After my book Family of Secrets was published, a promised wave of positive reviews from major news organizations never appeared.
Much of what did appear bordered on character assassination.
The Los Angeles Times review, written by the paper’s media critic, Tim Rutten, was relentlessly negative.
Rutten accused me of being a fabulist trafficking in the “paranoid style.” He labeled my work “preposterous” and “a reprehensible calumny.” He concluded by advising the public to “avoid Baker’s Family of Secrets.”
But then he spiced up his salvo with some misdirection:
I regard the belief that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as an important indicium of mental health. In fact, I think there are three things that every serious American needs to believe about our recent history: Kennedy was killed by a lone lunatic, Americans really did land on the moon and the Twin Towers were destroyed when they were struck by two fully fueled airliners that had been hijacked by Islamic extremists organized by Al Qaeda. People who do not believe in these things are, within reasonable limits, entitled to sympathy. They are not entitled to a seat at the table where serious discussions occur.
I was perplexed. I had written nothing at all about the moon landing, and my brief discussion of 9/11 focused only on the Bush family’s business and political ties with the bin Laden family and Saudi Arabia.
Only the Kennedy assassination got hefty attention — with loads of fresh evidence that, as the House Select Committee on Assassinations found and as most Americans believe, there was much more to the story.
Rutten did not engage with the facts. His snide swipe at those whom he labeled nutcases was a deliberate gambit: falsely representing a reporter’s thesis — then accusing him of failing to prove what he never claimed.
This is what the Times and other outlets did to Gary Webb after he published his “Dark Alliance” series in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996. In one of the internet’s very first viral stories, Webb used court records and other government documents to reveal that cocaine-trafficking profits funded right-wing Nicaraguan rebels trained by the CIA. (Finding an alternate funding source, like Oliver North’s arms sales to Iran, was necessary after Congress prohibited the CIA from spending money to overthrow Nicaragua’s government.) That same drug pipeline fueled the crack epidemic that tore apart Black neighborhoods across the country.
Just as I never addressed the moon landing or 9/11 — let alone questioned either narrative — Webb never claimed that the CIA deliberately engineered the crack epidemic to undermine Black communities. He reported that the CIA’s contacts somehow managed to run a massive drug smuggling ring unnoticed — or at least unmolested. Whether the CIA should have known about it — or did, and turned a blind eye — was outside the scope of his reporting, as he patiently insisted and as a subsequent Justice Department review noted.
But the false imputation was a central pillar of the subsequent “debunking” effort — a New York Times reporter assigned to the gang of journalists who published merciless follow-ups called it the “Get Gary Webb team” — that effectively ended Webb’s career. Less than a decade later, impoverished and disgraced, Webb shot himself.
So, reading Rutten’s disingenuous hatchet job, I was momentarily astonished — and yet, as I reflected on the history, not really so surprised after all.