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I heard author Nick Schou (an investigative reporter at the OC Weekly) speak on a journalism panel at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 29, 2007 at UCLA.

Miles Corwin moderated the discussion among Mark Fainaru-Wada, Nick Schou, Alicia C. Shepard and Lance Williams. Audio

On June 12, 2007, I interviewed Nick by phone about his book on Gary Webb. Audio.

Luke: What surprised you in researching your book?

Nick: "I knew Gary through his work. When his [1996 San Jose Mercury News] story came out, I read it and was immediately intrigued because there were local connections I was able to dig into..."

"I kept in touch with him. I felt like I knew him. I tried to reach everyone who'd worked with him... His family... All the reporters who had been critical of his work. He was a much more complicated person than I could have ever imagined."

"There were no shortage of surprises. In criticizing Gary's work, a lot of the major newspapers hadn't stopped there but dug through his entire career looking for evidence of his bias. He'd become personally identified with the crack cocaine story. A lot of people felt he was a conspiracy monger. I felt that throughout his career, he attacked corruption and abuses of power regardless of ideology. It was an interesting window into the last 30 years of American journalism."

"It's hard to find anybody aware of Gary's work who hasn't already made up his mind about it. People either feel it was a completely loony conspiracy work debunked by the mainstream press or they feel Gary was a hero who could no wrong. The truth is somewhere in between."

"When I sat down to read Dark Alliance in the context of what went wrong with the story, it quickly became clear to me that this was a story that I got out of control. In talking to editors who worked on the story and other reporters there it became clear that there were problems with the story that could've been easily avoided if the story had been edited better. People who worked with Gary throughout his career felt that Gary was such an aggresssive brilliant reporter that he demanded an editor who was equally aggressive to rein in his work."

"The problems with the story were pretty much limited to the first paragraph where it alleged the CIA was involved in this drug ring and there was some loose language that caused people to think that the CIA deliberately spread crack cocaine through the inner city. The story didn't prove that. Gary didn't actually believe that."

"It was completely fair for other papers to point out the errors in the story but that didn't exactly happen... The media attacked the reaction it caused. Later, when the CIA admitted that their ties to drug dealers were widespread through the 1980s, particularly the Nicaraguans who helped the CIA fight the Sandanistas, this should've been a major scandal...but because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, this was relegated to the back pages of the newspaper."

"The major merit of Gary's reporting was that he tracked down how destructive this particular drug ring was that had ties to the CIA. In the 1980s, people reported that the CIA was aware of a drug connection with the Contras...but the media downplayed it... Part of the explosiveness of the story [by Webb] was that people in the inner city where the drug epidemic was so destructive, they felt that finally someone was paying a lot of attention to it."

"Even today the drug war is a huge story. It's the biggest mess out there other than the Iraq War perhaps."

"Gary's story was ahead of its time. Back then to accuse the CIA of that sounded crazy. But now everybody agrees that the CIA tortures people... Secret prisons. There's no shortage of evidence of CIA involvement with unsavory characters."

Luke: "Would there have been any difference in the crack epidemic if the CIA had had no involvement?"

Nick: "Probably not."

"If the government was serious about getting rid of drugs, we'd have martial law. I don't think it is a war that can be won."

Charles J. Rector writes on Amazon.com:

Gary Webb was a bold reporter, but he was also guilty of serious transgressions against journalistic ethics. He engaged in cherry picking and ignored evidence that did not fit his thesis. He was not interested in fairness. Webb gave in to aggrandizement and egomania. Webb was a journalistic slacker and hypocrite. After leaving journalism, Webb gained a job in California state government where he became the stereotypical lazy bureaucrat.

Nick Schou lays out the sad and pathetic life story of Gary Webb a would be star of investigative reporting who was himself guilty of the same kind of ethical and moral lapses that he accused others of having.

Nick: "I disagree with most of that. I tried to write the book in a way that lets readers make up their own mind about Gary and his story."

The one review Schou's book got in the major media was in the Chicago Sun Times where the critic "made a big deal of Gary smoking pot and that this proved he had no right to criticize the CIA. She attributed comments Charles Bowden made in the introduction to me and that I vacillated between praising him as the greatest reporter I've ever known and then pointing out all of his lapses."

"I wasn't surprised that my book was pretty much ignored. It's tough to get people interested in media criticism. Hollywood is interested."

"My intention was to write a book that would be taken seriously by as many people as possible."

"Interviewing journalists is never easy. They know all the tricks. They go on Google and find out I've written about this issue before but most of them [journalists critical of Webb] were willing to talk to me."

"I don't think the CIA cares about what an alternative weekly reporter has to say about the agency."

"Gary was basically right. That's what makes the thing so ridiculous. It was a complicated story. It's OK to say there were problems with it but the basic thrust of the story is right."

"This guy's life and career were destroyed by reporters, not by some dark CIA plot. ...He got just a brief obituary in The L.A. Times saying he was the author of discredited reporting."