Sometimes, the best thing about working at a daily newspaper is any story you write—and possibly fuck up—is only in print for one day. After that, after you've been soundly scolded or suspended and after your paper's printed a retraction, the whole thing goes away—if you're lucky. Except sometimes you don't fuck up—but everyone thinks you did—and sometimes, that just doesn't go away. In 1996, San Jose Mercury-News investigative reporter Gary Webb was at the top of his game—sitting on a Pulitzer Prize, the industry's top honor—when he filed a three-part series, “Dark Alliance,” which explored the CIA's dealings with the Nicaraguan contras and its role in bringing crack-cocaine to the streets of Los Angeles. Shortly after, longtime OC Weekly investigative reporter Nick Schou became the only reporter to significantly advance upon Webb's work. After Webb's series ran, other newspapers—among them the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times—published stories discrediting what he'd done, and his own newspaper backed away from the story, eventually exiling Webb to a small outpost of a bureau. Under siege, Webb quit his job, and in December 2004, he committed suicide. It's one of the ultimate tragic examples of how the right story can go wrong—and what can happen when it does.
Schou's new book, Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb, explains exactly how and why Webb's work was mishandled by his editors—and how the man whose name and reputation was on it paid with his own life. He'll read from and sign copies of it this Saturday in Costa Mesa. And that's it. None of us will ever screw up a story or touch a controversial subject again. If only it were that simple.
Nick Schou will read from Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb at Book Soup in South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Ste. 2400, Costa Mesa, (714) 689-2665. Sat., 2 p.m. Free.