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February 15, 2002

Narco News '02

Reader Mail

February 15, 2002

Updated February 26th with..



(See New Exchange Below 1st Letter and Response)

Ex-White House Official

Complains... after 2 Years

Weiner Asks Narco News:

"Why Would You Damn a Friend?"

Narco News Answers:

"Because Official Behavior

Demands Public Scrutiny"

From: Bob Weiner, former press secretary
White House Office on Drug Policy

Al -- HI! In browsing the net, I JUST saw your strange report of over a year ago (sixth item) when you attacked me (?) for not only my "silencing" two reporters during my then ongoing stint at the White House but my strategies in my congressional campaign...????!!!! First of all, what am I missing here -- you and I were/are liberals fighting for just about all the same causes, and were then. Second, why didn't you just call me up at that very number you printed (which I am of course no longer at -- now I'm at 202-361-0611). It would have been great to hear from you -- AND I would have given you a lot more substance from your (and my) point of view than you mysteriously printed without, for some reason, even calling me up! What was that all about and why didn't you call? I had no objection to Forbes and Massing by the way other than their refusal to include in their quotes anything persuasive that didn't make their case -- in Forbes case, what our real objectives were and how they complied with Congress; in Massing's case, he ignored everything already being done about treatment and made it seem like he invented the concept. It was a case of bad and biased reporting, in my view -- but the "Silencing" comment is bizarre. I talked with them all the time, on the record -- hardly a "silencing" strategy. The "silence" was more theirs in what they chose to print.

Concerning my congressional campaign, I did what I thought right: I had two witnesses who signed legal papers saying Conte had given bribes. I didn't make these up -- the former Hampshire County DA was in the room with me, the FBI, and these guys' statements after they made and signed them. The only reason Conte got away with it is that the 7-year statute of limitations had passed so the legal authorities issued statements saying they had "no foundation" on which to proceed. Nothing depressed me more than that I didn't have the funds to further verify their allegations. In any case, you remember I ran a very respectable and important campaign on issues. A number of papers endorsed me, including the Valley Advocate, which I think you even wrote for (or were in all the time anyway?) at the time.

But all this is just detail -- the real question is why would you damn a friend from years past without even talking to him first. I don't quite believe I became an untouchable enemy! I still believe in my constant philosophy -- to go as far left as you can but win within the system. That does differ from the fringes but it's my way of moving the system.

By the way, since I left the White House (after six years there) I've formed a public affairs and issue strategies company (Robert Weiner Associates/Public Affairs and Issue Strategies).

Regards, Bob Weiner

Publisher Responds:

Mr. Weiner's letter arrives almost two years after the report in question. And we thank him for his readership: better late than never.

Mr. Weiner confirms the facts we cited in our April 2000 criticism of his official behavior. He takes issue, instead, with his perception that Narco News would "damn a friend."

Mr. Weiner makes so many errant or demonstrably false statements in this letter that we feel compelled to respond on five points.

1. On April 18, 2000, our first day of publication, Narco News reported that Mr. Weiner was the "hidden hand" behind what we called "attacks" against journalists. We wrote:

"The drug czar General Barry McCaffrey and his functionaries have recently launched public ad hominum attacks against two internet journalists who criticized US drug policy...

"They have gone a little batty at the drug czar's bunker. First they attacked journalist Michael Massing for an article in Salon that was critical of the military aid package to Colómbia. They accused him of being a "drug legalizer" when Massing has, in fact, been a real pain in the neck to anti-prohibitionists (see "Beyond Legalization," a special edition of The Nation edited by Massing in 1999).

"Then they attacked Salon -- again! -- for running an article by Daniel Forbes that severely embarrassed the drug czar's media campaign and some major national magazines: he exposed that the latters -- from Newsweek to Sports Illustrated -- accepted money from the drug czar's budget in exchange for publishing "favorable" articles about the war on drugs.

"Unable to dispute the facts on Daniel Forbes' exposé, the White House attacked Forbes as 'biased' because his articles are among the 35,000 published by an internet news service, Media Awareness Project, which, informs General McCaffrey, links to a recipe on how to manufacture the designer drug 'ecstasy.' In fact, the Media Awareness Project publishes links to other dubious information: They have published 28 articles written by the very same General McCaffrey (as opposed only seven by Daniel Forbes). This, we learned from a story on the NewsWatch web site (click here). Thus by the White House's own logic, the US drug czar is a collaborator with 'the enemy.'

"MAP offered its own articulate reply to the White House (click here) and Mark Jurkowitz, told the whole story of the corrupting of the US press in the Boston Globe (click here). The Media Awareness Project, like Narco News, doesn't pay anyone a devalued peso for these articles. It's an archive of English-language drug policy stories, much larger than our own Narco News. And if the White House says its wrong, it must be right about something."

-- from Issue # 1 of The Narco News Bulletin

Mr. Weiner's letter does not deny any of these facts reported by Narco News. He, instead, protests that we should not have reported the facts. That is, of course, an absurd suggestion to authentic journalists.

2. Mr. Weiner alleges that Narco News did not call him for comment. In fact, we did leave a message on his voice mail at the White House prior to publishing the story, seeking his comment. This is documented by our telephone bill for April 2000. Weiner did not respond at the time.

3. Mr. Weiner admits to his efforts, exactly as we reported in Narco News, to defame his opponent during a 1986 congressional campaign in which he was a candidate. But he tries to place his own spin on events, saying, "Nothing depressed me more than that I didn't have the funds to further verify their allegations."

That statement confirms one of the key critiques we made of Mr. Weiner's official behavior: The McCarthyist penchant for attacking political adversaries with unverified allegations. As Narco News demonstrates every day, one does not need "funds" to verify allegations; just hard work combined with the necessity that the allegations be true and factual.

Narco News was not the first or only publication to explore Mr. Weiner's behavior in his 1988 congressional campaign. The Almanac of American Politics of 1988 reported on pages 548 and 549:

"He (U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte) is reelected easily. His 1986 Democratic opponent, Robert Weiner, a former Claude Pepper aide, peppered Conte with criticism. But his campaign was undercut at the end when he forwarded some charges against Conte to the FBI and the Democratic state chairman, 5th District Representative Chester Atkins, wrote him a letter calling on him to stop. Conte won with 78% of the vote."

4. Mr. Weiner's letter states "you and I were/are liberals fighting for just about all the same causes... the real question is why would you damn a friend from years past without even talking to him first. I don't quite believe I became an untouchable enemy! I still believe in my constant philosophy -- to go as far left as you can but win within the system. That does differ from the fringes but it's my way of moving the system."

This may be a small point to others, but I find his claim of friendship to be as exaggerated as his claims to common cause. A friend is someone who we spend time with, who we invite into our homes, who we visit in their homes... friends do things together in social settings. Years ago, I would bump into Mr. Weiner only at public political events, but I have never "hung out" with Mr. Weiner. I have never been to his home, nor invited him to mine. If Mr. Weiner was smoking doobies with me at a Grateful Dead show years ago, I have no memory of that. Does Mr. Weiner?

Perhaps inside the Washington DC beltway -- where true friends can be few -- there is a different definition of "friend" than we have somewhere in a country called América.

But really, when it comes to the behavior of public officials, even if we had been somebody's "friend," should that provide immunity from journalistic scrutiny? Of course not! We do admit to having friends in Washington, including members of Congress, some of whom we have criticized sharply over the years for their official behavior. The big boys and girls in public office understand that our criticism is not personal; it is a necessity of the healthy adversarial relationship between journalists and politicians. The idea forwarded by Mr. Weiner here that official actions should be immune to scrutiny if "friends" are involved is dangerous to a free society.

In contrast to Mr. Weiner's absurd claim of "moving the system" on behalf of "liberal" or "left" causes, his official six-year record at the drug czar's office is one of promoting authoritarianism and unjustified human misery on a massive scale. Under the McCaffrey-Weiner watch, the U.S. prison population soared as never before because of their policy of locking more nonviolent drug offenders and addicts behind bars. Specifically, Mr. Weiner's actions constantly trampled upon vital liberties like press freedom, like the right of clinically ill patients to use marijuana for medicine, like the right of states to democratically establish their own policies without meddling interference and imposition from the bureaucrats of a centralized State. To the extent that Mr. Weiner feels he has "moved the system" it has been in the direction of tyranny, certainly not on behalf of any shared goals of this online newspaper or its publisher.

Narco News stands behind our story and its criticism of Mr. Weiner's official behavior. We still agree with what we said about Mr. Weiner on April 18, 2000:

"When the White House hired Bob Weiner, it tapped someone who had already demonstrated his penchant for false and personal accusations; a petty little wound-up Joe McCarthy doll to carry on the unholy crusade of the drug war. It was Weiner who fracased the attack on Salon, Dan Forbes and Media Awareness Project."

And although Mr. Weiner's letter arrived almost two years after publication of the story that provokes his complaint, we thank him for the opportunity to repeat it.

5. We also take this opportunity to provide some links that additionally document Mr. Weiner's modus operandi of abusing official taxpayer resources to launch McCarthy-style attacks on the press and political opponents.

In 1998, Mr. Weiner, described by the press as "an obscure White House aide," was subpoeanaed to testify about his use of official taxpayer resources to allegedly intimidate a witness to official wrongdoing:

In the year 2000, Mr. Weiner, during a debate with Brian Gralnick of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, maliciously and falsely accused Gralnick of illegal acts, saying "You're probably on drugs right now." Mr. Gralnick, as reported by DRCNet's The Week Online, was later able to call Mr. Weiner out onto the carpet during a session of Bill Maher's Politically Correct program. Read all about it at this link:

Also in the year 2000, according to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, Mr. Weiner abused public resources in an attempt to silence witnesses (note the pattern of behavior by Mr. Weiner in each of these incidents) to alleged war crimes by his boss, General Barry McCaffrey, during the Gulf War in Iraq. Weiner sought to keep the witnesses from speaking with the legendary journalist Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine. This was a particular abuse of public funds and powers -- because the wrongdoing in question preceded McCaffrey's tenure as drug czar and therefore the office had no business involving itself in the matter at all, much less attempting to use official power to gag witnesses. We turn your attention to Kurtz' report in the Washington Post:

I spoke, this morning, with authentic journalist Sy Hersh in Washington, DC, who chuckled at the mention of Mr. Weiner's name, asking "What's he doing now?"

Hersh, who is currently investigating the events of September 11, 2001 for The New Yorker, told Narco News: "That war is over. McCaffrey's out of public life, that's enough for me." Asked about Weiner, Hersh said, "Who gives a fuck?"

We thank Mr. Weiner for his readership, for his letter to the editor, for confirming the accuracy of our original report, and for the opportunity to expand upon it.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano, Publisher

Weiner Responds Again

February 26, 2001

Second Letter from Bob Weiner

Ex-White House drug office press secretary:

Strange response to mine, Al. But that's how you want to function. Your call. Again, you did not bother to call -- and re the last supposed call message, is that your idea of efficiency, one voice message and you claim you reached out to someone? I make a point of really talking to someone. Your piece is similarly inaccurate but guess will have to leave it at that. When you want to make a point, I guess you in your case just do regardless of the variables -- like drug courts providing treatment instead of prison going from 12 to 800 in the Clinton years, or establishing a medical model rather than a bureaucratic one for methadone treatment for heroin, or pressing other alternatives for THC delivery so people get the medical benefits without the hallucinogenic high or cancerous dangers of the hot smoke of marijuana -- the merits won't matter to you, and apparently you don't even want to have the benefit of a verbal discussion to understand what people are really trying to do. And by the way, re the Almanac of American Politics, nothing inaccurate in their report -- but you might learn from them: they actually read me an earlier draft saying some stuff like you now do, and they dropped it when I pointed out the facts to them -- as I said, you could learn from their professionalism. You're free to print this response -- and to have a phone call if you ever were serious about wanting to understand the issues instead of babbling from a lack of knowledge. Oh, and by the way, yes we did go to a number of political parties together and hang out and speak on panels together and even had philosophical discussions about anti-war activities and left side politics in Massachusetts and nationally. I learned from you and enjoyed these conversations. Am sorry you forgot, but your memory is your choice. Maybe what I'm forgetting is you might have been a Conte ally through all this -- I like to look past that and I don't remember that part, since that was a reality for so many good people.

Bob Weiner

Publisher Replies:

In this second letter, former White House drug office press secretary Robert Weiner complains again.

Here, we offer response on four points:

1. Mr. Weiner complains that we "did not bother to call" but in the same sentence refers to "the last supposed message" I had left on his White House voice mail in April 2000. That fact was fully explained in my prior response.

Translation: a press secretary who was in public office says, in essence, that he required more than one phone call -- and from Mexico! -- to do his job, which, after all, is to answer inquiries from reporters. This is a common strategy among the press secretaries who flak for Power to try and exhaust the financial and temporal resources of truly independent journalists.

We have long experience with government and corporate press secretaries who play this "access game," who only respond promptly to reporters who they consider to be corrupted enough to be controlled, or who work for commercial news entities that can be relied upon to protect the status quo.

As a journalist, I don't play the "access game" with Weiner or anyone. Government and corporate press secretaries get one phone call, period. If they don't respond, I state, as we did in April 2000, that the official did not respond to our inquiry.

Mr. Weiner knows the ground rules, but prefers to invent new ones when his own irresponsibility has caught up with him. Is it any wonder that the White House drug office failed on every front during the McCaffrey-Weiner tenure there?

2. Mr. Weiner states: "Your piece is similarly inaccurate but guess will have to leave it at that." As such, he reveals that even as he protests of not having been given enough phone calls to provoke his response while in power, he shows that he truly has no response on the factual issues.

Ponder the absurdity of this exchange: An ex-White House press secretary now has had two uncensored, unedited opportunities to respond to Narco News on a report of his abhorrent official behavior.

Twice now Mr. Weiner has responded in a non-responsive manner. He claims our story was "inaccurate" but fails to state a single inaccuracy. (As with our response, below, to professor Eduardo Gamarra, we scrupulously correct ourselves when we have been in error; but Mr. Weiner has not, for all his effort in two letters now, cited a single inaccurate fact or error in our report.)

Thus, there is a surreal nature to his complaint that he did not have the chance to correct an "inaccurate" story two years ago: Fact is, he has had two unabridged chances to do so on this page, twice been given uncensored access to our readers, but still has not substantiated his accusation with a single fact. Are we to believe that he would have been able to do so two years ago if he cannot vindicate himself even after two attempts now?

3. Mr. Weiner writes of the Almanac of American Politics: "you might learn from them: they actually read me an earlier draft saying some stuff like you now do, and they dropped it when I pointed out the facts to them."

If that is true -- and, again, consider the source -- Mr. Weiner has just pointed out an unethical activity by the Almanac in question. Authentic journalists do not show public officials or candidates drafts of articles before publication. A reporter at any serious publication would be fired for doing that. But Weiner, who has never been an authentic journalist, perhaps doesn't wish to understand that what he calls "professionalism" is, in fact, a form of corruption.

Mr. Weiner thus inadvertently offers Narco News readers a glimpse into how White House and government press secretaries manipulate press coverage, and the collusion of some publications in that corrupting process. Essentially, he is complaining that our standards are not as low as those of some others.

4. The most bizarre part of this exchange has been Mr. Weiner's continued insistence on his claim of friendship with your publisher, rotundly corrected in my prior response. Now it is based upon his claim that to "hang out" at "political parties" and unspecified "panels together" constitutes membership in some kind of good old boy network. Ahem. I have been on panels and attended political functions with DEA agents, judges, prosecutors, corporate flaks and politicians of every party and stripe, including political conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties that were attended by virtually every political player in the United States. Mostly, I attended such functions as a requirement of my work as a journalist.

Imagine, for a moment, kind reader, the type of planet that Mr. Weiner wishes us to live on: One in which having attended such functions constitutes an unspoken agreement to corrupt the journalistic process and give special unethical treatment to power brokers on the basis that they have attended the same political event.

This may, in fact, reflect the reality of Washington DC today. If so, it would explain why the public is left in the dark on so many important public matters.

We thank Mr. Weiner for both of his letters and for, however inadvertently, exposing how the system really works for some and against most citizens. And, of course, we continue to welcome more correspondence from him. It's been two wonderful looks into the corrupted mindset of too many current and former government officials.

Al Giordano, Publisher

More Reader Mail...

January 25, 2002

From Eduardo A. Gamarra, Ph.D.
Director, Latin American and Caribbean Center
Professor of Political Science
Florida International University

Mr. Giordano:

While I generally find something interesting and often useful in your reports, I must ask you to check simple facts before making bold assertions such as the ones contained in today's message. You have sent previous messages with similar errors so forgive me for taking on what might appear to be trivial matters. Having worked on Bolivian politics for over two decades, I have a little more than a simple birdseye view of the issues facing the country. I also happen to be Bolivian. Before I explain your errors, let me tell you that I agree with your assessment that expelling Morales from Congress was not a good move. We will disagree on the reasons; suffice it to say that there is now a real reason for Evo and others to claim that Bolivian democracy does not allow cocaleros and other campesinos to express their legitimate concerns within the bounds afforded by the Constitution.

Now on to the factual errors. Evo Morales was a diputado uninominal, which roughly translated means that he was elected on the basis of a single member district (or first past the post) electoral system. He did obtain 60 percent of the vote in his Chapare district and was indeed the uninominal elected with the highest percentage. Fifty percent of the lower house is elected through this single member district system, the remaining fifty are elected on the basis of a proportional representation system concocted by party bosses who produce lists of what might be considered party hacks, if you will. I note this because it is incorrect to state that Evo was a federal congressman. Bolivia does not have a federal system, it has always been a unitary republic. Thus, Evo cannot be a federal congressman in a unitary republic. In Latin America only Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil are pure federal systems.

The second factual error is more controversial. In fact, Evo was expelled by a 2/3 majority vote as stipulated in the Constitution. As I noted earlier, while this may not be the wisest move, it was certainly not illegal. He was charged and his congressional immunity from prosecution was lifted. This is legal, although I repeat, unwise given the current situation in the country.

Please exercise more caution on these trivial issues as the errors detract from your central message and may lead to a great deal of confusion.


Eduardo A. Gamarra, Ph.D.
Director, Latin American and Caribbean Center
Professor of Political Science
Florida International University

Publisher Responds

Dear Dr. Gamarra,

Thank you for your letter. It has alerted us to the need for the following correction:

Narco News Correction

In our story of January 25, 2002, we made an error in defining Evo Morales as a "federal" congressman. Dr. Gamarra is correct on this point: Bolivia, not being a federal system of government, has national legislators, but not what can be called federal legislators. We correct that story by stating: Evo Morales was a national congressman, not a federal congressman. We regret the error.

However, I would like to explain why, on your two other points, our story was and is correct.

You write that Evo Morales "did obtain 60 percent of the vote in his Chapare district."

But according to the Bolivia Electoral Court, Morales obtained 70.3 percent of the vote in the 1997 election. Narco News reasserts that Morales won with "70 percent" and not "60 percent," although either percentage would be impressive in a multi-candidate field or even a two candidate race.

On the bigger bone to pick, you write that the expulsion of Evo Morales from the Bolivian Congress "was certainly not illegal. He was charged and his congressional immunity from prosecution was lifted. This is legal…."

However, as reported additionally in our story of today, January 31, 2002, Dr. Hector Arce, attorney for Evo Morales has raised specific examples of the illegality of Morales' expulsion.

According to today's report by Luis A. Gómez:

In a process unworthy of representatives of the people, Morales' colleagues accused him of "abuse of immunity." That is to say, of taking advantage of his congressional immunity to foment crimes or protect criminals. In passing this resolution, the members of Congress based their maneuver on photocopies of newspaper reports! Although that was not the worst part of it, nor the fact that some of those who asked for his expulsion also have similar charges pending… The worst was that they violated their own ethics rules: they prevented him from defending himself. Evo Morales, according to said regulation (of which we have a copy), had 15 days from the presentation of the accusation against him to present proofs exonerating him, but this never occurred. And if it's about noncompliance with procedure, the stupidity of the congress members has come to the point of failing to deliver a copy of said resolution, in which, according to the internal norms and procedures of the House of Representatives, Morales would still be a member of Congress, because nobody has formally informed him of his definitive separation from Congress.

Thus, the process used by the Bolivian government to expel Morales from Congress was illegal according to the very rules of the expulsion process.

In fairness, these details were not published in the first story of January 25th that sparked his letter. However our headline, caption and subscriber alert, each of which defined Evo Morales' expulsion from Congress as "illegal" were not at all inaccurate. They reflected, as the details show, the actual facts.

We do thank you for your letter and for spurring us to more thoroughly report the details of the illegality of the expulsion of Congressman Morales, appreciate your readership, and invite you, and all our readers, to keep those cards and letters coming.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano
The Narco News Bulletin

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