Nine years after investigative reporter Gary Webb committed suicide, Jesse Katz, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who played a leading role in ruining the controversial journalist’s career, has publicly apologized — just weeks before shooting begins in Atlanta on Kill the Messenger, a film expected to reinstate Webb’s reputation as an award-winning journalist dragged through the mud by disdainful, competing media outlets.
Katz and other establishment press writers worked overtime to discredit Webb and destroy his career. Part of the motivation seemed to be annoyance at being scooped by a lower tier paper like the San Jose Mercury News along with an instinctual defense of the establishment itself. The Washingon Post’s former ombudsman, Geneva Overholser, would later claim that the Post had displayed a “misdirected zeal” in attacking Webb.
In the wake of the experience Webb conceded that many of the progressive critiques of the corporate media were correct, saying:
If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me … I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job … The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.
Webb would later be vindicated by a Department of Justice report claiming the CIA did violate rules to help suspected drug traffickers and testimony by the CIA Inspector General who admitted before Congress:
CIA worked with a variety of people to support the Contra program. These included CIA assets, pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, as well as Contra officials and others. Let me be frank about what we are finding. There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to resolve the allegations.
Despite being later vindicated, Gary Webb’s career was destroyed by the backlash to his reporting. In 2004, reportedly depressed over not being able to find work or pay his bills, Webb committed suicide. The apology by Jesse Katz comes as filming is set to begin on the appropriately titled Kill The Messenger staring Jeremy Renner based on Webb’s life and career.