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Issue #65

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Features:

Christmas in Hell: No, Virginia, There is no Santa Claus- Matt Taibbi

Disinformation Age: America Loves a Good Liar- Allan Uthman

Power 1, Truth 0: RIP Gary Webb, Journalism - Michael Manville

Insane in the Ukraine - Matt Taibbi


Faux-tures:

Celebrity Holiday Greetings

Ridiculous Gift Guide

Tips on Buying Thoughtless Gifts

Giambra Admits Drinking Live Sea Monkeys

Area Child Expects Lame Christmas Gifts

Paris Hilton's What Hot & What's Not in 2005

Advice From John Ritter's Ghost



Departments:

Buffalo in Briefs

BEAST-O-Scopes

Page 3

Separated at Birth?

[sic] - Letters

I HATE YOU: The Senate, Slaves to the South

DJ's Notes from the Big House

The Straight Dope w/ Dr Rotten




Movie Reviews:

Kino Korner



Comix:

I Witless News - I. Gonzalez

Deep Fried - Jason Yungbluth

Bob the Angry Flower - Stephen Notley


BEASTIVITIES


Issue #64

Download Entire issue (31mb PDF)

 

Features:

Happy Bhopal to You: The Disaster is 20 Years Young! - Matt Taibbi

Sleeping With the Fishes: Fear Not, Buffalo--Corporate Welfare Will Save You! - Chris Abbey

No Moore Dissent: DLC Targets Populism, Man-Boobs- Matt Taibbi

Drowning the Scorpion: Debating a Neocon- Stan Goff

Condoleezza Rice is Going to Lick Your Beaver- Matt Taibbi


Faux-tures:

Bush Refuses to Pardon Turkey, Execution Proceeds as Scheduled

Kmart, Sears Merge to Create One Big Failure - Josh Righter



Departments:

Buffalo in Briefs

BEAST-O-Scopes

Page 3

Separated at Birth?

[sic] - Letters

The Straight Dope w/ Dr Rotten




Entertainment:

Movie Reviews:

Kino Korner

Music Reviews :

Arcade Fire

MF Doom - Ketchup Samurai

BEASTIVITIES

Sports:

Wide Right: Bills Still Have a Shot at 5th Super Bowl Loss - Ronnie Roscoe



Comix:

I Witless News - I. Gonzalez

Deep Fried - Jason Yungbluth

Bob the Angry Flower - Stephen Notley





Issue #63

Download Entire issue (18mb PDF)

Features:

Top Ten Hacks of 2004 Election - Matt Taibbi

MEMRI Problems: Was Kerry's Election Bid Lost in Translation?- Chris Riordan

Pick of the Litter: Bottom-Feeding all the Way to the Top

Redwoods Evil, Must Be Destroyed: Bush Wants Some Wood- Kit Smith

Too Cool for School: City Honors Censorship - Al Uthman

Tortures - R - Us - Christopher Lord


Faux-tures:

New Hotel on Baltic Ave: Boon or Burden? - Ian Murphy

10 Tips For Coping with your Dysfunctional Family this Thanksgiving

A Word From Our Sponsors



Departments:

Buffalo in Briefs

BEAST-O-Scopes

Page 3

Separated at Birth?

[sic] - Letters

The Straight Dope w/ Dr Rotten




Entertainment:

Movie Reviews:

Kino Korner

Music Reviews :

Matchbook Romance/Midtown Show - Chris Meister

Goo Goo Dolls DVD - Seamus Gallivan

Elliot Smith CD- Michael Gildea

Odd Couple CD - Ketchup Samurai

BEASTIVITIES

Sports:

Wide Right: Bills could Make Playoffs--in the NFC - Ronnie Roscoe



Comix:

Beast Comix - Ian Murphy

I Witless News - I. Gonzalez

Deep Fried - Jason Yungbluth

Bob the Angry Flower - Stephen Notley







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Archives--Old BEASTs

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2004 The Beast

 

Power 1, Truth 0

by Michael Manville

On December 12th I opened my Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times and saw in the obituaries that Gary Webb was dead. More specifically, I saw that Gary Webb had killed himself. He had, it seems, shot himself in the head. When movers arrived at his house on Saturday they found a note on the door that said "Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance."

Webb's death is a tragedy, and not just because suicide is always tragic. There is no point in being subtle about this. Gary Webb was a reporter who expected more from his profession than his profession was capable of delivering; he embodied a particular ideal of journalism and journalism let him down.

In 1996 Webb, then an investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote a series of articles called "Dark Alliance", which detailed the connections between the Nicaraguan contras--the CIA-backed army of insurgents attempting to overthrow the Soviet-backed government of Nicaragua--and the explosion of crack cocaine in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s. The series was the product of a year of investigation, and while the story was convoluted, the basic premise was not: the contras had participated in the cocaine trade to help finance their war, and much of the cocaine had found its way to Los Angeles (and, from there, to the rest of the country). The CIA, Webb asserted, had at the very least known about the drug trafficking and done nothing to stop it, and at worst had actively abetted it.

Webb's series was published in August and at first received little attention. Then it exploded. The black community in Los Angeles, ravaged as it was by cocaine and the violence that accompanied its commerce, demanded accountability. The director of the CIA traveled to Watts, where he promised a full investigation. The nascent Internet, where the Mercury News had posted not just the series but also numerous supporting documents, lent the story greater momentum, as did black radio. Webb became a minor celebrity. The CIA was put on its heels. And then something strange happened.

The obituary in my Sunday Los Angeles Times puts it like this:

Major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post, wrote reports discrediting elements of Webb's reporting. The Los Angeles Times report looked into Webb's charges "that a CIA-related drug ring sent 'millions' of dollars to the Contras; that it launched an epidemic of cocaine use in South-Central Los Angeles and America's other inner cities; and that the agency either approved the scheme or deliberately turned a blind eye."

"But the available evidence, based on an extensive review of court documents and more than 100 interviews in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and Managua, fails to support any of those allegations," The Times reported.

Months later, the Mercury News also backed away from the series, publishing an open letter to its readers, admitting to flaws.

"We oversimplified the complex issue of how the crack epidemic in America grew," wrote the paper's executive editor, Jerry Ceppos, adding, "I believe that we fell short at every step of our process -- in the writing, editing and production of our work."

I like the Times. I think it is a good newspaper and a genuinely liberal one. But it is being far too modest when it says it "wrote a report" on Webb's allegations. What it did was conduct a scorched-earth hatchet job. The paper was under different ownership in 1997, and Webb's series was not just a bombshell but an embarrassment: the LA paper had been scooped in its own backyard. Its response was a three-part series, based on the work of seven reporters, which tore away at the Mercury News stories. The Times' editors said, of course, that they were just pursuing leads; they had no interest in knocking down the News series. But the introduction to the series said explicitly that it would examine and disprove the "Dark Alliance" claims. One of the Times reporters told the Columbia Journalism Review that he had "been assigned to the 'get Gary Webb' team," and another said "We're going to take away that guy's Pulitzer."

"Dark Alliance" was not a perfect piece of reporting. It was overwritten in parts, it had it share of mathematical flaws, it was prone to hyperbole and overreach. It tantalizingly suggested much stronger links between the CIA and the drug dealers than it had evidence to support. Webb was sometimes fuzzy with numbers; he extrapolated a figure for contra drug profits that was probably a good ways off base (Peter Kornbluh's levelheaded assessment of the evidence in the CJRremains the best analysis of the "Dark Alliance" debate.) Problems like these are not unusual in investigate reports: a journalist gets convinced he's on to something, and he comes out swinging. With hindsight, better editing could have let the Mercury News keep its bombshell scoop, and avoid the pasting it took from the rest of the press.

But about that pasting: for all the problems in Webb's series--and there were not, in the end, that many--there was something about the reactions of the Times, the Post and the New York Times that strained credulity. The Mercury News may have stepped wrong in a few places, but there was, in the end, a story here. Rather than pursue it, though, the major papers all had a collective Claude Rains moment: they were shocked, shocked that someone would say the CIA had been mixed up with drug runners. But why? One needn't be haunted by the ghost of Oswald to find the contra/drug connection a plausible scenario. Trafficking in narcotics is a common way for insurgents to finance wars. By 1996 we had seen that in Southeast Asia, in Colombia, and in Afghanistan, and we have seen more examples since. Nor should anyone have been surprised to think that the CIA might align itself with less-than-savory characters. The Agency's clumsy alliances with the mafia in its war against Fidel Castro were well-known, as was its star-crossed relationship with Panamian dictator/drug-runner Manuel Noriega. This is to say nothing of lesser-known but nevertheless confirmed adventures, such as those in Bolivia, that the general public may not know about but that members of the national press should have been familiar with.

So why should it be so hard to believe that a guerilla army in Nicaragua, cut off from CIA aid by the Boland Amendment, might turn to drugs to gain revenue? And why should it be equally hard to believe that some of those drugs might end up in the United States (which is, after all, the world's biggest market for narcotics); or that the CIA officers assigned to help the guerillas might, in the fervency of the Cold War, turn a blind eye to this development?

The answer is that it should not have been hard to believe at all. In 1985 the AP had reported contra/drug connections. In 1987 the Senate subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations had found that CIA knew about and tolerated drug trafficking among its assets. CBS reporter Leslie Cockburn had made similar allegations in her book Out of Control. The contras were tied in to coke. This story had been kicking around for a decade; Webb just decided to follow it.  Maybe he got carried away in parts--we can always parse meaning: what exactly constitutes "abetting" a drug operation? If the CIA asked the DEA not to prosecute a few people, would it qualify as "abetting"? Or just letting sleeping dogs lie?

Webb never alleged that the CIA targeted the black community, nor that the drug running was the Agency's idea. These ideas began to fester on the paranoid fringe, but they were not a part of "Dark Alliance." The major papers demolished these straw men, which was useful (but not very hard to do) and then wrote credulous reports when the CIA, in its heavily redacted internal inquiry, cleared itself of all wrongdoing. (Actually, the CIA only cleared itself in the executive summary of its report. In the body of the report the Agency acknowledged that Webb had been mostly right. But the big papers didn't report that.)

The Mercury-News, amid this drubbing, backed down. It was a small-circulation paper getting kicked in the teeth by the standard bearers of its field. Webb was reassigned to a rural beat and later resigned. His marriage ended. People said he had cracked, that he had lost perspective. I didn't know the man; maybe he had. But I will say this: Webb believed in the same sort of journalism that IF Stone and George Orwell had, a journalism that involved hard questions, big issues, and a willingness to do something other than just roll over. It is also a journalism that is rapidly becoming extinct.

If I look around the media landscape today--if I look at the rest of the obituaries in my Sunday LA Times and see the lists of war dead in Iraq--it's hard not to think that the media that let Gary Webb down went on to let us all down. Webb's tenacity and skepticism is nowhere to be found on CNN, where childish talking heads shill for one party or another and bicker about issues they know little about. In the run-up to war there were no Gary Webbs at the New York Times, where Judith Miller abdicated her journalistic responsibilities and chose instead to be Ahmad Chalabi's stenographer. Both the Times and the Post have had to run prominent mea culpas about their shoddy pre-war coverage, about how they took the government at its word even when evidence of its duplicity could easily be found. The same media that exiled Gary Webb continues to reward hacks like Robert Novak, who cravenly leaked information designed to character assassinate a critic of President Bush.

And now Webb is gone. The major papers, of course, are still with us, and will be long after Webb is forgotten, and Webb will probably be forgotten all too soon. I'm not saying he was 100 percent correct, and I'm not romanticizing him. I'm sure that his noble impulses were mixed with the same combination of arrogance and stubbornness that drives most writers to do what they do. All I'm saying is that the major papers, when "Dark Alliance" broke, had a choice. They could find the holes in the story and blast them wide open, or they could find the threads of truth and start pulling. In the best of worlds they would have done both, and somewhere in the middle the truth would have tumbled out. But they didn't do both. They attacked the reporter and ignored the story; punished the small excesses of a journalist and protected the large excesses of the government. They discredited Gary Webb but brought greater discredit on themselves, and in their failures and complaisance then we can find the seeds of our media problem now.



 

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Disinformation Age

Allan Uthman

....The problem with the left is that our whole model of changing opinions—that contrary facts will alter people’s views—is inherently flawed. Mundane, oafish Americans, in a national competition to see how many $3.99 “support our troops” ribbon magnets they can fit onto the backs of their Suburbans, simply aren’t interested in reality...Let’s face it; there is a sizable chunk of the population who deny the validity of evolution—evolution. Who are we kidding, thinking we can make them see the errors in Social Security privatization?


Christmas in Hell!

Matt Taibbi

NO ONE NOTICED, of course, but last year, I did not file a column on Christmas week. This was not because I was too busy with a long schedule of holiday merry-making.

On the contrary: As editor Jeff Koyen can attest, I actually tried to write a column on Christmas last year. I spent three long days reading and rereading the old New York Sun's hideous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" column, and tried to come up with a satisfying counter-argument. The opening was easy enough:


Celebrity Holiday Greetings

Hey everyone! Aren't my tits great? Truly they are a gift unto us from the Holy Father. I'm so hot for Jesus!

Please buy Nick's album. He could really use the help.

 


Power 1, Truth 0

Michael Manville

On December 12th I opened my Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times and saw in the obituaries that Gary Webb was dead. More specifically, I saw that Gary Webb had killed himself. He had, it seems, shot himself in the head. When movers arrived at his house on Saturday they found a note on the door that said "Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance."


Ridiculous Gift Guide

Matt Taibbi

The Devito Code: A new and baffling sequel to the much-lauded Da Vinci Code, involving a murder mystery in Hollywood which leads to the pointlessly protracted revelation of a secret code interspersed throughout the body of work of actor/director Danny Devito.


Insane in the Ukraine

Matt Taibbi

I've been trying to avoid the subject of Ukraine, not only in this column, but in general. Like anyone with strong ties to Russia, I have a whole range of feelings about Ukraine and Ukrainians, not all of them generous.



Sleeping With the Fishes

Chris Abbey

What do dying urban centers need to keep them afloat when everything and everyone has long since moved out to the suburbs? A gimmick, of course, like the Arch in St. Louis or, even cooler, a Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of fame like Cleveland has! Too bad those ideas were already taken, and the only thing our leaders could think of is resurrecting the long dead Aud and turning it into a massive Bass Pro outdoor shop, along with a hotel and restaurant.


Happy Bhopal to You

Matt Taibbi

THE BHOPAL DISASTER had its 20th anniversary last week, and so was duly (and briefly) commemorated in the inside sections of a few American newspapers.

It is unlikely, however, that any public figures are going to pay tribute to what happened 20 years ago this week. Which is too bad, because as far as America is concerned, the week of Dec. 9 to 16 was the more important week of the Bhopal disaster. That's when we got over Bhopal.


Drowning the Scorpion

Stan Goff

When I was first invited by Dr. Stephen Smith to speak at Winthrop University in South Carolina, I was preparing a trip to Haiti and I didn't give much thought to how I would handle the engagement. I'd just finished being pole-axed by a bout of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and it was everything I could do to just pull the Haiti trip together. So I didn't pay much attention to the person who would appear with me - one Patrick Clawson - to represent "the other side" in a forum/debate billed as "What Next in Iraq? A Post-Election Perspective."


[sic]

Seeing your last rag/magazine complaining about the last Presidential elections made me laugh. You commies have nothing better to do but insult our President, our country and our troops. You all should go back and help your fellows brothers in the Ukraine, where there really was a corrupted and stolen election.


The Top 10 Hacks of the 2004 Election

Matt Taibbi

10 - GEORGE WILL, NEWSWEEK: Will uses big words and pompous literary references to dress up what are basically the brutish and vulgar thinking patterns of a non-union meat-packing plant owner. He is a pig in a lace hat.



Pick of the Litter

Pat Ragpicker

It's 4am on a winter night, and I'm parked on a dead end street near Kaisertown. It’s a secluded corner of the city I found by driving around aimlessly. I'm new to town, and penniless after buying my van with $700 I squirreled away the last time I got a paycheck. That was 7 months ago. Over those months, I managed to live off a few hundred bucks while sleeping in a warehouse closet and helping some friends make a TV show to try selling to a network.



Too Cool for School

Al Uthman

In the decomposing cesspool of Buffalo's public schools, City Honors has long been regarded as something of a gem. In fact, it is widely regarded as the best school the city has to offer, with the brightest kids around.


Tortures-R-Us

Christopher Lord

Iraqis wondering what the next phase of the Republicans' invasion of their country will bring should consider El Aguacate airstrip in Honduras. In 2001, 185 bodies were dug up there: the victims were the 'terrorists' and 'enemies of democracy' of the day.




O Buffalo

Al Uthman

It's time to face some unpleasant facts, Buffalo. This country may not be the best place for us anymore. On November 2nd, we all bore witness to a terrible turning point in our history; a bad lifestyle choice, if you will. We had the chance to reject the increasing madness of our nation's leadership, their blind march to pointless war and craven desire to take advantage of us in every manner conceivable, and we blew it. America has spoken, and it said "duh."



10 Ultra-cynical Ways to Beat the Republicans

Why did the Democrats lose? At least in part, it's because they thought that being right would actually work in their favor. Let's face it, logic doesn't mean squat in politics. People say there's too much cynicism in politics today, but we think there really isn't enough. Cynicism works. The Republican Party has embraced it, and it has worked wonders for them. The Democrats have made some progress in this area, but they are still lagging badly. If there's any hope for the blue states, they must learn the lessons of Machiavelli and Rove. To help them along, the BEAST offers these suggestions.