Bluegrass Films produced the movie reenactment of Gary Webb’s compelling story about journalism that explained the importance of credible sources in “Kill the Messenger.” According to NPR, Jeremy Renner played Webb, who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter in California, for the “San Jose Mercury News” in 1996. Webb conducted a year-long investigation, which led to his discovery of the CIA using Latin American contras to produce the crack cocaine epidemic that started in the 1980s.
“Time” reported that Webb’s ability to link the CIA to the crack cocaine epidemic would never be publicly accepted without a source on record. It was this reality that ruined his award-winning career and resulted in his death some years later. While following the story through the movie, it was clear Webb was ethical and open with his entire investigation. This included identifying himself and the publication he worked for before starting a line of questioning, showing professional courtesy by visiting the lawyer of an inmate before making a visit to the prison, and following all logical leads.
Webb’s investigation brought him all the way to Nicaragua, to meet with an inmate who was able to link the CIA to the drug epidemic. As a journalist, Webb bribed his way into the third-world prison, which left no record of his visit when his story was probed by mass media, the CIA, and the United States government. It was these obstacles which explained the importance of credible sources, as the main message in “Kill the Messenger.” Even though Webb’s story was proven some time later, his career was scarred by the negative press thrown at him, some of which was not even true.
Webb understood he needed to follow this story to the end because he believed in reporting the truth and providing answers to the dramatic effects of the crack cocaine epidemic. He wrote a series chronicling the event entitled, “Dark Alliance.” In 1996, the general use of the internet was still in its early years but Webb’s articles attracted hundreds of thousands of readers to the “San Jose Mercury News” website.
Similar to any other true stories reenacted into movies, “Kill the Messenger” has some parts that are true, while others have been made meretricious by the movie industry. In the movie, the story lands in the lap of Webb after he receives a tempting phone call from a drug dealer’s girlfriend. At the courthouse, Webb witnessed the drug dealer’s charges being dropped without any rational explanation given by the prosecuting team.
Even with the copious amount of evidence, the CIA and the United States government were able to maintain their orthodox nature, which resulted in Webb never finding a credible source to go on record to back up his story. This should serve as a lesson to journalists because they need to make a decision about the risks created investigating a controversial story. In the movie, when the editors of the “San Jose Mercury News” discussed the validity of Webb’s story, and they mentioned it was almost “too true to tell and no one was interested in his sad story.”
In the movie, when the editors of the “San Jose Mercury News” discussed the validity of Webb’s story, and they mentioned it was almost “too true to tell and no one was interested in his sad story.” Webb may have been able to prove the miscegenation between the CIA and the crack cocaine epidemic but it was not enough to save his career or his life.
At the conclusion of the film, the story is summed up with the statement that Webb was found dead with what appeared to be two self-inflicted gunshots to the head. It would make sense that Webb may have wanted to kill himself since his career was ended by this story, but the fact he had two gunshots to the head does raise some suspicions. Once again, this explained the importance of credible sources in “Kill the Messenger” because Webb may not have died if he was able to prove his story.
Opinion by Kristina Lasher
Edited by Jeanette Smith
Bluegrass Films: “Kill the Messenger”
Time: This Is the Real Story Behind Kill The Messenger
NPR: ‘Kill The Messenger’ Incompletely Unravels A Complex Tale
Image Courtesy of Teodor Bjerrang’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License