

The attacks by the big three newspapers had a secondary effect on B-list journalists all over the country; those whose dream was to step their careers up the ladder to be able to work at one of those institutions. It sent a loud and clear message that they could curry favor with the Washington, New York and Los Angeles dailies by joining in the witch-hunt, and likewise risk their wrath if they dared to praise or defend Webb’s series.

The deepest cut perhaps was closest to home. The editor of Webb’s newspaper, Jerry Ceppos of the Mercury News, reacted to the October blitzkrieg by the bigger papers by publishing an editorial backpedaling from the Webb series. The Mercury News eventually removed the Dark Alliance series, and its supporting documentation, from its website, and Gary Webb was shipped off to a small town bureau which might as well have been in Siberia. The Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist was then relegated to reporting on the local police blotter and human-interest stories about pets and farm animals.

Gary soon after resigned from the newspaper and published the book Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion (1999, Seven Stories Press), which won some awards and kept the facts alive even after the Mercury News tried to sweep them back under the rug. The US government eventually issued its own report admitting that everything Gary reported was true.

Gary wanted so much to return to his work as an investigative reporter for a daily newspaper. His kids helped him address scores of envelopes and sent his resume to every major daily in the United States. Not a single US daily called him in for an interview. Gary paid the bills for a while by working as an investigator for the California state legislature, but that gig ran out, too.

When in December of 2004 his house was sold and he had nowhere to live at the age of 49 other than to move in with his mother, Gary wrote a suicide note and killed himself with a pistol. There are still many who don’t believe it, who prefer to think the same CIA assassinated him. But Gary had called friends in the days before his death telling them he had bought the gun and was going to do it. And then he was gone.

*     *     *

Had Gary not gone through that hell, I might very well have been next. He shared our victory in December of 2001 when the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the National Bank of Mexico’s lawsuit against us out of court and wrote case law establishing that Internet journalists now enjoy the same First Amendment protections as the New York Times.

When, then, my inbox filled with hundreds of emails from young journalists and journalism students asking if they could come work as unpaid interns for Narco News, expressing their dissatisfaction with what had happened to the news industry and what they were taught in its university mills, I contacted Gary with an idea: Let’s start a school for these young people. Gary signed on and came to Mexico in February 2003 to teach at the first School of Authentic Journalism. After Narco News won the lawsuit, some of our old funders returned and we were able to offer 25 scholarships that year.

Gary may be the most beloved professor to have ever taught at the school. The scholars nicknamed him “The Marlboro Man” for his rugged handsome cowboy look and his penchant for filtered cigarettes. When Gary spoke of his experiences, everyone gave their full attention. The Old Media may have declared him a pariah, but a new generation that no longer views the pinnacle of the profession as getting a job at a disgraced national daily saw Gary as a role model and leader.

The world can also plainly see what has happened to a daily newspaper industry that abandoned its muckraking roots as dailies have downsized and gone out of business. The New York Times and the others have lost their previous luster and now only attract B-list writers and editor-bureaucrats into their ranks. The same Internet that Gary Webb pioneered is now the preferred source for news everywhere on earth.

After Gary’s death, we got a copy of the CD-Rom of his series and with his family’s blessing we published Dark Alliance on Narco News, uncensored. It remains today among the most sought-after pages in our fourteen years of archives.

When word began to spread that Hollywood would take Gary’s story to the silver screen, a new panic began to ensue in the Old Media circles that had so maliciously destroyed his career.

Sensing the prick of the humungous needle from Hollywood about to stick him and the rest of the bullies who hounded Gary until his death, Mercury News editor Scott Herhold, who claims to have been Gary’s “first editor” at the paper, fired off a preemptive shot last year that sought to, in his own words, “salt the Renner version with skepticism.” Herhold labeled the late Gary Webb as “a man of passion, not of fairness. When facts didn’t fit his theory, he tended to shove them to the sidelines.” Herhold offers no facts himself to back up that claim, other than that Webb had written a memo about his shitty editing to their bosses and that Herhold is still butthurt about it: “If he could do that to me,” Herhold complained, “he could easily do that to his stories.” In other words, he offers a hypothetical extraction from an inter-office memo Webb wrote about Herhold to smear Webb’s published journalism.

We should never confuse “New Media” as that which is on the Internet and “Old Media” as that which is in print: These terms have to do with a mindset, not the medium upon which one types. Some of the stalest journalism now lurks the halls of the Internet and some of the sharpest New Media journalists have old school tendencies dating back to when American newspapers were relevant in all the ways they have ceased to be. Internet news aggregator James Romenesko – who years ago had become the house cheerleader for B-list American journalists (the kind that sees every story as an audition to get a job at the New York Times) at the website of the Poynter Institute – now has his own blog, and dutifully linked to Herhold’s column. (Romenesko may dress himself as “New Media” but when the New York Times asks him to censor a link to a story it does not like, he slavishly obeys; and, if he'd like to deny that he's that kind of obsequious industry suck-up, let's rumble anew.)

In the coming weeks we can expect more such panicked response to the Kill the Messenger movie from the same career apparatchiks that smeared Gary Webb to begin with, doubling down on their worn and rusted hatchets.

Like Wile E. Coyote, they’ll hoist the piano over their heads one last time, and predictably the piano will fall back down upon them. With the release of the movie, they’ll not only be reminding all journalists and readers of conscience of what industry tools they are, but will also be up against an entertainment media that has long been sensitized to McCarthyism in all its forms.

Kill the Messenger represents nothing less than Hollywood’s recognition that the new McCarthyism has more often than not come wrapped in a war on drugs. And those that attacked Gary Webb will be cast into the same dustbin of disgrace in which the blacklist proponents of the Red Scare are now buried.

Yet there is another possible response from the 1990s cowards who gambled that by smearing Gary they would promote – or at least protect – their own sinecures in the dying corporate news industry. It is that offered last year by former LA Times reporter Jesse Katz as Kill the Messenger was about to begin shooting. In a LA Weekly interview with Nick Schou, Katz recanted and apologized for his behavior as one of 17 Los Angeles Times reporters assigned by editors Shelby Coffey and Leo Wolinsky to try and discredit Webb’s Dark Alliance reports:

“As an LA Times reporter, we saw this series in the San Jose Mercury News and kind of wonder(ed) how legit it was and kind of put it under a microscope… And we did it in a way that most of us who were involved in it, I think, would look back on that and say it was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the LA Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.”

What Katz has done is simply what journalism requires of each and every one of us who claim to be part of it: If you find you have made an error in your reporting, you issue a correction. Failure to do so is malpractice, plain and simple. That Katz is the only member of the media ranks who has expressed regret so far at his role in the knowingly false attacks on Webb speaks volumes about how far the rest of them have strayed from the practice of real journalism.

A paradox is that many of the generation of media pundits and editors who attacked Webb in the nineties got into journalism inspired by the Watergate era reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at the Washington Post, and the 1976 motion picture about them, All the Presidents Men, portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, from a time when the major daily newspapers could at least sometimes be watchdogs instead of lapdogs. Thirty-eight years later, the movie that will define the current sad chapter of the news industry tells the story of how the same Washington Post participated in the US government cover-up of its agency’s cocaine trafficking and went so far as to besmirch the reporter out in the field who did the job that the newspaper’s reputation was built upon, that of investigative journalism.

Where is the apology and correction from Walter Pincus, the Washington Post CIA beat reporter who curried favor with the agency by attacking Webb? Where are his beltway colleagues Robert Suro and Jackson Diehl who joined in the malicious bullying of a man who was twice the journalist any of them will ever be? Where is the Mea Culpa from the NY Timesmen Tim Golden and James Risen, who did the dirty work for that newspaper in the witch hunt? What about you Shelby Coffey? No longer at the LA Times, Coffey is now a PR flack for APCO and graces the boards of the Newseum and the Council on Foreign Relations. Such are the rewards for being a spineless toady for those in power. And you, Leo Wolinsky? Where is the correction you owe your readers? How about your LA Times colleague Doyle McManus? And you, Ralph Frammolino? Are you enjoying the public relations industry now that you’re washed up in journalism? Where are the corrections, bitches? No Hollywood star is ever going to portray any of you in a movie (unless it is as villain, as Jerry Ceppos is about to see when he is portrayed by Oliver Platt). When, if ever, do you wash the stain off your hands from the atrocity of journalism that is one and only thing any of you ever did in this business that will cause you to be remembered by future generations?

You have become, each and every one of you, nothing but a dirty and shamed footnote to the story of an immortal hero, Gary Webb.

You see, gentlemen: You made the same mistake that despots and their lackeys have made throughout human history. You thought that by killing the messenger you could kill the message.

Even in a worst-case scenario for the movie, Kill the Messenger, if it were a box office bust, it will still appear, again and again, on cable movie channels for generations to come, correcting the record and naming names on the real offenders. Your children and grandchildren will see it. There is also the possibility that the movie might stall at the box office but then be given new life by this year’s Oscar nominations, and soar back into public view. And with a cast, subject and script as exciting as this one, there is also the chance that it comes out roaring to public attendance and acclaim. Tell us, please, gentlemen: Is there any one of these scenarios in which you come out on top? No, Sirs, there is not! Not unless and until you do the right thing and issue the same kind of correction that Jesse Katz has offered.

Beyond the culprits at the three national dailies, there is long line of second-string mynah bird repeaters of their “conventional wisdom” against Webb and his reporting, of varying degrees of embarrassment to those writers. Should any of them pop their heads up in the coming weeks to repeat their libels, they can expect the archives of their own shoddy work to be rolled up and swatted back upon their puppy dog noses. They are from an era of corporate journalism when the motivating force was no longer truth or justice or any kind of idealism, when the motor of career journalism became fear and only fear. Some were poseurs of alternative media, from David Corn at The Nation to Glenn Garvin at Reason magazine (who moved on to join another US daily wallowing in decay, the Miami Herald), whose noses were stuck so far up power’s ass in the 1990s that they still can’t get the brown off. They considered the CIA-cocaine connection to be their story, and were envious that an unknown gumshoe reporter out in the hinterlands had stepped onto "their" turf to cause a greater impact than they ever had.

Gary Webb’s reports were that powerful that they made careerist journalists tremble and lash out and dutifully show that era’s media bosses that they had done their bidding.  And then there were others who tried to be fairer to Webb but still feared the big media lords so much that they colored their defenses of the essential truth of the Dark Alliance series with sprinkled disclaimers that he had made errors or wasn’t a saint. You know, the false dichotomy of "telling both sides" of a story that does not have two sides that is formula for corporate media. Eighteen years later, the record reflects that Webb's reporting was spot on and that those unnecessary disclaimers revealed more about the fear by other writers of offending the powerful than they did about Webb’s good works.

There were courageous, real journalists who stood up tall to critique Webb’s attackers and set the record straight on the stunning accuracy of his work. Most of them paid a price in their careers but kept their souls intact. Making a list of each and every one of them would surely risk leaving some out in error. But I do wish to mention three that are, like Gary, no longer with us: The aforementioned Alex Cockburn, the late WBAI New York broadcaster Robert Knight, and one very dear colleague who died this only month, Chuck Bowden, who in 1998 when Gary had already been cast out by the news industry, wrote the definitive story, titled The Pariah, for Esquire magazine, setting the record straight.

They’ve moved on, perhaps to join Gary in a better newsroom in the great beyond.

Meanwhile, here on earth, new generations are up and coming that understand perfectly well that the present and future of journalism is not entered by landing a byline at the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times, but in the trenches pioneered by Gary Webb.

What Readers Can Do

Now is the time - the October 10 release of Kill the Messenger creates new opportunity - for all good people to join forces to correct the terrible injustice that was done to the messenger.

We can start by reading the Dark Alliance series and its supporting documents, so that when Kill the Messenger generates discussion and questions more of us will be ready to answer them.

We can be supportive of Gary’s family who will have to relive these horrible events in the coming weeks but who have the inner fortitude and commitment to justice to be willing to do so. They’ve just opened a Facebook page in Gary Webb’s name. We can all join it at this link.

We can listen to Gary in his own words. Doing so is always a worthwhile experience. One can hear him on various videos and audio files posted around the Internet. Whether it was 5 a.m. in California as he did a phone interview with C-Span on the East Coast or his appearance on rough and tumble talk radio shows, Gary’s demeanor was always calm, confident and willing to let the facts speak for themselves. This was a journalist who trusted the readers to figure things out. There was no similarity at all between Gary and today’s shrieking carnival barkers on cable television.

Here are some excerpts of Gary speaking at the 2003 School of Authentic Journalism:

We have recently taken inventory of the Narco News and School of Authentic Journalism archives and found more video of Gary in his own words. In the coming weeks Narco News TV will release eight more videos that feature him, so that at his posthumous hour of global attention, Gary can still speak for himself.

Over the next month, we, the friends and colleagues of Gary Webb (1955-2004), will announce other steps to be taken to bring more attention to his message, including grassroots organizing and actions that can be taken at the most local level involving your local cinema and your local media organizations.

Gary Webb - the messenger - will not be with us to see this movie about him.

Gary’s message, however, is here to stay.

 

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