Investigative journalist Gary Webb died Dec. 10, in Sacramento County, Calif., at age 49. The coroner maintains it was suicide, but acknowledged that two sets of gunshot wounds to the head is unusual in a suicide. The contents of a note were undisclosed.

Webb became famous after the 1996 publication of his series, “Dark Alliance,” in the San Jose Mercury News. “Dark Alliance” documented links between cocaine traffickers, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and CIA funding of the right-wing Contra army which overthrew Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

“Dark Alliance” showed how the CIA financed its war against Nicaragua through the sale of crack, a new, cheap to make, easy to smoke, super-addictive cocaine derivative, on the streets of America’s cities. In two years the drug business in South Central L.A. soared from $200 to $5,000 a day. A crack network was set up throughout the U.S. The Black ghetto of every city would become the heart of the crack/guns/drugs industry.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) conducted an investigation, which led Congress to demand an internal investigation of the CIA.

After nearly two months of silence, corporate media like the Washington Post, L.A. Times and New York Times responded with articles disparaging “Dark Alliance,” quoting anonymous CIA officials to back up their attacks on the series.

Initially the Mercury News defended “Dark Alliance,” but the following spring, its executive editor published an apology, and Webb was demoted and sent 150 miles away to cover suburban news. He challenged the demotion but later resigned.

Webb’s 1998 book, “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion” — telling the full, uncensored story behind the series, with complete documentation — was rejected by 25 publishers before Seven Stories Press agreed to publish it. The book received good reviews.

The CIA’s internal report, also published in 1998, proved that “Dark Alliance” was factual. The report described how the Reagan-Bush administration had protected over 50 Contra/drug traffickers, deliberately thwarted federal investigations of drug crimes, and laundered money under the direction of Oliver North. But not one corporate newspaper did its job and vindicated Webb.

He had become the pariah of the newspaper industry. Unable to find a job as an investigative journalist, he got a job doing investigations for the California Legislature’s oversight committee. After the 2003 election he was laid off, and was later hired by the Sacramento News and Review.

Gary Webb was a veteran, award-winning investigative journalist, whose love of writing dated back to elementary school. He dropped out of journalism school to help his support his family. He began his career as an investigative reporter at the Kentucky Post. In 1980 he won an award for co-authoring a series on organized crime in the coal industry.

Later at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he investigated and wrote about government and private sector corruption. In 1988 he became a staff writer for the Mercury News. In 1990 he and other Mercury News staff won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1989 Bay Area earthquake. In 1994 Webb received an award for a series on abuses in California’s drug asset forfeiture program.

But it was the 1996 “Dark Alliance” series that brought him nationwide attention and later ended his career. He received thousands of e-mails congratulating him for his courageous work. The Black community was outraged over the revelation that the CIA had promoted the devastation of African American neighborhoods and families with the 1980s crack explosion. Some Blacks called it racist genocide.

On hearing of his death, a spokesperson for the California attorney general’s office, Tom Dresslar, who had worked with Webb, said, “The guy had a fierce commitment to justice and truth. He cared about the people the rest of the world forgets.” Esquire Magazine commented, “Gary was all you could ask for in a journalist: tough, unafraid and honest. He lived his life to be a check on the powerful.”

Webb never understood why the mainstream press refused to acknowledge the “Dark Alliance” series or why they attacked him for writing it. He said in an interview, “We’re going to look back on the whole war on drugs 50 years from now like we look back on the McCarthy era and say, How did we ever let this stuff get so out of hand? I thought I had an obligation and the power to tell the truth to the people.”

Rosita Johnson (phillyrose1@earthlink.net) is a member of the editorial board of the People’s Weekly World.