<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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The Washington Post Needs a Bus – and to Throw Jeff Leen Under It

Leen Burst a Spleen When He Saw “Kill the Messenger” on the Silver Screen


By Al Giordano & Bill Conroy
Special to Narco News

October 20, 2014

“A lot of retired DEA agents, a lot of retired prosecutors, a lot of retired people, they all want to do a book about their exploits. First question I ask them is, ‘Okay, you want to make a lot of money with a book? What do you know about the CIA and drugs? What do you got? Put it on the table. We’ll go make a million dollars. We’ll go to Hollywood! We will be stars!’”

•Jeff Leen, 1997


Washington Post assistant managing editor of investigations Jeff Leen doubled down on that newspaper’s attacks on Gary Webb in a manner that only reinforced the way the movie “Kill the Messenger” portrayed the behavior of the Post in 1996.
Back in June of 1997 when Jeff Leen debated Gary Webb at the Investigative Reporters & Editors conference in Phoenix, Arizona, he spoke those words, above, that reveal so much about what he thought he’d get out of entering the newspaper business. Make a million dollars. Go to Hollywood. Be a star.

That life plan never worked out for Leen, who now directs the mediocre and forgotten “investigative reporting” unit at the Washington Post.

Leen, at the time of the gathering, was then fifteen years at the same job, a reporter for the Miami Herald, trying to make a name for himself as an alleged expert on the international cocaine trade. But he was stuck at the worst possible place to do so. The Herald is infamous among journalists as the graveyard of foreign policy reporters, because in Miami, they are forced to toe a very narrow ideological line. The newspaper’s advertising base is so dependent on the rabid anti-communist Cuban and Latin American exile business community that it’s long had to be a Johnny One Note on any coverage regarding the rest of the hemisphere. You simply can’t keep a job writing about the Americas at the Herald – what many journos have nicknamed “Oligarch’s Daily” – without pandering to the Miami Mafia. For that reason even many career journalists would prefer to work anywhere else.

And if one was foolish enough to try to use that newspaper as a fulcrum from which to report on cocaine in the eighties and nineties, the biggest story would therefore be untouchable: that the anti-communist paramilitary squads known as the Contras, who were buying weapons to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, were funding their army by shipping planeloads of cocaine to the United States, and that US government agencies were complicit in that venture. That story could never be advanced in the Herald, not even after then-Senator John Kerry’s 1986 committee hearings proved it.

Poor Jeff Leen had to report to work each day and seek some other path to the Hollywood stardom and millions he thought being a journalist would someday bring him. How many times he sent his resume to the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times while cursing his fate in Miami is a number between him and his god. In his desperate plea for their attention, according to a book by the late Gary Webb, he cooked up a fake idea in his Herald reporting: That Miami was the birthplace of the crack cocaine explosion in the United States. In Miami, a city that would like to be first in something, anything, even crack, they inhaled those fumes eagerly.

Then along came Gary Webb, over on the West Coast, with the documents that proved Jeff Leen’s entire journalistic gambit had been a fraud.

Why are we telling you about this Jeff Leen character? You’ve probably never heard of him or read any his work or, if you did, found it important or memorable, not even during his 17 years at the Washington Post. You might be able to name other Post writers and columnists, including people who’ve been there far less time than Leen. But for good reason, you’ve never heard of this guy.

A few days ago, Leen wrote an opinion column for the Post, a newspaper whose shameful behavior in 1996 is now topic of the major motion picture, “Kill the Messenger.” Two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner portrays Leen’s old imaginary nemesis, Gary Webb, and convincingly depicts the latter’s reporting of the most important investigative news story of the 1990s, and the turmoil that engulfed Webb when the big three daily newspapers in Washington, New York and Los Angeles then ganged up to destroy Webb’s career.

Leen apparently burst a spleen when he saw “Kill the Messenger” on the silver screen. There was the late Gary Webb. Although he never made the “millions” Leen said back in 1997 that he aspired to win through journalism, Webb is suddenly occupying the heroic space in Hollywood’s star pantheon that Leen told us in 1997 was his dream to fill. And so Leen took his butthurt grievance to the Washington Post editorial pages last Friday.

“Gary Webb was no journalism hero despite what ‘Kill the Messenger’ says,” shouted the headline on Jeff Leen’s essay.

Well, we did predict back on September 10:

“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.”

Let’s have a look at Jeff Leen’s prose to see if, making those words come true, he tattooed that target onto his own scalp.

Calling the Movie “Pure Fiction” is an Extraordinary Claim

The first words below the Gary-Was-No-Hero headline are: “Jeff Leen is the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations.” That the words of a man who purportedly can stream out column inches in the news section had to be relegated to the opinion page is our first clue that this essay won’t reach news standards, that even the Washington Post needs that extra layer of distance from its own employee’s words, just in case, say, Leen becomes the story and then has to be, ahem, thrown under a bus. You know, like was done to Gary Webb.

The essay begins:

“An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. That old dictum ought to hang on the walls of every journalism school in America. It is the salient lesson of the Gary Webb affair. It might have saved his journalism career, though it would have precluded his canonization in the new film ‘Kill the Messenger.’

“The Hollywood version of his story — a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media — is pure fiction.”

In fact, “Kill the Messenger” is based on, and faithful to, two scrupulously documented nonfiction books. “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” by Gary Webb (1999, Seven Stories Press), and “Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb,” by Nick Schou (2006, Nation Books).

To label “Kill the Messenger” as “pure fiction” is an extraordinary claim. And as Jeff Leen lectures us in his first sentence: “An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.”

But Leen fails to offer extraordinary proof, not even ordinary proof, of his claim in what follows. Instead, he does to himself what he and others did to Gary Webb 18 years ago. Jeff Leen unwittingly makes Jeff Leen the story:

“I was in the Miami Herald’s newsroom when the rumble came across that the Mercury News had finally nailed the CIA-cocaine story, proving that the CIA was involved in the cocaine trade and, more significantly, that the agency was responsible for the U.S. crack epidemic. I was astonished — and envious.”

Of course Leen was envious! He worked for the Herald, a paper that would never have permitted an expose of anti-communist death squads in Latin America to be featured on its pages. Its advertisers in the Miami Cuban-American chambers of commerce – to whom the guerrillas were heroes – would have gone apoplectic. This was a newspaper whose star columnist, Andres Oppenheimer, authored “Fidel Castro’s Final Hour” in 1989. A quarter century later Fidel is still kicking. But, fantasy or fact, that’s the sort of pandering “journalism” that keeps Miami Herald advertisers writing the checks.

When in August of 1996 the San Jose Mercury News published Webb’s Dark Alliance series, the Herald – although both papers were owned by the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain and the Miami daily enjoyed rights to republish – declined to print its sister paper’s big story. Leen takes some credit for that decision in his essay, but let’s not be gullible: Even if he had recommended publishing Webb’s story, the economics of Miami Herald ad sales made that an utter impossibility.

For three months, Webb’s series was the toast of the journalism town. It was only in October – after the story inspired a grassroots movement in Los Angeles and elsewhere, especially in African-American communities – that the big three dailies, practically in unison, piled on Gary Webb and “made him the story,” simultaneously deflecting the attention off the illegal activities of the CIA.

The Internet’s First “Viral” News Story

Leen wasn’t the only commercial media employee in 1997 to be made “envious” by Gary Webb’s scoop. What really freaked out the print newspaper business at the moment was that Webb’s Dark Alliance series didn’t just appear in a smaller regional daily out of Northern California. They could have simply ignored it and it would have given way to the next news cycle. That the San Jose Mercury News posted it on the Internet, complete with the supporting documents and dossiers on the major figures in the cocaine pipeline from the Contra Army to the streets of South Central Los Angeles, suddenly made the national dailies irrelevant. The paper trail was then a pixel trail and Dark Alliance became overnight the first “viral” news story in the history of the Internet, before the word “viral” was used to describe that phenomenon.

When the young computer staffers at the Mercury News’s fledgling Mercury Center division posted the story on the paper’s new Internet site, they also removed the hocus pocus mystery of “journalism” that the major media had long fed the public. Suddenly all the supporting evidence was available not just to “journalists,” but to every reader. The Dark Alliance website included a library with 39 documents of court transcripts, agency memos, letters by public officials and more, a timeline, a map of the cocaine route through Central America to Los Angeles, bios of the central figures in the story, links to the Kerry Committee report and even a discussion board where readers could give their opinions. The Internet had arrived, with a huge bang and boom, and nothing has been the same for Old Media ever since.

Watch and listen to the real Gary Webb explain to students at the 2003 School of Authentic Journalism, in Mexico, of how the Internet made Dark Alliance available anywhere in the world, and the impact that it caused:

It wasn’t just envy that set the hounds loose on Gary Webb, although there was plenty of it emanating from the major newsrooms. There was panic at the big dailies, especially in Washington, New York and Los Angeles, where hubris had encrusted around the gatekeepers after decades of being the few who controlled what news became a national story and what did not. After all, what reporters at lesser newspapers – like Jeff Leen at the Miami Herald – really wanted was to get out of Hooterville and land a post in Washington, New York or LA.

Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance, together with the Internet, broke the NY-DC-LA newspaper triopoly in one great historic moment.

Many people believe that had Webb not mentioned the CIA in his story that the big three newspapers wouldn’t have put a bounty on his head. But a careful study of commercial media’s behavior ever since August 18, 1996 – Day One of the series, the day the Internet broke the old system – shows that big media’s seething resentment of what was then called the World Wide Web has been a constant subtext ever since. Any major investigative news story that would have been first to “go viral” would have very likely been met with the same kill-the-messenger response from the big three dailies. Gary Webb was simply the journalist who did it first, the pioneer, the father of all Internet journalism.

The Washington Post, LA Times and NY Times weren’t just lashing out at this story. They were hysterical that any story could suddenly win a national audience – and spark a national grassroots movement – without their permission. That the messenger had to be killed was mere consequence. The real game afoot was “Kill the Internet.” And yes, the big media gatekeepers were so drunk with their illusion of power that they really believed they had the power to do that.

Tellingly, in Jeff Leen’s Washington Post essay last Friday, he quotes out of context from Webb’s 1996 Dark Alliance series, yet without providing readers a link to read the whole thing.

How is it that Leen still has that text eighteen years after its publication, and more than 17 years after the San Jose Mercury News disappeared it from its web site in a bid to censor it forevermore? Leen claims in his Washington Post essay that, “Before seeing the movie last week, I hadn’t thought about Webb in a long time.” But he was able to quote directly from the 18-year-old Dark Alliance series. Is Leen like one of those creepy Criminal Minds serial stalkers with a bedroom full of clippings and photos of his late imagined rival pasted on the walls? Or did he do what millions of others have done, and read the same Dark Alliance series resurrected online, since 2005, on Narco News? Interestingly, Leen quotes partially from Dark Alliance without offering Washington Post readers a link to read the whole thing in its full context. He’s that afraid that when you read it, you’ll know he’s blowing self-serving “emo” smoke. This time it’s not cliché to say: The movie’s great. But the book is even better! Here’s the link to the original Dark Alliance series that Jeff Leen didn’t have the intellectual integrity to share with Washington Post readers.

Leen Is Known More for an Ethical Breach than for Journalism

Burying due credit to competing media organizations, in fact, is one of the few things for which Jeff Leen is known beyond his cloistered newsroom. His journalism has never hit its mark, but his “investigative unit’s” 2013 copycat routine, presenting a series that merely extended on a previous Baltimore Sun investigation, was presented to Post readers as some great original investigative artwork. Now that Jeff Leen is making himself the story, let’s shine a little more light on him. The Baltimore City Paper reported the embarrassing saga of how Lean’s team essentially copied the methodology and actual work of the newspaper up I-95.

(Didn’t somebody just lecture us that “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof?” How about the extraordinary claim that his newspaper has a shiny new investigative report that is its own if it’s merely cribbed from somebody else’s original work? Does that count?)

Another malpractice Jeff Leen is making a name for himself with is taking quotes out of context. That’s what he did by sharing just a few paragraphs of Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance while failing to disclose a link to read its entirety.

And he did it last week to one of the authors of the “Kill the Messenger.” One of Leen’s purportedly “extraordinary proofs” that the movie is, in his words, “pure fiction,” uses a quote from Nicolas Schou, author of the book by the same name upon which the movie is based. Leen writes:

“These are the words of Nick Schou, the OC Weekly editor who wrote the book that serves as the basis, with Webb’s book, for the movie: ‘‘Dark Alliance’ contained major flaws of hyperbole that were both encouraged and ignored by his editors, who saw the story as a chance to win a Pulitzer Prize,’ Schou wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2006. On the crack explosion claim: ‘The story offered no evidence to support such sweeping conclusions, a fatal error that would ultimately destroy Webb, if not his editors.’”

(Note how Leen does in fact know how to include a link in one of his essays when he wants to do so. Telling, once again, that in the same piece he could not bring himself to share the link to the work of the man he called “no journalism hero,” Gary Webb. How bloody heroic of Leen.)

Narco News caught up with Nick Schou on Friday and asked for his thoughts on Jeff Leen’s interpretation of his words. Schou replied:

“I’m glad this guy wrote what he did because it reveals exactly why the movie gets the story so right. The writer of this worthless and whiny op-ed perfectly captures the craven mentality of cowardice of most of Webb’s critics at the three major papers. And he totally takes my statement out of context. I do believe that Dark Alliance contained major flaws of hyperbole, but they were mostly the story’s logo and a few unnecessary phrases that overstated the evidence Webb had at the time. What I’ve always argued is that had Webb been allowed to keep writing, and had the other papers including the Post actually done their job, the true extent of the story would have been revealed. The fact remains that Webb’s story nonetheless forced the CIA to admit that the true flaw of Dark Alliance was hardly one of hyperbole but the exact opposite – the story radically understated the scandal.”

You can add “taking statements out of context” along with “copying the work of others” to the achievements that have now brought Jeff Leen more attention than his actual journalism ever has.

We asked Schou, as a working journalist familiar with how newsrooms really work, if in his reporting for the Kill the Messenger book he learned who at the San Jose Mercury News made the decision to place a logo of a kid smoking a crack pipe over the CIA shield. That logo generated much of the claim that Webb’s story didn’t “prove” what the logo supposedly promised it would prove.

“I point out in the book that it was the work of the graphics team at the paper, and probably the brainchild of David Yarnold who was a photographer before he became managing editor and stopped reading Dark Alliance halfway through the editing process. There’s a reason that guy has never spoken to anyone and is no longer in journalism.”

Mercury News editor Jerry Ceppos – portrayed by Oliver Platt in “Kill the Messenger” and the man who betrayed Gary and his readers once the three big newspapers he aspired to work at launched their attack – also signed off on the logo.

Walk a Mile in Jeff Leen’s Clown Shoes

When all this was happening back in 1996, way down in Miami, Jeff Leen was a pimple on this pumpkin, hoping to break into the major leagues on the cocaine beat. But the Dark Alliance story – and the documents now on the Internet – made a lie out of his one possible claim to future fame: his invention that Miami was somehow where the crack trade was born.

In the book version of Dark Alliance, Gary Webb himself addressed this point:

A basic tenet of ethical journalism is to disclose all conflicts of interest and that includes information that could lend the appearance of conflict of interest. Perhaps because Gary Webb is no longer alive, Leen thought he could publish Friday’s essay without disclosing that it was none other than Gary Webb who exposed Leen’s early cocaine journalism in that passage of his book. (Perhaps Jeff Leen should be more reluctant to bandy about terms like “pure fiction” when referring to other people’s work.)

So, it’s 1996, and put yourself in his clown shoes: You have the bad luck of being Jeff Leen, and the additional poor luck of being stuck at the Miami Herald. And your one big story – that Miami was the birthplace of the nation’s crack cocaine explosion – has been proved false by a much better reporter out of San Jose, California. What do you do? You’re not going to get a job at a big paper like the Washington Post based on any of the “journalism” you’ve published. Fifteen years of your life is circling the drain. You need to find a new hustle, and fast.

Meanwhile, the same Washington Post was facing heavy criticism from real journalists over its unfair and knowingly false attacks on Gary Webb. The media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) was publishing corrections to the Post’s shoddy accusations. The IRE Journal of the organization Investigative Reporters and Editors was also weighing in. IRE Journal editor Steve Weinberg vetted the accusations by the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times in the November-December 1996 issue of that journal. Weinberg concluded, “For what it is worth, I am impressed with Webb’s reporting – even after carefully considering the criticisms by fellow investigative journalists I respect.” Oh, snap!

That wholesale rejection of the DC-NY-LA newspapers’ claims against Webb, in the journal of an organization that depends on those three papers to supply panelists for its conferences and other support for the organization, fell like a bomb on those three newsrooms. And it caused no small amount of angry backchannel blowback from the three big dailies toward the IRE organization, complete with threats to pull out of its future activities. This was hardly a state secret at the time. It was something widely whispered at the following year’s IRE conference in Phoenix, and a year later when its Tijuana conference for Mexico-US border journalists didn’t even include a discussion of the Dark Alliance story, what was still the most important investigative news story of the 1990s, whether big media liked it or not.

IRE decided to placate those three newspapers by scheduling a “debate” between Webb and a critic at its annual conference in June 1997 in Phoenix. And suddenly Jeff Leen’s career hope to land in DC, NY or LA got its big break, when it was negotiated that he – a reporter from the same Knight-Ridder chain as Webb, with a purported portfolio in cocaine journalism – would be the representative to take on Webb, mano a mano.

Leen recalls that 1997 debate in his column last week. Again, he either didn’t know that an audio file of the debate had just been put online by the IRE website last week – like any other media organization that had ever interviewed Gary Webb, IRE wants to squeeze a little attention for itself out of the “Kill the Messenger” publicity – or Leen did know and decided to withhold the link to that audio from Washington Post readers. He does seem to have developed a pattern of working that way.

“Gary Webb Was too Calm”

To listen to that debate 17 years later is a lesson in journalism civics. Leen writes in his Washington Post opinion piece:

“After Webb was transferred to Cupertino, I debated him at a conference of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization in Phoenix in June 1997. He was preternaturally calm. While investigative journalists are usually bundles of insecurities and questions and skepticism, he brushed off any criticism and admitted no error. When asked how I felt about it all, I said I felt sorry for him. I still feel that way.”

Usually when the major media sets out to destroy the credibility of an inconvenient voice, examples of erratic or eccentric behavior are unearthed, mountains are made of molehills, human errors are portrayed as diabolical schemes. But Gary was too damned calm! A voice like that of Gary Webb – as you can see and hear in the above video – is just the kind of antidote to screeching cable news pundits and talk radio screamers that journalism and the public need. His Midwestern character gave his storytelling a matter-of-fact quality, understated, never exaggerated. It engendered great and deserved trust, when he lived, from many colleagues who still defend him and his work to this day, because he never, not once, steered us wrong. Jeff Leen may be all hustle and no muscle. But Gary Webb was all authenticity.

Listen for yourself, kind reader, to the audio of the 1997 debate between Webb and Leen. Gary was introduced as a reporter who “works for the San Jose Mercury News,” to which he quipped, to knowing laughter, “at least I do now.”

Much of Leen’s argument was that although Webb’s reporting drew the direct line between the Contra Army’s cocaine and the streets of Los Angeles, that it had not, in Leen’s view, proved that the Contras had brought enough cocaine to feed the entire nation’s appetite for crack. Dark Alliance had never made that claim, but this was a favorite straw dog of the major daily attacks on Webb, and Leen dutifully repeated it then and repeated it again last week.

Webb – very calmly, that rat! – explained that because crack had found its first market in Los Angeles, a business quickly staffed by street gangs, notably the LA-based Crips and Bloods, with affiliates all over the nation’s cities, that LA had indeed been the springboard for the nationwide crack explosion.

Listening to the audio, Leen’s tone-deafness regarding that fact is evident. When one understands that he had long peddled a contrary story – that Miami had been the epicenter of crack – a basic understanding in human nature leads most reasonable people to the conclusion that Leen’s conflict of interest on this case was glaring. And it filled him – and still fills him to this day – with an angry, jealous, embittered and fantasy-driven form of denial.

At the 1997 IRE Conference Leen acknowledged that Webb’s Dark Alliance would forevermore be the defining example of investigative journalism in the 1990s. Leen was crestfallen. Gary’s story – he knew – had long term staying power. And that millionaire Hollywood book tour stardom fantasy harbored by a younger Leen – he just knew – was going to go instead to his imagined nemesis, Gary Webb.

Let’s reread the money quote from Leen at the 1997 debate, in the context of all these other revelations:

“A lot of retired DEA agents, a lot of retired prosecutors, a lot of retired people, they all want to do a book about their exploits. First question I ask them is, ‘Okay, you want to make a lot of money with a book? What do you know about the CIA and drugs? What do you got? Put it on the table. We’ll go make a million dollars. We’ll go to Hollywood! We will be stars!’”

There are multiple interesting things about that quote. Retired DEA agents came to Leen with an idea of a book and Leen quickly takes it to “We’ll go make a million dollars. We’ll go to Hollywood! We’ll be stars!”

Ever met a hustler like that?

Most talented people have.

Interesting how quickly the life’s work of that law enforcement officer that is not Jeff Leen suddenly gets turned into “we” when it comes time to imagine the profits and glory to be derived from it. It’s already established that Leen has a penchant for taking credit for the work of others, so this really isn’t all that surprising.

Also interesting is that at no point did Leen suggest that if he – or one of his retired DEA sources – had provided a smoking gun on the CIA-cocaine connection, that reporting it in the Miami Herald would have been an option. It’s an admission that he knew that it would not, could not, ever happen. So he took it immediately instead to his fantasy about “millions… Hollywood… stars!”

Seventeen years later, Jeff Leen is a puffy, pale middle-aged man behind a desk whose dream as expressed in 1997 has clearly passed him by. It’s not difficult to see, through that lens, how he must have felt going to the cinema to see Hollywood star Jeremy Renner play his imagined nemesis so convincingly. Webb never lived long enough to make any real money off his work, but he wasn’t in it for the money anyway. Yet even posthumously, Gary Webb has evidently achieved the Hollywood star power that has long passed from Jeff Leen’s reach.

Leen was introduced at the June 1997 IRE conference as still working for the Miami Herald. His official Washington Post biography mentions that he began working there that same year. Surely it’s a total coincidence that Leen suddenly got his big break at the Washington Post after, as a supposed representative of a different newspaper, he defended the Post and gave mynah bird repetition to its fake charges aimed at discrediting Webb. It is difficult to imagine that if the Washington Post hired Leen in 1997, he hadn’t already sent them his resume by June of that year.

We have to give Leen some credit for figuring out, back then, the bureaucratic imperatives at the Washington Post in the post-Dark Alliance era of US journalism. The Post had been the paper of the previous generation’s star investigative journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who scooped the Watergate stories leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman portrayed them in the movie “All the Presidents Men.” That might just be where Jeff Leen got the crazy idea that journalism would make him a Hollywood star, the new Bob Woodward (who, being only human, hasn’t quite lived up to the incorruptible image created around the Robert Redford version of Bob Woodward).

Gary Webb, together with the Internet, wrestled the baton of investigative journalism away from the Washington Post a quarter century later, then shared and decentralized it all over the world. And Webb became the new inspiring example that idealistic young journalists sought to become. He cofounded the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in 2002 and that Gary was part of that led hundreds, later thousands, of young journalists to apply to attend the school. Long before the “Kill the Messenger” movie, Gary had star appeal to a certain kind – the best, most talented kind – of aspiring investigative journalist; an appeal Jeff Leen has never earned.

Now that Jeremy Renner has immortalized Gary Webb on screen, its as if he’s the new Bob Woodward without the baggage of still being alive and potentially making future Woodward-type mistakes that could tarnish that legacy. They already drove Webb to die once. Try as Jeff Leen – one of the gang of bullies who hounded Gary to his grave – might, it is utterly impossible to kill Gary Webb a second time. Leen’s column last week sank to the ridiculous low of shadowboxing the ghost that still haunts him, and doing so in a public forum.

Landesman: Jeff Leen is the “naïve fantasist”

Narco News now shares a copy of the email that “Kill the Messenger” screenwriter Peter Landesman – also an investigative journalist – sent on Friday to Jeff Leen, after reading his opinion piece. Landesman wrote:

“I wrote the film, Kill the Messenger. I was also an investigative journalist for the NY Times Magazine, among others. I’m not going to get into a beat by beat discussion with you, because to do so would be to engage the same kind of reductive circular sour grapes (Washington Post reporter Walter) Pincus et al started 18 years ago.



“But I will say that I always underestimate the cynicism and bitterness of reporters like yourself who missed a great story and couldn’t find it within to tip your hat to what was basically a job fucking well done. Not once do you give Webb credit for digging up a story that turned out to be more true than he knew. Details? Crack pipe logo? The true architecture of the Contras? Sure, he got some stuff wrong. But he never said the CIA imported dope; he said cut-outs and proxies (not CIA employees) fucked up, then looked the other way. I got that straight from North’s right-hand man. If you’re suggesting that is not true, or couldn’t be true, that’s awfully sweet of you, but that makes you the naive fantasist, not Webb.



“But for you to have walked the dope beat in Miami, and not wondered to trace the provenance of those flights, or the dope, or even wonder if you even should, I don’t know what to tell you, except shame on you for shitting on the one guy who bothered to ask the right questions. You ask reporters who didn’t feel personally minimized by Webb’s story – Farah, Frammolino, Morely, others – and they’ll quickly agree to the obvious – Webb was stopped at roughly the same point Woodward would have, had he been exiled then essentially fired in November 1972.

“You should know that these sorts of stories evolve over time, but take a kind of courage of new-angle thought that I guess you eschew. The only way you can support your fallacious reasoning is to do what Pincus and Golden did – parse the words til their meaning is gone, then reverse-engineer your conclusion – see? there was no meaning to begin with.



“Ugly. And sad.



“Our loss.

“Peter Landesman”

Way to go, Jeff Leen. You succeeded in a single day making yourself the story, something it took months for your Washington Post to do to Gary Webb even with the alliance from the NY Times and LA Times. And the Gary Webb story is a cautionary tale of what happens to journalists who become the story.

In doing so, you’ve made the Washington Post an unappealing and uncool place for truly talented investigative journalists to want to seek work, especially if you’ll be continuing on there as “assistant managing editor of investigations.”

As Gary’s widow, Sue Bell Stokes, commented in response to your opinion column on Friday, “We all knew this was coming. The scariest thing about this is it was written by an assistant managing editor for investigations.”

See, dude, you’ve hurt the Washington Post brand, much like Jerry Ceppos once thought the attacks on Gary Webb had hurt his brand out in San Jose. And do you know what happens to an employee who is viewed as hurting the brand of a company? He or she become quickly expendable. And if on the day you are fired you look for sympathy from the next generations of journalists when the Washington Post does to you what you – and it – did to Gary Webb, you’ll find that instead of feeling solidarity with you they’re all cheering, holding parties, and calling your downfall a long overdue justice.

One of these days the Washington Post’s new owner Jeff Bezos will take a moment away from designing Amazon book-delivering drones and notice that his investment on the Potomac has become a money pit, because younger generations don’t respect the Washington Post or read it, and the remaining people who do fill its obituary pages each morning. And one fine afternoon, Bezos might march into the newsroom with a crew of young geeks from Seattle armed with touch screen devices and take inventory. Look at yourself in the mirror, Leen. Who do you think will be among the first to go?

Your career, Jeff Leen, is an accident. Your attacks on Gary Webb and Dark Alliance: knowing falsehoods. And you apparently have the self-destruct gene that would lead one to think that doubling down on those lies, today, in the wake of how “Kill the Messenger” has shifted the landscape of journalism, was somehow a good idea.

Gary Webb was indeed a journalism hero: The best, most deserving, and among the most selfless, of the late twentieth century. And you’ll never be remembered as anything more than a relatively minor footnote to the Gary Webb story, and a malevolent one at that, one more snarling hyena in the cackle. And those “millions” of dollars you dreamed aloud about in 1997? All that fantasy of “We’ll go to Hollywood! We’ll be stars”? You did nothing in your entire career to earn any of that. Bum-kissing bureaucrats of journalism do not make for interesting movies, except in bit villain roles, but, alas, Jerry Ceppos already beat you to that.

So, Jeff Leen, enjoy what remains of your time at your desk journalism job, but be ever vigilant for the sound of that bus coming up behind you. Vroom! It may be the one you finally get thrown under.

Disclosure: Al Giordano and Bill Conroy were friends and colleagues of Gary Webb (1955-2004). Al Giordano has also published work in the Washington Post.

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