Albion Monitor /News

East Coast Press' "Willful Ignorance" Protects Flawed Institutions

by Mark Lowenthal

Maintaining public confidence in what these news outlets believe to be flawed, but vital institutions

Gary Webb's San Jose Mercury News series is truly noteworthy both for its content and for the reaction that it elicited from the major "papers of record." The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and particularly, the Washington Post, devoted enormous amounts of editorial space to attacking a series which they all declined to carry when originally available.

But why?

Some motivations and/or explanations that must be considered:

1) The time-honored traditions of competitive jealousy and good old-fashioned ass-covering.

By attacking the Mercury News story, the major papers accomplish two self-interested goals: impugning the credibility of the competition that scooped them and more importantly, "explaining" (by implication) why it is that they didn't cover the story to begin with.

2) Also figured into the mix is the infrequently acknowledged, but all-too-real anti-West Coast bias of the aforementioned East Coast news media. As most in journalism know, the major East coast media consider Washington and New York to be the birthplace of all things newsworthy. In light of this, most West Coast news is considered irrelevant.

3) Aside from these more obvious rationales, there is, in my view, a larger and far more troubling dynamic at work. If listening closely, one can't help but hear the faint journalistic and political echoes of "Iran-Contra-think" i.e., "the truth (about the CIA and drug trafficking) would be too damaging the country potentially causing a crisis of confidence among the electorate."

Like the intentionally limited scope of the original Iran-contra hearings and the wholly disinterested media reaction to its treasure trove of leads and unanswered questions, I sense a similar willful ignorance on the part of the major national media in the misguided name of maintaining public confidence in what these news outlets believe to be flawed, but vital institutions.

- Mark Lowenthal

(Excerpt from "Snow Job")
Walter Pincus, the Washington Post's lead reporter in taking on the San Jose Mercury News series linking the contras to the crack epidemic, is on record as a believer in agencies like the CIA. At a forum in spring 1995, Pincus told the audience (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/7/95): "You never should and never will get rid of intelligence organizations." Pincus' bio says that he "served in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps, stationed in Washington," from 1955 to 1957, and went on to become "Washington correspondent for three North Carolina newspapers" in 1959. What his bio doesn't mention is that in 1960, he was recruited by CIA employees to serve as a U.S. representative at two international conferences-his trips paid for by CIA fronts. Pincus was unapologetic when he disclosed his CIA role in a 1967 piece he wrote soon after joining the staff of the Washington Post. (Ironically, that Post article was reprinted in the San Jose Mercury, 2/18/67.) Last summer, the Washington Times (7/31/96), a newspaper that hardly considers affinity with the CIA to be a reportorial sin, described Pincus as a journalist "who some in the agency refer to as 'the CIA's house reporter.'"
- Norman Solomon
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Mark Lowenthal is assistant director of Project Censored, the national media research project at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California

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Albion Monitor December 24, 1996 (

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