Yet, when Webb exposed what was arguably an even worse crime of state -- the Reagan administration turning a blind eye to the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States -- Leen thinks any abuse of Webb is justified because his story wasn't perfect.
Those two divergent judgments -- on how Woodward's mistake was understandably excused and how Webb's imperfections were never forgiven -- speak volumes about what has happened to the modern profession of journalism at least in the mainstream U.S. media. In reality, Leen's insistence on perfection and "extraordinary proof" is just a dodge to rationalize letting well-connected criminals and their powerful accomplices off the hook.
In the old days, the journalistic goal was to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," but the new rule appears to be: "any standard of proof works when condemning the weak or the despised but you need unachievable 'extraordinary evidence' if you're writing about the strong and the politically popular."
Who Is Unfit?
Leen adds a personal reflection on Webb as somehow not having the proper temperament to be an investigative reporter. Leen wrote:
"After Webb was transferred to Cupertino [in disgrace], 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."
It's interesting -- and sadly typical -- that while Leen chastises Webb for not admitting error, Leen offers no self-criticism of himself for missing what even the CIA has now admitted, that the Contras were tied up in the cocaine trade. Doesn't an institutional confession by the CIA's inspector general constitute "extraordinary evidence"?
Also, since the CIA's inspector general's report included substantial evidence of Contra-cocaine trafficking running through Miami, shouldn't Leen offer some mea culpa about missing these serious crimes that were going on right under his nose -- in his city and on his beat? What sort of reporter is "preternaturally calm" about failing to do his job right and letting the public suffer as Leen did?
Perhaps all one needs to know about the sorry state of today's mainstream journalism is that Jeff Leen is the Washington Post's assistant managing editor for investigations and Gary Webb is no longer with us.[To learn how you can hear a December 1996 joint appearance at which Robert Parry and Gary Webb discuss their reporting, click here.]